Pessimism, as a world view, doesn’t appeal to me much. It has its supporters but I’m not one of them. Even if one were to adopt a pessimistic stance, you’d be fighting against the tide of history. What’s that, you say?
The world is a better place than it’s ever been and it is all upwards from here on in. I can hear you rolling your eyes but think of it. First of all, there are more democracies – a bit shabby at times but still – then there have ever been. Fifty years ago, even Europe had its share of military dictatorships (Greece, Portugal) and they were the style in South America and Africa too. The last have yet to be swept away but as the rule of law and respect for human rights spread – and they have shown steady progress since WWII, those final ones will fall. China may be a hold-out but even the Politburo will not stand forever.
What about war, you ask. Well what about it? Even given the blip of this year, the number of people affected by armed conflict has been falling steadily for decades. It is all part of a long-term trend. Though records are uneven, there is evidence that violence as a norm of human behavior has been trending downward for nearly 1000 years.
Poverty, too, is at an all-time low while health standards are rising everywhere. Lifespans continue to rise in most countries (there are exceptions – Russia has seen its lifespans drop since the fall of communism and the virtual elimination of health care and social safety nets).
Even hunger is being pushed back. A couple of years ago the number of overweight people exceeded malnourished ones for the first time in a century. Obesity has its own issues but unrelenting hunger is soul crushing.
Don’t get me wrong – I know we have a long way to go. The elimination of sexism, racism and other abusive forms of tribalism need to be fought on a daily basis but at least now we have the tools and will to combat them. Setbacks? Sure but it wasn’t that long ago we couldn’t even articulate the struggles that women and the poor and people of color face. We didn’t even acknowledge they existed in many places.
Pessimism will not put paid to the evils of the world though optimism and action will. The action part is hard and the roadblocks are many. Fear of science, embracing of superstitious world views, the raw crippling fear that many (especially men) have of change are all real. But like so much else we’ve already turned our backs on, these too will pass.
But that’s ten minutes.