Monthly Archives: August 2016

Paths to More Progress


Despite what the drug industry and some segments of the media want you to believe, Paul McCartney was right. In almost every way, “it’s getting better all the time.”

On the Tonight Show, President Barack Obama told Jimmy Fallon: “Despite the news, despite all the rancor, the truth is if you had to be born at any time in human history and you didn’t know who you were going to be ahead of time…you would choose now. Because the world is actually healthier, wealthier, better educated, more tolerant, less violent than it has ever been.”

In March, 2015, Dylan Matthews of made a list of ways the world is getting much, much better:

  1. Extreme poverty has fallen
  2. Hunger is falling
  3. Child labor is on the decline
  4. People in developed countries have more leisure time
  5. The share of income spent on food in the US has plummeted
  6. Life expectancy is rising
  7. Child mortality is down
  8. Death in childbirth is rarer
  9. People are getting taller
  10. More people have access to malaria bednets
  11. Guinea worm is almost eradicated
  12. Teen births in the US are down
  13. Smoking in the US is down
  14. War is on the decline
  15. Homicide rates in Europe are falling
  16. Homicide rates in the US are falling
  17. Violent crime in the US is going down
  18. The supply of nuclear weapons has been rapidly reduced
  19. More and more countries are democracies
  20. More people are going to school for longer
  21. Literacy is up
  22. The number of unsheltered homeless in the US is down nearly 32 percent since 2007
  23. Moore’s law is still going
  24. Access to the internet is increasing
  25. Solar power is getting cheaper

Leif Wenar, chair of philosophy and law at King’s College London, asked in the New York Times in February, 2016, “Is Humanity Getting Better?” He contended that the 70-year period since World War II has been the most prosperous, most democratic and most peaceful era in recorded human history.

Wenar conceded that, “No decent person would deny that violence is still much too high everywhere. And there is no guarantee that any of these positive trends will continue.” But, he insisted, “batting away the positive facts is lazy, and requires only a lower form of intelligence” and to dwell entirely on what remains lacking blinds us to our capacity for continued progress.

“The real trick to understanding our world,” he said, “is to see it with both eyes at once. The world now is a thoroughly awful place—compared with what it should be. But not compared with what it was. Keeping both eyes open gives depth to our perception of our own time in history, and makes us better able to see where paths to more progress may be open.”


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Because They Said So

In his book, Jacksonland, Steve Inskeep, cohost of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, tells the story of Andrew Jackson’s uncomfortable and contentious relationship with Cherokee chief John Ross.

The decades-long interaction between the two leaders climaxed in the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which has been characterized in varying ways over the years. Inskeep’s jarring and succinct phrase, “land grab,” is an indisputably appropriate description of the law. He says forcefully, “Even Europeans, who made the rules of colonialism, could not articulate any principle by which they should own a giant strip of a continent because they said so….The real estate within those areas was understood to be owned by the natives.”

Setting aside all the heart-rending appeals from native leaders like John Ross, all the rationalization and self-justification of military/political leaders like Andrew Jackson, the fact is that Europeans took the homeland of Native Americans and almost totally destroyed their culture because we could.

Be grateful for those who wield power in other ways and to other ends.

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Filed under History, People, Policy, The Book I Read