World View: Optimists unite: there’s plenty of positive news

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Michael Carin

I recently attended a dinner party where the problems of the world became the main subject of conversation. Tempers rose. Voices grew vehement. One of the guests, a well-educated father of three adult children, said quite forcefully: “The world being what it is these days, if I were starting over again, I definitely would not bring kids into it.”

My jaw didn’t drop but only because I had heard this kind of shocking nonsense before. Still, I could not help being dismayed. The defeatism of the declaration made me wonder how rational people could be so discouraged by humanity’s problems while remaining oblivious to our thriving evolution.

The fact is, humanity is progressing. Things on the whole are getting better.

Over the last thirty years, upwards of a billion people have left extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, the portion of the population now subsisting in near-famine conditions has plunged to ten percent, down from thirty-six percent. The rate has never been lower, and it is continuing to fall thanks to global trade and agricultural momentum.

As well, during the last three decades, the infant mortality rate has plummeted by nearly sixty percent, the incidence of women dying in childbirth has fallen by over forty percent, and life expectancy has risen almost everywhere.

When did we last hear the doom merchants acknowledging these fundamental improvements in the condition of our species?

Much is made by the worrywarts of the prevalence of conflict throughout the world. I would refer them to a monumental study undertaken by Steven Pinker, a Montreal-born Harvard professor. His book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, charts with substantial evidence the steady decline of violence in the world. With overwhelming documentation Pinker shows that brutality and aggression in all their forms have diminished on a near universal basis, yielding an increasingly safer world for our children.

The progress in medicine and technology has brought worldwide benefits. Where death sentences were common half a century ago in myriad
instances of disease and infection, today we effortlessly preserve mortality with vaccines and pills. Where education and communication were recently still in the horse and buggy stage, today several billion people possess handheld devices which connect them to massive libraries and countless other sources of human knowledge.

These are stupendous accomplishments, made possible by human genius. More inventions are continually being introduced to make life still longer and still easier, yet we take for granted all such advances while lending generous ear to those who pontificate about civilization’s decline!

Yes, the human race is facing difficulties related to climate change, the environment, race hatred and income inequality. But these are challenges, not planet-ending catastrophes.

The story of humankind is not faltering; it is still beginning.

Being slow off the mark at that dinner party, I failed to answer the father of three who questioned the virtue of bringing children into the world.  Sir, would you rather see the leadership of Earth abandoned to the flora and fauna? My gratitude to the misguided gentleman for provoking me to write this belated rebuttal.

Michael Carin is the former editor of Montreal Business Magazine and author of the recently published novel, Churchill At Munich.

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