Tag Archives: optimism

Why 2017 Was The Best Year In Human History (Seriously)

20160218-ilchi-lee-authentic-living-for-a-solar-body-for-new-hopes-and-dreams-of-creating-human-peace-4

These days, being an optimist is hard. In some cases, you’ll get laughed out of the room for not thinking the world is on a steady descent into a dystopian hellscape in the mold of “Mad Max,” “1984,” or “Idiocracy.” I don’t deny that current events, especially after the 2016 Election, have made optimism difficult. However, that’s exactly why it’s worth talking about.

I do consider myself an optimist, at heart. I sincerely believe that, on the whole, things are getting better for the world, the human race, and everything in between. I’ve even tried to make my case through personal experience and through empirical data. I don’t imagine I’ve changed too many opinions, but I still think it’s important to put that perspective out there.

With a new year upon us, I think that perspective is worth belaboring once more. This time, however, I’m not alone in my optimistic sentiment. There are others who share in my optimistic outlook. Some of those individuals are far smarter, far more accomplished, and far more charismatic than I’ll ever be.

By those standards, Steven Pinker checks all the necessary boxes. While he’s somewhat of a controversial figure in some circles, the man has some solid credentials. He’s an accomplished professor at Harvard and has written multiple books on issues ranging from language to psychology to human nature.

His seminal work, though, is his book, “The Better Angels Of Our Nature.” If you want a compelling reason to believe that the world is getting better by most measures, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s not just about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Mr. Pinker provides real, verifiable information that the world is getting better and human nature is far better than we give it credit for.

Beyond his books and his famous TED Talks, Mr. Pinker continues to make his case for a more upbeat outlook in various ways. Recently, his work was cited in an op-ed article in the New York Times entitled “Why 2017 Was The Best Year In Human History.”

Granted, a title like that is a bit heavy on hyperbole, but the writer, Nicholas Kristoff, is dead serious in making that case. Link Mr. Pinker, he doesn’t just interpret all the ongoing trends in the world through the mind of a stoned hippie. He puts the state of the world into a context that goes beyond all the horrible headlines we saw in 2017.

He, and other optimists like him, tend to look at the broader trends in human society. The data is out there, but it’s hard to put into a compelling headline. That doesn’t stop men like Kristoff and Pinker from making a concerted effort, though.

We all know that the world is going to hell. Given the rising risk of nuclear war with North Korea, the paralysis in Congress, warfare in Yemen and Syria, atrocities in Myanmar and a president who may be going cuckoo, you might think 2017 was the worst year ever.

But you’d be wrong. In fact, 2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.

A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell.

Again, these trends are hard to see and harder to report on because they don’t happen all at once. If tomorrow, all poverty was magically wiped out, that would be a big news story. However, human progress doesn’t work that way. It’s slow, gradual, and sometimes boring. It does happen, though. The events of 2017 were no exception.

Violent went down. Poverty went down. In fact, they went down to their lowest levels in modern history. Compared to a year ago, 5 years ago, or 50 years ago, the trends we saw in 2017 were all improvements by most objective measures. A lot of these trends are things Mr. Pinker has been talking about for years. Mr. Kristoff simply builds on them.

Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.

For most individuals, these trends are difficult to notice. That’s largely because they’re driven by forces that most people don’t notice or understand beyond their personal existence. Even in a world that’s so connected and becoming more connected with each passing day, it’s easy to overlook this kind of progress.

It’s also a lot harder when the news is largely dominated by negative headlines that highlight how dissatisfied the general public is with the direction of society. Again, there is a context here and one that I’ve tried to point out before. It’s one of the first lessons I learned in college when interpreting media of any kind, be it the news or superhero comics.

The reason why all these negative headlines are headlines in the first place isn’t because they’re common. It’s because they’re so rare. Stories such as mass shootings, brutal murders, and war crimes make the news because they don’t happen every day. That’s why they qualify as news. They’re aberrations and not normal occurrences.

Conversely, good headlines rarely make the front page because they lack the same novelty and emotional impact as bad news. Naturally, people are going to react more strongly to a horrific headline because our survival instincts compel us to devote more energy to the bloodier, more dangerous information.

