According to Think Progress blogger Zack Beauchamp, "2013 was the best year in human history". As an institution with "Progress" in the title, we should expect that there should be serious discussions by the Center for American Progress (CAP) not just about problems requiring solutions but also on the reality that across a wide range of domains, humanity has made and is making serious progress.
Beauchamp, however, takes this further (as per the title) to assert that this has been the best year that ever was and that essentially everything is rosy looking out into the future.
Contrary to what you might have heard, virtually all of the most important forces that determine what make people’s lives good — the things that determine how long they live, and whether they live happily and freely — are trending in an extremely happy direction. While it’s possible that this progress could be reversed by something like runaway climate change, the effects will have to be dramatic to overcome the extraordinary and growing progress we’ve made in making the world a better place.
To be clear, there is much of value in Beauchamp's post. Beauchamp's discussions of his five 'reasons'/'trends' are interesting and worthwhile material to consider. There are real positive developments across the planet that often get overlooked, there is real progress, and there is a great deal of truth to Beauchamp's conclusion,
the reason humanity is getting better is because humans have decided to make the world a better place. We consciously chose to develop lifesaving medicine and build freer political systems; we’ve passed laws against workplace discrimination and poisoning children’s minds with lead.That value, however, comes within the shadow of Buzzfeed-type structuring designed to gain eyeballs and traffic. Strawmans and truthiness are great for getting eyeballs but not for advancing truthful discussion. Imagine if the title had been along the lines of:
So far, these choices have more than paid off. It’s up to us to make sure they continue to.
Lots of things are going right ... and we can make things even better: Five mega-trends that are going the right wayHmmm ... with such a muted (and more accurately framed) title, it seems reasonable to think that there would be fewer eyeballs to the post and fewer reaction posts like this one.
Of course, this isn't just about differing concepts of how to title a post.
Beauchamp (the material cited above ("possible ... runaway climate change ... effects will have to be dramatic")) clearly implies a dismissal of the risks of catastrophic climate chaos (or, even more simply, a dismissal of the baseline predictions as to unmitigated climate change impacts or even what is already happening). A more honest and more in line with Center for Progress work (such as at Climate Progress) would have been that "unchecked climate change threatens all of these ..."
While, it seems to this author, Beauchamp sets up multiple strawmen within this post ("too often, the worst parts about the world are treated as inevitable, the prospect of radical victory over pain and suffering dismissed as utopian fantasy" -- ok, by who is that "too often"?), our entire style of public discourse can mean that we (as individuals, as society) can lose sight of the real progress that -- across multiple arenas -- we have made and the potential for continuing this progress while creating improvements in even more arenas.
As for 'how things are better," even though there are plenty of ways to improve the situation within each of these, let's count some ways things are 'better':
- Much of humanity (as individuals) has ready access to more (and higher quality) music than all the Kings and Queens of the 19th century had together.
- Health care quality in the developed world and much of the developing world is light years ahead of just decades ago.
- For most societies, human rights are better today than a few decades ago.
- In the US, compare segregated education of half-a-century ago to a black President ...
- Our scientific knowledge is increasing exponentially.
- What today's 50 year olds learned in high school is a shadow of the knowledge/learning available today.
- Much of this is 'energy cool' creating opportunities for a clean energy revolution.
- The communications revolution (web, wireless, etc ...) is enabling sharing of that knowledge in ways essentially incomprehensible a few decades ago.
- Travel access, water/food quality, access to knowledge, technical accessibility, communications revolution, etc ...
We are seeing quite serious improvements across a wide range of social and technological domains.
And, the quite serious implications about unchecked climate change can mute understanding of the huge value streams to be gained from climate mitigation (and, as well, adaptation.)
The core of Beauchamp's post is right -- there are many things going right in the world and humans have / humanity has had a role in creating those positive trend, and humans have/humanity has the ability to make things better into the future. Too bad that value comes within a framing designed, it seems, primarily to create 'buzz' and capture eyeballs rather than enhanced honest and truthful discourse.