March 17, 2014
NO ONE HAS IT HARDER THAN THEIR FATHER DID:
Humankind is better off than it has ever been (Zack Beauchamp, 3/13/14, The Week)
Life expectancy is the highest it's ever been, and getting higher. Global GDP has never reached our present heights. The number of humans in poverty has never been lower. Wars between nations are almost extinct, and wars in general are getting less deadly.The notion of human progress isn't a grand theory anymore; it's a fact. So why do so many people insist on telling you it's impossible?Almost everywhere you turn, some pundit or "literary intellectual" is aching to tell you the "hard, eternal truths" about the way the world works. Progress is a false idol, they'll say -- and worse, an American one. The harsh reality is that nothing ever changes; the sad truth of the human condition is pain and misery.These people position themselves as besieged truth tellers, braving the wrath of the masses to challenge our dominant, rose-tinted national narrative. In reality, they're just saying what most people think. A reasonably large majority of Americans think the country's "best years" are behind it. Post-Great Recession, doom-and-gloom is in.But while pessimism may be the conventional wisdom nowadays, its intellectual avatars have never been more anemic. Take British philosopher John Gray. Gray has made debunking the notion of "progress" his life's work, having written two whole books on the matter in addition to innumerable columns and magazine articles. His review of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, a book that carefully assembles immense amounts of statistical evidence showing that war and violence claim fewer lives than ever, does not dispute a single bit of Pinker's data. Incredibly, Gray thinks pointing out that some Enlightenment thinkers disagreed with each other constitutes a devastating rebuttal to Pinker's detailed empirical argument. The review's shallowness is emblematic of the general tenor of Gray's sad crusade.It's not just John Gray. Given the enormous amounts of data on the optimists' side, pessimists have little more than handwaving left to them.
Posted by Orrin Judd at March 17, 2014 4:32 PM