Sunday, March 11, 2007

Are we better off?

The world certainly faces no shortage of problems. War. Famine. Global warming. But compared to the past are we better off?

Robert Crampton seems to think we are in a piece in the London Times (via Harry’s Place):
Somewhere, right now, a newspaper olumnist is whingeing. Even Matthew Parris has succumbed. Moaning has become the default temptation for the hard-pressed opinion-former. It’s cheap, it’s easy — but it’s wrong. On balance, the world is a far better place than it was, say, 30 years ago, when I was the age my children are now. Here are some reasons to be cheerful. Feel free to add your own.

Communism is all but gone. Even Castro is almost dead. Fewer countries are run by tyrants of any stripe. Fewer people do dirty, dangerous, soul-destroying, health-destroying or just plain boring jobs. Military casualties come at a much higher political cost: in 1972, when I was my daughter’s age, 134 British soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland, exactly the number that have died in four years of war in Iraq.

Clothing and food are cheaper, better and more likely to be made of natural ingredients, though neoprene, Gore-Tex, Lycra and Velcro are more than welcome. Tinned mandarins are no longer part of our staple diet. My children eat delicious stuff I hadn’t heard of until I was 25.

Obesity, narcissism and living too long are much less serious problems than hunger, disease and not living long enough. My children’s grandparents are all alive. Three of mine were dead before I was four. Viagra has been invented. Fifty is the new thirty.

Divorce is not stigmatised. Neither are mixed-race children. Corporal punishment is against the law. Very few people think homosexuality is a sin or that women are inferior or that racism is a bit of a laugh. More than 50 per cent of doctors are women. Bullying is taken seriously by schools. Domestic violence is taken seriously by the police. Parents, especially fathers, have warmer, friendlier, closer relationships with their children.

Shops open longer. Ikea, Decathlon and TK Maxx benefit millions. More people than ever are writing, recording, painting, creating. The cinema, books and newspapers are still very cheap. Museums are free and more interesting. Modern architecture is rather nice to look at. Good taste in matters great and small has percolated down. Duvets are preferable to blankets. The great cities of the North of England are rising again.

Very few people smell. Lidos are reopening. Canals are being dug once again. Unleaded is normal. There are salmon in the Thames, wildflowers in the hedgerows and farmers’ markets in the high street. You can get to Paris by train in three hours. Many of the world’s best footballers play in England. Immigration is up, emigration is up, the internet is utterly wonderful, the word “sir” is falling into disuse, ties are being cast off, almost everyone is on first-name terms.

And spring is nearly here, and many types of cancer are in headlong retreat, and our kids will live a very long time, and Doctor Who will soon be back on the telly.

So, given all that, why the long face?
So what do you think?


Comrade Kevin said...

As a student of history, I know that in many ways, times have been much worse than they are right now.

But these days, there's much more exposure. We see things because we are so closely networked. We see things in an instant that our grandparents saw in a week. We are bombarded constantly with all that is bad so that we will continue watching the news and buying products.

But the human condition is what you make of it. Good, bad, depressing, joyful, sad---it's all in how you look at it.

Red Jenny said...

In many ways he's right, as long as you are looking in terms of a very small percentage of the world's population.

I'm sure the Sudanese refugees would feel very comforted by being told how much better the world is today than in the past.

Also, environmentally, the world is overall worse off than it has been for most of the past. The number of conflicts has decreased, but the weapons of war are more deadly, and the types of death in war have changed dramatically in the last century (most of the dead are now civilians, once upon a time that was not the case).

I like this line: "Military casualties come at a much higher political cost: in 1972, when I was my daughter’s age, 134 British soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland, exactly the number that have died in four years of war in Iraq." Um, that is now many British have died. What about Iraqis. Geez, I guess thinking about them might wipe the smile off his face.

Of course, there have been great steps forward (mostly because of progressive activism!), such as the recognition of such things as racism, or the establishment of a concept "human rights". That doesn't mean there isn't a long way to go though.

This article could be a counter to those alarmists who always say things like: "the world is getting worse every day", which probably isn't true.

Interesting post.