It’s the best of times, and the fu­ture looks even bet­ter

China Daily (USA) - - SECOND THOUGHTS - Con­tact the writer at erik_nils­[email protected] chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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