That’s why, even if 2017 was the best year in the history of the human race, our caveman brains aren’t going to process that because it’s so focused on all the negative news that came out over the past year. That news may very well be a tiny sliver of the events that transpired in 2017, but that news will still garner more attention, especially in the current digital economy.

We can still take comfort in the progress that happened in 2017, though. No matter how many negative headlines there were, that doesn’t undo the genuinely good things that transpired in the past year. Mr. Kristoff even went out of his way to provide an anecdote, of sorts, that highlighted just how much good can come from even the worst parts of the world.

Granted, this column may feel weird to you. Those of us in the columny gig are always bemoaning this or that, and now I’m saying that life is great? That’s because most of the time, quite rightly, we focus on things going wrong. But it’s also important to step back periodically. Professor Roser notes that there was never a headline saying, “The Industrial Revolution Is Happening,” even though that was the most important news of the last 250 years.

I had a visit the other day from Sultana, a young Afghan woman from the Taliban heartland. She had been forced to drop out of elementary school. But her home had internet, so she taught herself English, then algebra and calculus with the help of the Khan Academy, Coursera and EdX websites. Without leaving her house, she moved on to physics and string theory, wrestled with Kant and read The New York Times on the side, and began emailing a distinguished American astrophysicist, Lawrence M. Krauss.

Think about that story, for a moment, and reflect on how 2017 made it possible. Thanks to all the progress made in global communications, a woman in Afghanistan in 2017 was able to pursue opportunities that would’ve been impossible a mere 20 years ago.

This woman, despite living in one of the most war torn parts of the world, still managed to gain access to the kind of education and informational resources that were once reserved for aristocrats and academics. That, by any measure, is an astonishing accomplishment for humanity.

In many respects, 2017 was the best year ever because it continued the trends had been going on for years. As a result, more people have access to information, education, and the basic necessities of life than at any other point in human history. That, more than anything, is why it’s not unreasonable to say that 2017 was the best year ever.

The fact that concerns over celebrity scandals is a greater concern than poverty, war, or famine shows that we are making more progress than we think. It also bodes well for 2018 being an even better year than 2017. Despite what negative headlines may say, the human race is on an unprecedented winning streak and I hope, along with men like Mr. Pinker and Mr. Kristoff, that the streak continues into 2018 and beyond.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Sexy Future

Reflecting On The Brighter Headlines Of 2017

Goodnews

It’s over. The year that was 2017 is done and for some, the big New Years ball in Times Square couldn’t drop fast enough. I don’t blame those people. It was, indeed, a rough year for many. I consider myself among the lucky few who made strides in 2017 and have high hopes that I’ll do the same in 2018.

Even for those who did enjoy progress this past year, it’s easy for the news paint a different picture. Every day seems to bring a new headline hinting that we’re all about to die a terrible death, either by nuclear war, a new plague, or by all our smartphones exploding at once. I try to be optimistic about most things, but I totally understand why others are so pessimistic.

The past couple years have been more hectic than most, primarily due to the results of the 2016 Election. It was around the end of 2016 when I made it a point to remind everyone that, despite what the news media may claim, the world is becoming a better place by nearly every objective measure. I even go out of my way to report on news that promises the end of disease, suffering, and stupidity within the foreseeable future.

However, I realize that such progress is difficult to see and some of the more futuristic advancements I’ve discussed are still a way off, especially with sex robots. So, in the interest of putting a positive spin on the end of 2017, I’d like to highlight a few uplifting and promising news stories to help get everyone excited about 2018.

Some of them involve technological breakthroughs that promise to improve the lives of many. Others involve the kind of feel-good stories that often get overshadowed by bloodier, more sensational headlines. These are the stories from which we should draw inspiration as we head into 2018. We’ll do ourselves and our futures better by moving forward with a sense of hope.


Muslim Hackers Unite To Kick ISIS Off The Internet

There’s no way around it. Muslims face a lot of discrimination, thanks largely to the worst of the worst of their extremes. Religion taken to extremes can, has, and will continue to cause all sorts of horrors throughout the world. That’s why a news story like this is important for perspective.

