Monday, May 4, 2015

Musings of a Non-Economic Variety

“I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite.”
       Nelson Mandela. Long Walk to Freedom.

Having kicked things off with my economic musings (something for which I have zero credentials, the intro class in college notwithstanding), I figured I'd offer my musings on philosophy, culture, politics, genetics, and sociology as well - all also things I have no credentials for.

Enjoy at your own risk.

If the Internet and social media have proven anything, it's that - at heart - we are a moral and a compassionate species. How else can you explain the viral nature of kittens playing piano and dancing babies or any of thousands of other memes? Compare the number of positive uplifting happy generous friendly internet memes to the negative hateful ones and I think you will see a pattern.

I am not naive enough to think there is no underbelly to the Internet. Gambling, pornography, drugs, and crime have all made their way to the Internet and are thriving online. But the vast majority of people prefer to watch cute puppies do yoga or old guys dropping their canes and jamming.

You may argue that this is the role of social media – to help us waste a few minutes laughing – so I've confused cause and effect. But I’m not just talking about bored teenagers and the entertainment value of Facebook here. I believe the trend is much broader and deeper than that.

Even when we report from rough places around the globe and cover wars – Tahrir Square in Cairo or downtown Mogadishu, there is usually a human angle to the story that uplifts us with pride, burns us with indignation, or at least shames us into acting – in one way or another attempting to engage us viscerally. Remember Neda, the girl who died on camera during the so-called Iranian green revolution or the plight of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram? And who can ever forget the image of a man staring down the tanks in Tiananmen Square?

You may argue that I’m just falling prey to journalistic propaganda and sentimentality. Again, I beg to differ. All those kids waving smartphones around and videotaping a slaughter just so they can share it on Youtube are not journalists.

These are the images, videos, and stories that capture our hearts. The positive uplifting ones. The ones that pull at our heartstrings. Hence my assertion that - at heart - we are a positive species. Given sufficient time, we will find a way to solve our problems. And move the world in a positive direction - with lots of fits and starts, for sure, but still generally moving in the right direction.

Just look at how far we have come in the last few hundred years in terms not just of scientific advancement but also educational, cultural, medical, agricultural, and every other angle you can imagine. Five hundred years ago, we had just figured out how to print books – until then, every book was copied by hand. Four hundred years ago, we still thought the world was flat. Three hundred years ago, the average life expectancy was still in the mid-thirties. Two hundred years ago, we were still hunting witches. A hundred years ago, most people didn't have electricity, let alone telephones, televisions, or even refrigerators. Fifty years ago, most people had not traveled more than a few miles from their homes in their lifetimes. Thirty years ago, almost no one had a personal computer. Ten years ago, most people were not even on the Internet.

We have come so far so quickly as a species that it’s breathtaking when you take a step back and watch. I would argue that, when viewed from a distance, the forces of good have always won over the forces of evil – in the long run.

In this world, Nazism would never have prevailed in the long run.  Even if the allies had lost the war, some revolutionary or guerrilla force somewhere would have fought on to eventually prevail and beat them - the good shall triumph. It’s in our nature to fight evil.

Communism failed, at the end of the day, not because its foundational economic principles were wrong. It failed because, as an experiment, it did not result in a happier populace. The same populace who could now turn on their satellite TVs and smartphones and see how the other half lives. China: ditto. Cuba: ditto. Dogma can only take you so far.

And the more of a unified global village we become, the more we share on the internet, the more we realize that we are not all that different from each other after all. We have more things in common than we thought – kittens and puppies and dancing babies included.

So I'm hopeful. I'm positive. I'm bullish on the future of the human race.

But what about all the fighting, all the hatred, all the terrorism, you may ask. I can only point you to Steven Pinker’s masterly work, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, where he shows that we have a much lower rate of violence in the world today than at any point in history. And the rate continues to drop.

“The Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, apologized to Pope Gregory VII for church-state conflicts by standing barefoot in the snow for three days.”
Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Ok, that quote has almost nothing to do with the point I was trying to make, but I thought it was awesome and wanted to include it here.

This quote, however, does have a lot to do with the point I’m trying to make – and it comes from one of my favorite authors of all time:

“Nevertheless, an iron rule exists in genetic social evolution. It is that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals.”
                Edward O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth.

If we could only embody that statement at a global level instead of a local one, the world would be a better place. And believe me... as hard as it may be to see on a day to day basis, we are moving in the right direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment