20+ Reasons Why the World is Better Now Than Ever Before

A guide to world history:

A few years ago a couple of well-meaning, passionately religious Christian ladies rapped on my door and tried to convince me that the reason society is collapsing is because we've lost our faith in God.  Curious, I asked them what made them think that society was collapsing.  Their answer: crime, poverty, war, disease, drugs, gangs ....

This got me wondering how many other people are laboring under the delusion that things are worse now than in the past.  God knows our world has its challenges - particularly with respect to environmental stewardship - but to characterize society as collapsing is not only unnecessarily pessimistic but also just plain misguided.  The following list summarizes some of the many amazing ways in which our global community is far, far, far better off now than ever before.
  1. Fewer Wars.  While it may seem as if all we hear about in the news is war, what's happening now - mostly regional conflicts and the occasional out-of-control warlord - is nothing nearly so devastating as the world wars of the past; and deaths from war are many hundreds of times less now than during such historical conflicts at the Napoleonic Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, the Mongol Conquests, or pretty much any conflict involving China or Japan. 
  2. Fewer Atrocities.  Thanks to the Geneva Convention, many of the most egregiously horrifying practices of war have diminished.  Yes, there will always be countries that ignore these conventions.  But think about how far we've come since medieval times, when it was common practice to draw and quarter people alive.
  3. Less Crime.  You think crime's bad now?  Statistically speaking, crime is vastly less common in the U.S. now than it was during the days of prohibition; nor is it hyperbole to call the Wild West of the 19th century lawless.  Across the world there are still plenty of countries in which governments and militaries remain wholly corrupt, but there are also plenty of countries where, for the first time in thousands of years, laws are being aggressively and successfully enforced.
  4. More Human Rights.  Thanks in large measure to the tireless efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt, the UN has adopted a Universal Bill of Rights.  While, again, there will always be countries that cheat, society took a massive step forward the day they acknowledged that all humans have certain inalienable civil rights, including the right to life, justice, and religious freedom.
  5. Emancipation.  For the first time in history, most major countries allow women & minorities to participate in the democratic process.
  6. Women's Rights.  It's taken several thousand years, but in many countries women are finally being entrusted with the same rights and responsibilities as men.  That's good news for 50% of the world's population and should be good news for the other 50%, as men gradually come to realize how many more opportunities this arrangement opens for them too. 
  7. Animal Rights.  Though not quite as world-shaping as women's rights, it's nice to know that we now live in a world where most people acknowledge that cruelty to animals is uncalled for and animals are in some measure protected.
  8. Less Pestilence.   Thanks to innovations in sanitation and nutrition, most of us live healthier, longer, much more pain-free lives than ever before. 
  9. Less Starvation.  And thanks to innovations in science - drought-proof strains of wheat, genetic engineering to keep foods fresher, longer - fewer people than ever before are living in starvation.
  10. Medical Advances.  These days, catching flu is an excuse for missing a few days of work; not so long ago, it was a death sentence.  Thank medical science for the fact that pandemics, polio, small pox, measles, bubonic plague, food poisoning, and a host of other maladies are now largely consigned to the history books 
  11. More Tolerance.  Though the struggle against intolerance continues, it marks an important milestone that most of the global community now appreciates that tolerance - for people of other religions, other tribes, other sexual preferences - is a worthy and necessary goal.
  12. Reduced Drug Use.  Folks who think drug use is on the rise obviously haven't studied history, because humans have always indulged in drug use - it's just that the drugs of choice have changed over the years.  Whereas these days we worry about cocaine, marijuana, and prescription drugs, it wasn't so long ago that our societies were devastated by alcohol, laudanum, and opium.  (Seriously, check out the label of pretty much any 19th century drug - I almost guarantee the main ingredient will be one of these three.)  These days narcotic use is much less prevalent and help for addicts much more available than ever before.
  13. Universal Education.  Education is one of those "silver bullets" - it has the ability to deliver people not just from ignorance, but also from crime, disease, poverty, and hopelessless.  It's useful to reflect upon the old Japanese proverb: "If you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime." 
  14. Improved Communications/Freedom of the Press.  Because the #1 enabler of tyranny, cruelty and oppression is the inability of oppressed peoples to discover the extent to which they are oppressed and to organize coordinated protests.  In this era of internet, mobile phones & satellite radio, it's getting harder and harder for tyrannies to keep this sort of information out of the hands of the people they are tyrannizing, as the phenomenon dubbed "Arab Spring" very recently illustrated.
  15. Improved Social Mobility.  Not so long ago it was easy to figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up because you really had no choice in the matter: if your parents were peasants, you were going to be a peasant too.  Thanks largely to the growing availability of education, many of our world's citizens have unprecedented access to better jobs, better opportunities, and better lives.
  16. Fairer Labor Laws.  Just 100 years ago, laborers worked 6 days/wk, 12hrs/day with only one 15minute break; children as young as 2 worked in factories or mines; employees were locked/chained into rooms with no AC & no escape in the event of fire; workers were regularly exposed to toxic chemicals; and it wasn't uncommon for people to spend their lives trying to work their ways free of indentured servitude.  And that's just here in the U.S.  While, obviously, brutal labor practices persist in some countries, many countries have recognized the error of their ways & now protect laborers from exploitation.
  17. Technology.  Can you imagine what life was like before the days of steam power, farm equipment, factories, and indoor plumbing?  Neither can I.
  18. Less Work.  I love my labor saving devices!  Electricity, plumbing, appliances ... even the ubiquitous bicycle have significantly reduced the physical labor of day-to-day life, freeing up hours in the day for us to spend on pursuits that make up happy.
  19. Volunteerism.  Just because churches are no longer playing such a dominant role in charitable works doesn't mean that charity is disappearing from the earth.  On the contrary, "freeing" charitable works from the confines of religion has allowed it to spread through the secular community - and up the social ladder too, as organizations like the Gates Foundation prove. 
  20. Morality.  My ladies were particularly determined to believe that we are living in a less moral society than ever before.  Really?  Less moral than when our plantations were farmed by slaves? Less moral than when we hung people for shoplifting? Less moral than when politicians ran cities on the basis of bribery and graft? Less moral than when men were allowed to rape women if they "asked for it" by being female?

No comments:

Post a Comment