The Case for Optimism.
“The old appeals to racial, sexual, religious chauvinism to rabid nationalist fervor are beginning not to work, a new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed.” ~ Carl Sagan
I want to take a minute to talk about slavery. But, I’m not talking about slavery in America. Slavery in America is something we learn about because the Civil War is a big part of American history. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
We don’t often learn about the rest of the history of slavery.
Slavery was a universal part of human culture until very recently; we don’t realize that because we don’t have a long term view. Slavery has been a universal part of the human paradigm for as long as there has been recorded history. Probably a lot longer than recorded history, given how long modern humans were around before writing was invented.
It was everywhere. The existence of slavery was just the way of things. It was as common in human culture as things like marriage. Some people were slaves. It was just the way of things, and then it was gone.
Now, why am I writing about slavery?
Because I don’t think it ended because of a few heroic people who fought to end it. That’s how it ended in America, but that’s because the people that wanted to abolish slavery were trying to catch up with other modern countries that had abolished it already.
Slavery ended because humanity got better.
In the same way the concept of women as property has ended in a lot of the world (but not all of it).
Now, we may say, “Sure, but there’s terrorism.” And that’s true. But 60 years ago we had world wars instead of terrorism.
People in my generation and the generations after have no concept of what a world war would be like because we haven’t had one. And I want to declare right now that we will never have one again.
I will say this as often and as loudly as a I can because people really have trouble believing it.
Things only get better.
It may seem like that’s not the case.
Not only does the media have a vested interest in showing the bad things in the world, but also the bad things often seem like what people are interested in talking about.
And sometimes that’s not bad. We should be aware of the bad things going on.
But we should also be aware of this: things only get better.
I’m not making this up. I have evidence for this. I’ll share two things with you.
One, the rate of violent crime is going down and has been for years. Not just America, but the whole world has been becoming less and less violent.
Don’t take my word for it; statistics back it up.
The psychologist Steven Pinker wrote a whole book about it called “The Better Angels of Our Nature”.
In the same way that humanity has moved away from slavery, humanity is moving away from using violence to solve problems.
I saw a pretty clear example of this in real time, I think.
President George W. Bush wanted to invade Iraq and he did. There was some public outcry and war protests, but they were ignored. Just as the unpopular war in Vietnam had raged decades earlier in spite of a lack of public support.
President Barack Obama wanted to invade Syria. There was some public outcry and he decided not to do it. It is, I think, the first time an American President decided not to go to war because the people didn’t want him to.
What a difference a few years makes.
Another example of how things are getting better is the Flynn Effect. The Flynn Effect tells us that human beings are getting smarter. Since the 1930s, IQ tests have had to be adjusted every year. IQ tests today can’t be scored in the same way as tests from 30 years ago. Why? Because almost everyone would score at a genius level. Everyone you meet probably has a higher IQ than their grandparents.
There is a lot of speculation about why this is.
Better nutrition, better education, more access to technology. These are things that could contribute. But it doesn’t matter why. What matters is this. We are getting smarter. This means we will only be more and more able to figure out how to solve problems.
Not to say that the trend is so powerful that I’m automatically smarter than someone who’s a few years older than me. That would be absurd. Only that this is an overall trend. People are getting smarter over time.
When we see how much technology has changed, some of this can be attributed to the overall increase in human intelligence.
The reason the Apple Watch wasn’t invented in the 1950s isn’t because no one could think of the idea. It’s because our brain power had to improve to the point where someone would know how to make it a reality.
Sometimes people think that kids today are dumber than kids in the past or have less of a grasp on ethical behavior. There’s not evidence for this. That’s just allowing delusional negative thinking to enter our minds and we should resist that.
I’ll get a little political here, and I hope that isn’t a problem for anyone.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
I believe that.
Racial equality isn’t perfect today, but it has made more progress than people in the 50s and 60s would have thought possible. It’s changed fast, from a long perspective.
So has tolerance. This is the generation that will finally give equality to our gay brothers and sisters. It’s coming and it can’t even be stopped now. Marriage Equality didn’t even seem possible 20 years ago, but now it’s inevitable.
And probably before too much longer, we’ll see more and more tolerance for transgendered people too.
Because things only get better.
And soon, our brothers and sisters won’t go to prison for possessing a plant that doesn’t kill anyone and isn’t dangerous. How many lives have been ruined because possessing marijuana has been treated like a serious crime? Like marriage equality, decriminalization didn’t seem possible 20 years ago. But now it’s inevitable.
Because things only get better.
These old paradigms that no longer serve us are going away.
The world is awakening. Enlightenment is coming to everyone.
I don’t know what’s coming next, but it’s a great time to be alive.
Remember when you think things are bad:
They only get better.