David Brin – Is the world improving… despite our grouchy dogmas?

  • Published on June 4th, 2013

By David Brin

Poverty and violence are decreasing worldwide, at truly amazing rates. And of course – as we have seen – this fact seems anathema to grouches of both the far left and the entire right. But it does prove that the Great Program instituted by George Marshall, Harry Truman, Dean Acheson and Dwight Eisenhower has been working, in a spectacular mix of good development assistance and the better half of capitalism.

I have described several times how Dr. Stephan Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, shows clearly that per capita rates of violence across the world have been plummeting (albeit with tragic unevenness) every decade since the Second World War. Even the recent, terribly unwise wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though in many ways regrettable and devastating to our U.S. economy, were nevertheless waged in a manner unlike what any other generation would have called “war,” looking more like heavy-scale (sometimes fierce) SWAT team action than mass armies pounding and flattening everything in their path.
20130601_cna400But it is the fight against poverty that stands out even more. As reported in a recent Economist article, Towards the End of Poverty:
“In his inaugural address in 1949 Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of those people.” It has taken much longer than Truman hoped, but the world has lately been making extraordinary progress in lifting people out of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, their number fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people.”
To be clear: I’m no pollyanna.
  1. These improvements are just enough to offer hope, not any excuse to let-up.  And
  2. There are many areas that are not improving at a trajectory for success. Environmental worries top that list.  Nevertheless, violence and poverty are paramount, and the news in those areas is tentatively fantastic.
Why do we hear so little about this? Because amid today’s callowly indignant political polarization and Phase Three of the American Civil War, good news serves the polemical interests of neither right nor left. The mania of the right is that “improvement” campaigns are manifestations of pushy do-gooder oppressors; things are rotten but that is the natural way of life and existence. Trying to “improve” people and the world is either nanny-frantic rudeness or else a commie plot.
The mania of the left is to hallucinate the most self-defeating fabulation of all. Not that we must improve… (I agree that we had better, a lot, or fail utterly)… but that chiding… and only chiding… will get us there.  That reflex, to emphasize only indignant finger-wagging, has been politically devastating, by alienating millions who naturally dislikebeing relentlessly guilt-tripped. Moreover it illogically and stupidly aims to motivate folks to take up progressive causes without ever admitting that earlier progressive campaigns to improve the world have actually … worked! Pause. Contemplate that sales pitch. Would you buy a product when those pushing it howl that it never worked? (This is why pragmatic liberals are essentially a different species from leftists.)

Feh. You can see how these right and left manias feed into each other. They are reciprocal addiction enablers. And extreme self-righteousness junkies are not the ones making a better world.  We are.
Emissaries wanted!
1) Jay Lake is inviting folks who will be near Portland on June 27 to attend his “pre-mortem wake and roast, a somewhat morbid, deeply irreverent, but joyous celebration of me.” Gawrsh, wish I could attend.  (And weep a little between jokes.) Volunteers wanted to proxy-me, praise a truly vivid life, and wish Jay happy trails.
2) Another METI – (Message to Extraterrestrials) – stunt appears to be underway, pushed ahead by fools who claim an arrogant right to speak for humanity, without ever discussing the issue in open debate with colleagues or the public. One group will be announcing their planned Yoohoo Shout at a news conference in New York City on June 11: 1pm at 500 Broadway (2nd fl).
For background on this vexing issue see: ShoutingCosmosShouting at the Cosmos: How SETI has taken a worrisome turn into dangerous territory. Here is the shouters’ rationalization: The Benefits and Harms of Beaming into Space, which is based (the Benford boys assure me) upon fallacious physics.
Out of all the members of our SETI dissidents group (arguing that there should be discussion involving top people from many fields, before small groups arrogate to go screaming into the cosmos on humanity’s behalf, based on faulty assumptions) none of us are able to attend the news conference on short notice, or ask inconvenient questions. Do we have any volunteers from out there in the community? Calm sciencey types preferred!  Get in touch via comments below.
At minimum, we could learn who is funding this and who owns the telescope.

 (Originally appeared at Contrary Brin.)

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