They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But we can also invert this popular phrase. As the subreddit r/trashy has shown time and time again, a few words can be worth a thousand pictures as well.
Collecting evidence that suggests the human race might be degrading, the members of this online community have spotted plenty of evocative signs. Like the one saying, "Sunbathing and barbeques are not allowed in the cemetery. Please show respect." Or another, stating that "We don't spit on your floors. Don't spit on ours."
The mental images they put in your head... There must be so many monsters walking among us!
We managed to get in touch with Ashley, a moderator of the subreddit, and they agreed to have a little chat with us. "It seems like people just like to piss other people off when they know they have an unpopular opinion," the Redditor told Bored Panda. "And others just don't have the mental capacity to realize when they're gross or out of line. Which leads to posting signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts and etc that just put their trashy thought process on display."
But even though the content on r/trashy can be quite off-putting, it still captivates and intrigues a large audience. "It's kind of like driving past a bad car accident. You know you probably shouldn't look, but you do anyway ... There's something about watching shi*** people being shi*** that's both infuriating and comical all at the same time."
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As you might imagine, the moderators have to do plenty of 'policing' in a sub like this. "From racist, sexist, and homophobic comments to posts that are so trashy we would get our sub banned if we didn't remove it (think CP and other awful things that don't belong anywhere)," Ashley explained.
"Those kinds of things don't happen often, luckily, but I've seen a lot of unfortunate examples on this sub because, well, people are trashy. There's a difference between posting something for amusement's sake and posting something just to be horrible. It's a fine line, but it's still a line we don't cross here. We champion trashy content but don't tolerate trashy behavior from our subscribers. So most of what gets removed are just comments where people are just being assholes to each other. And occasionally, on the more controversial posts, we will have to lock the comment thread because there's just too much shit to sift through."
The moderators try their best to keep their sub a place where everyone can participate without feeling threatened. "It's a sh**show over here, but it's an inclusive sh**show. Which I think is part of the appeal."
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From a biological perspective, there's no question that the human race is still moving forward. Michael J. Dougherty, assistant director, and senior staff biologist at Biological Sciences Curriculum Study in Colorado Springs, for example, said that all changes in the gene frequencies of populations—and quite often in the traits those genes influence—are by definition evolutionary changes.
"The notion that humans might regress or 'devolve' presumes that there is a preferred hierarchy of structure and function—say, that legs with feet are better than legs with hooves or that breathing with lungs is better than breathing with gills. But for the organisms possessing those structures, each is a useful adaptation," Dougherty explained.
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But social degeneration is something different. "The great summit of declinism," according to writer Adam Gopnick, "was established in 1918, in the book that gave decline its good name in publishing: the German historian Oswald Spengler's best-selling, thousand-page work The Decline of the West."
Now, the belief that society going backward is especially popular in the UK. In a 2015 survey, 70% of Britons agreed with the statement that "things are worse than they used to be," even though at the time they were in fact "richer, healthier and longer-living than ever before".
Interestingly, people are also trying to calculate it. There's this thing called the Social Progress Index (SPI), which measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens. It uses 54 indicators in the areas of basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity to progress, showing the relative performance of nations.
In 2020, the United States continued to backslide, declining both in absolute terms and relative to its wealthy, world-power peers, ranking just 28th in social progress and is only one of three countries declining in social progress over the past decade.
So as much as we'd like to think these signs are just flukes, there might be some truth to them.