It’s the best of times, and the future looks even better
War. Famine. Poverty. Infant mortality. Illiteracy. Crime. Imagine every variety of tragedy and vulnerability.
Then realize — there has never been a better time to be alive.
All of these horrors are exerting the least amount of power over humankind, compared with any point in history.
Across virtually all metrics, across our planet, life has been getting better and doing so faster than we could have reasonably expected, even several years ago — and, arguably, than most of us realize today.
It’s the big story of the year. It’s the big story of the decade. It’s the big story of the past few centuries.
And China has contributed much to this progress, especially since it initiated the reform and opening-up, the 40th anniversary of which was celebrated earlier this month.
It was integral to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs, agreed upon by all 191 UN member states, outlined targets across eight areas, including education, gender equality and maternal health, between 1990 and 2015.
And China is poised to help the world realize the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which replaced the MDGs, by 2030.
The World Bank credits China and India as the primary drivers that enabled the realization of the MDG target, five years before the deadline, of halving global poverty.
China has hoisted over 800 million people out of poverty since the reform and opening-up was launched in 1978. That scale and scope is unmatched in human history. And it’s accelerating. The government has vowed to entirely eradicate extreme poverty by 2020.
I’ve witnessed vast transformations during my 12 years in the country, especially in rural areas.
So, if the world is the best it has ever been — and is still getting better — why aren’t we celebrating? (And I’d argue we should.)
That’s in no small part because of media. But it’s not media’s fault, per se.
As Harvard professor Steven Pinker pointed out: “It’s not the kind of development that you could learn about reading the papers … because journalism covers what goes wrong, rather than what goes right, you could easily come away with the impression the world is getting worse and worse.”
Tragedies that don’t happen aren’t news, he said.
And common calamities aren’t reported like novel ones.
For instance, people are far more likely to die from falling down the stairs than a tornado.
But their deaths are far more likely to appear in the news if a twister kills them, the cognitive scientist explained.
Also, there’s a lack of suddenness. Even rapid improvement is a gradual process. It lacks the abruptness of a tsunami, terrorist attack or fire.
Instead, advancements in life expectancy, education and security are incrementally unfolding developments best measured over long time scales.
Pinker argued — correctly, I believe — that the ongoing surge in human progress is due to the advance of enlightenment values, such as reason and science, starting in the 18th century.
So, as we go into 2019, we have more reason than ever to rejoice at the present, and anticipate the future with optimism.
We are overcoming virtually all forms of evil, human and natural, at unprecedented and exponential rates.
Things are not only better than they’ve ever been but also are continuing to get better as we fly around the sun.
Indeed, this is good reason — perhaps the best — to celebrate during a very happy New Year.
I, for one, am excited to see what 2019 brings — and how the world will continue to improve in the years that follow. What a time to be alive! The best of times, in fact.