Is it hard to believe that everything in the world is getting better, day by day?
That the life and reality you live in now is exponentially better than the reality your parents, grandparents, and their grandparents grew up in?
I personally thing that people are delusional when they think (or feel) that the past was better compared to the present, and that the future is somehow going into the shitter. I might listen to these ideals, and theories, but rarely do I entertain them.
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, by Matt Ridley,
is perhaps the epitome (or the bible) of an incredibly optimistic future.
The Rational Optimist is a cumulative cramming of sociology, anthropology, economics, history and a tiny bit of technology, to explain, BASICALLY, why life sucked in the past, and gradually became better over thousands, hundreds, and tens of years.
There are a few key concepts the author GREATLY extrapolates on within, and explains how each affects our strive towards prosperity.
Exchange and Specialization (I make food, and you make clothes)
By learning to trade amongst ourselves thousands of years ago, one man was able to craft tools, while another was able to forage for food, while another was able to defend the tribe. In turn, they would each provide some service, without expending gratuitous amounts of time performing EVERYTHING at once. This allowed tribes to grow, and trust and economic relationships to flourish. Imagine ‘One mans junk, is another mans treasure’, but on a civilization level.
Foraging For Food (No more hunting, food at the grocery store)
At the above point mentioned, when people needed less and less time hunting and gathering for food, they were able to specialize in other aspects of society. The invention of agriculture allowed for entire cities to grow, and focus on trading amongst themselves, while food was readily provided. Ultimately, allowing people to multiply, and continue specializing.
Constant War, Social Parasites, Disease, Famine, Corruption, Betrayal
This one doesn’t need much explaining. Life simply sucked for the majority of the population, while a VERY small group of elites dominated the unfortunate masses. Priests, kings, barons, warlords, etc etc, all contributed to misery, over and over. Add diseases such as the black plague, constant famines, viruses, sexual diseases, diarrhea, and hundreds of other illnesses constantly DECIMATED the human population. In the millions, to say the least.
Freedom From Stagnating Bureaucracies (Always messin’ with the little guy)
Previously, the hierarchy in most societies would squander the innovations, and resources created by it’s people, thus uninspiring their population to do more than they had to. Then came along a couple revolutionary policies in Europe that allowed for greater freedom for businesses to evolve. Entrepreneurs and businessmen were allowed to keep their share of profits and resources, thus inspiring a trend to do more and more. Invent, create, and fund, more and more, to the betterment of creating larger economies.
Technological Ingenuity (Telegraph one day, iPhone the next)
Rapidly evolving inventions such as the cotton-spinning machines, railroads, and power plants allowed for economies of scale (a ripple effect causing businesses to adapt to the new technologies, or go out of business). In turn, more freedom was given as nations adapted to policies that allowed for more ingenuity, thus allowing more innovation and growth, and more freedom. Life expectancies dramatically increased, populations skyrocketed, transportation, communication, health, wealth, and the quality of everything else also increased.
Finally, Africa and Climate Change (Slowly but surely improving)
The incredibly unlucky population of Africa still has to deal with the boot of human oppression. Constant wars, corruption, famines, disease and foreign policies seem to completely impede growth. While Botswana has grown out of a miserable state, into a thriving nation, the rest of the continent is still plagued with stagnation. Technology such as mobile phones are dramatically improving the ability to barter, and thus increasing economic power. The author argues that real progress in Africa would come from an upgrade to educational institutions, allowing the population to grow their own entrepreneurs and businesses, instead of seeking foreign aid (which apparently doesn’t work).
And then we have climate change, which Matt deconstructs quite readily. He debunks growing CO2 emissions with some incredibly thoughtful analysis and statistics. He even downgrades the efficacy of ‘green’ technology such as solar and wind as being ‘inefficient’ for their relative expense (land, cost, lack of power produced), but does not rule out the power of human innovation to quickly improve these tools. Matt greatly emphasizes the efficacy, power produced, and safety of nuclear power plants. Apparently a coke-can of uranium is all you need per person, for their ENTIRE life time.
So Does Life Suck Now Compared To The Future?
Supposedly it might. Technology may one day extinguish cancer altogether, wars are quickly dwindling in casualty costs, death from virulent diseases is almost negligible now, politics and evil people are forcibly more transparent, and the list goes on.
Population growth is statistically slowing down, and will eventually plateau at some point in the future. Violent behaviour is more prevalent in the media, than it is in our own lives. People are becoming much wealthier, and our living standards are gradually increasing (even beyond what we need).
So if the next time you turn on the news, or listen to a friend, or co-worker, and you hear some semblance of ‘things are going down hill’, or ‘society is getting worse and worse’, or even some combination, then just smile, nod, but don’t acknowledge. In their reality, life is getting worse, but in your reality, life is great 🙂
Pick up The Rational Optimist at the book store, library, or from a friend.
Quote for the Rational Optimist
History repeats itself as a spiral not a circle, with an ever-growing capacity for both good and bad, played out through unchanging individual character. so the human race will continue to expand and enrich its culture, despite setbacks and despite individual people having much the same evolved, unchanging nature. The twenty-first century will be a magnificent time to be alive. Dare to be an optimist.