Open mic: Things are getting better, worse?

Life expectancy trending up, social prejudices down, liberal democracy preeminent, and technology auspicious.

Last month’s community forum contemplated, “Are things getting better or worse?”

Among the frames of reference are life expectancy trending up, social prejudices down, liberal democracy preeminent, and technology auspicious.

At the same time, overpopulation, climate change, raw material depletion, growing social inequality and continuing armed conflict remain spectres of future doom.

The issue is further muddied by an, ‘If it bleeds it leads’ corporate media environment and governments that exploit public safety concerns in order to repress dissent (at least according to critics of Bill C-51).

These are not entirely new, regardless of conventional wisdom from those who had to walk uphill both to and from school.

Similarly, bah-humbug attitudes toward younger generation’s technology addiction demonstrate more bias than insight.

Having 500 ‘Facebook friends’ provides a broader, better perspective to base opinions and ethics than exchanging notes in class with a best friend, would it not?

As another example: Higher modern rates of divorce are less due to generational moral deficiency than to increased social mobility and prosperity (especially among women).

Per an oft repeated refrain: “Progress has consequences, but overall it’s more good than bad.”

Despite wars, exploitation and pollution, the 20th Century quadrupled humankind from 1.6 to 6.1 billion.

Among many factors, the primary driver was a 700 per cent increase in farming efficiency – and hence food availability.

Though naysayers contest the positivity of these developments, doing so ignores the incremental importance we all put on ‘turning 82’ the day of our 81st birthday (that being the current Canadian life expectancy versus a mere 48 years, circa 1900).

Further to the point, one meeting participant suggested that 89 per cent of tap water in India is now drinkable, but the country is experiencing childhood obesity issues similar to North America.

Contrasted against India’s historical poverty – as well as 1.4 billion Chinese growing daily more prosperous – it is ridiculous to maintain things are not getting better.

Thus, perhaps it is our First World perspective that needs adjustment, both in terms of our expectations and regarding what is important. Previous generations were too busy working dawn to dusk to ponder life choices. But an era with too few jobs yet abundant food no longer requires prioritizing a Protestant work ethic, above all else. Maybe the insight to be gained is that sacrifices of every previous generation paved the way for today’s citizens to prioritize happiness over worry.

Some point in our species evolution will be as good as it ever was, and it would be tragic if that era passed as under-appreciated as every other.

Reincarnation beliefs notwithstanding, if we all only have one life to live, then whichever time frame we happen to inhabit has to be our own ‘best,’ right?

There will always be challenges, whether winning a war or eventually reaching the stars. Since human nature aspires to higher purposes, each generation requires issues on which to define itself. Capitalism and democracy and technology and our own drive have led us light years from the short, nasty and brutish plains of Africa.

Therefore, maintaining today that things are getting worse is the same as feeling scared that we’ve come too far, too fast. If so, then climate change or environmental limitations will reduce our number.

But despairing for such a future based on romanticized recollections about how much better it was back in the day lacks perspective – and gives youngsters plenty reason to reach for their iPhones.

 

– By Mike Shields, who grew up locally and hosts SFU’s Philosopher’s Café Sessions at the Maple Ridge Act Theater, 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month.

 

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