When it comes to taking on the extremes of any religion, the best weapon are the adherents of that very religion. Given how ISIS has often exploited technology to further their extremism, there’s an uncanny sense of poetic justice in seeing other Muslims fight back. It should give anyone hope that the extremes of any faith rarely succeed in the long run.


FaceBook Uses AI To Help Prevent Suicide

Social media and its effect on people has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The events of 2017, which built off the side-show horrors of 2016, only made it worse. It’s getting to a point where social media only ever makes the news when it’s doing something bad.

However, like ski-masks, machetes, and crazy glue, it’s a tool like any other. Its moral value depends on how it’s used. For an effort like using artificial intelligence to measure social media activity to assess suicide risks, I say that’s an inherent good. We lost some great people to suicide in 2017. Any effort, be it AI or simply calling a hot line, should be applauded.


Practical Quantum Computers Are Almost A Reality

On the technology side of things, something I try to stay on top of on this blog, there are all sorts of exciting advances and not just in sex toys. Most are bits and pieces of progress from other bits that we made in years past. Others, however, have the potential to bring so much more.

That’s why advances in practical quantum computers is such a big deal. The idea and concept of quantum computers is actually pretty old. Making them practical, however, has been one of the biggest engineering challenges in computer technology. It’s a first step, but by far the biggest.

Advances in 2017 weren’t just baby steps. Now, the theoretical part of quantum computers is basically resolved. It’s now a matter of when and not if. Once quantum computers enter the picture, then all bets are off. From biotechnology to 3D printing to sex toys, quantum computers promise to revolutionize all of it and this past year brought us that much closer.


Gene Therapy Is Set To Cure Once Incurable Diseases

I’ve talked about big advances in biotechnology. I build the entire basis of “Skin Deep” around them and entertained thoughts of a world where diseases that hindered our sex lives are no longer a concern. Some of those advances are still a way off, but 2017 saw advances that should make our future that much healthier.

Before we can wipe out all disease, we need to attack those most vulnerable. This past year, we began that process by modifying the genes that cause fatal inherited diseases like SCID and Glybera. It’s a critical first step towards modifying other disease-causing genes, both in developing embryos and adult humans.

It may not be the giant leap some are looking for, but those leaps rarely come in a single year. However, this still counts as a major step and by taking that step, the years beyond 2017 will have less suffering and more health.


Getting Into Space Got A Lot Cheaper Thanks To SpaceX

If fighting the good fight and advances in technology aren’t enough to lift your spirits, then why not look to the stars? Let’s face it. It’s been a while since anyone got excited about space travel. Nobody has been to the moon in decades and space travel is so routine that we don’t even think about it. Then, Elon Musk came along and made it cool again.

Musk being Musk, though, he had to do one better. He actually made space travel a growing economy. Thanks to developments by his company, SpaceX, getting to space got a lot cheaper and more efficient with the Falcon 9 rocket. It marks one of the most important steps in making space travel more than just a gimmick for governments.

Cheaper, more efficient rockets means getting to space is easier. Getting to space easier means more opportunities. More opportunities mean more chances for ordinary to know what it’s like to actually venture towards the stars. That should give anyone who admires the stars reasons to get excited for 2018.


Prison Inmates Give Food To Needy Kids

Blurred image of prisoner shaking hands with charity owner when handing over food donation.

Even if you’re still jaded by 2017 and all the stories I just shared didn’t help, then sit tight. I’ve got one more that should help make 2018 more appealing. Even if you think this past year sucked, I’m willing to bet you consider yourself less jaded than standard prison inmate. If you’re free or not in the process of being arrested, you consider that a plus.

So when a bunch of prison inmates find it in their hearts to give food to needy children, how can your heart possibly remain hardened? It’s true. This past year, a group of prison inmates showed that humanity is not at all beyond possibly say your heart is still hardened?

These kinds of stories are part of the reason why I believe humanity deserves more credit than it gets. Yes, the news tends to highlight our worst, but stories like this show us at our best. That’s why I believe having faith in humanity is so important and carrying that faith into 2018 can only help us in the years to come.

2 Comments

Filed under Current Events, Jack Fisher's Insights