Editorial for December 21, 2018
Better Then Ever – Really!
Handel’s “Messiah,” performed every other year by the Voices of Cooperstown at Christ Church – on Saturday, December 15, this was one of those happy years – brings to front of mind the inevitable light and darkness that is part of everyone’s life.
Amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth that has characterized American life since Nov. 8, 2016 – “dumpster fire” has just been added to Merriam Webster – a whole area of scholarship has come to the fore, compiling the facts that prove: The world is actually becoming a better place.
Here are some of the points Steven Pinker, the Harvard professor and author of “Enlightenment Now,” made in a TED Talk last April:
• For most of human history, life expectancy was around 30 years old worldwide. Today, it is more than 70 years old; and in most developed parts of the world, it’s over 80.
• Just 250 years ago, a third of children in the world’s richest countries did not live to see their fifth birthday. Today, less than 6 percent of children in the world’s poorest countries die before they reach age 5.
• Today, less than 10 percent of the world subsists in extreme poverty, but 200 years ago, 90 percent did.
• Over the last century, we’ve become 96 percent less likely to die in car accidents, 99 percent less likely to die in a plane crash, 95 percent less likely to be killed on the job, and 89 percent less likely to die from a natural disaster.
In the world’s poorest countries, Bill Gates told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week, the number of children who die each year has been halved since 1990, and is on track to being halved again.
In a piece in the Wall Street Journal the other week, Matt Ridley, author of “The Rational Optimist,” explained humanity’s funk: “Bad news is more sudden than good news, which is usually gradual … Battles, bombings, accidents, murders, storms, floods, scandals and disasters of all kinds tend to dominate the news.”
Even people who say they prefer good news showed – in an eye-tracking study at McGill University in 2014 – that their eyes wander first to “negative news content.”
Ridley ended his essay with a term he invented, “turning-point-itis,” captured 200 years ago by Macaulay, “On what principle is it that with nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?” Think of the advancements since.
OK, OK, OK, Global Warming is daunting. But so was the polio pandemic of 100 years ago this year; so was the Cold War. Why shouldn’t scientific advances continue, perhaps with a Manhattan Project to control greenhouse gases?
OK, OK, the current President of the United States isn’t everybody’s favorite guy, but there’s no reason to believe, if defeated in 2020, there won’t be an orderly transition of power, as there has been every four years since Washington’s sedate departure on March 4, 1787.
This is not to be a Pollyanna. Still, even with the heroin epidemic: News reports are beginning to surface that overdose deaths are tailing off after rising for a decade.
Listening to the Voices’ “Messiah,” an amazing jewel of Western Civilization, it is hard not to be awe struck at the wonders of the world around us – certainly manifest in our beauteous Otsego County.