Recently I have been watching historical documentaries as a way to combat the inevitable depression caused by political speeches, disaster news and unending commercials--alas, not as effective as I had planned!
On some level, I do find hope in the fact that mankind has repeatedly discarded material progress that was going in the wrong direction. Why else would people turn their backs on huge cities that seem to have been extremely successful materially? Why, for instance, did the Mayans walk away from the most complex and sophisticated nation in the New World, going back to the jungle to live as primitive slash and burn villagers? Why did the Anasazi, or the builders of Stonehenge, or the Capadocians, or the people who built Gobeckli Tepe, abandon what would appear to have been fantastic engineering and social skills?
Do you suppose that as a species, we can recognize when religion and society have gone stale and stalled progress? Recorded history has provided numerous examples to use for signs of decline quite apart from natural disasters. In fact, climate change, asteroid and volcanic events, earthquakes and tsunamis may have played a part, but it looks to me as though civilizations fall because human response to these disasters is inadequate, often blindly conservative, and violently biased towards scapegoats. None of those responses are condoned by core religion, but seem to escalate as people turn away from spiritual principles. Eventually, the larger populace just packs up and leaves, abandoning not only the physical city, but all its cultural trappings, as well.
I choose a hopeful view of mankind because one of the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith is that human beings are capable of better things:
"God's greatest gift to man is that of intellect, or understanding....Intellect is, in truth, the most precious gift bestowed upon man by the Divine Bounty. Man alone, among created beings, has this wonderful power.Every forward progress of civilization has been followed by decline, and sometimes complete annihilation. Historians have no idea, for instance, what happened to the builders of that mountain-sized pyramid in Bosnia 12,000 years ago. The most hopeful aspect, however, is that declines have been followed by resurgence and rejuvenation of moral and religious principles.
"All creation, preceding Man, is bound by the stern law of nature. The great sun, the multitudes of stars, the oceans and seas, the mountains, the rivers, the trees, and all animals, great or small--none is able to evade obedience to nature's law.
"Man alone has freedom, and, by his understanding or intellect, has been able to gain control of and adapt some of those natural laws to his own needs....How grievous it is to see how man has used his God-given gift to frame instruments of war, for breaking the Commandment of God "Thou shalt not kill', and for defying Christ's injunction to 'Love one another'.
"God gave this power to man that it might be used for the advancement of civilization, for the good of humanity, to increase love and concord and peace. But man prefers to use this gift to destroy instead of to build, for injustice and oppression, for hatred and discord and devastation, for the destruction of his fellow-creatures, whom Christ has commanded that he should love as himself!" - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 41-42
Bahá'ís believe that minkind's progress is not haphazard, but always guided by a single Creator God sending successive generations of Teachers when needed. Thus, as a species we have grown from hunter-gatherer family groups to tribes, thence to city-states, nations, and are now approaching a planet-wide brotherhood.
There are definite signs of cultural decline across the globe, in spite of amazing material development. But there are also hopeful signs of youth and vigor, of readiness for change and commitment to making the world a better place. The latter may not be portrayed very extensively in daily news, so I have to utilize the wonders of the Internet that allow crossing borders of race, language, politics and religion. There is a lot of good news in the world, even if we have to wade through political rhetoric and commercials for it.
Meanwhile, "Study the sciences, acquire more and more knowledge. Assuredly one may learn to the end of one's life! Use your knowledge always for the benefit of others; so may war cease on the face of this beautiful earth, and the glorious edifice of peace and concord be raised. Strive that your high ideals may be realized in the Kingdom of God on earth, as they will be in Heaven." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 42
It's an age-old promise. We might live to see it, but our children and grandchildren defintitely will see a new world. Bahá'ís believe every individual has a part to play!