Things are better than ever, but it feels like the backslide risk is high

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 6:54 PM | comments: 0

The world has generally been on a path of continuous improvement of my lifetime. Objectively, using data like the stuff found on Our World in Data, we can prove this. For example, fewer people over time are hungry  and extreme poverty is on the decline even while population continues to increase. Ozone depleting substances have been reduced in use while the hole slowly recovers. Homicide is down globally (though relatively high in the US).

The last two years have felt like we're on the path of a serious backslide, however. In the United States, we've seen an unprecedented return of racism (maybe an empowerment of racists more than a return). People engage in willful ignorance over science for a hundred illogical, and frankly stupid, reasons. In the UK they've voted to willingly leave a union that is in their best economic interest to remain a part of, all in the name of a misplaced sense of pride.

This gets us to the topic of critical thinking. There is enough information out there now that you can certainly accumulate it and shape it to fit any narrative that you'd like. However, as a responsible human being, it's your job to understand where the information comes from. Even with recorded history, you should always consider where the information comes from and what their motivation was for recording it. Apply this a hundred times over with anything that comes to you via electronic means.

So what do you do with this? First of all, I think it's reason enough to be optimistic, while cautious. Our trajectory in a broad sense is positive, but there are human forces that threaten it every day. In the US, this has been our history, repeating over and over again. The moral and just direction has always been on the radar, in terms of abolishing slavery, allowing women to vote, civil rights, etc., but there have always been incentives to keep the immoral status quo in place. We can't be a party to that.

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