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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.

So far, these choices have more than paid off. It’s up to us to make sure they continue to.

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:
Lots of things are going right ... and we can make things even better: Five mega-trends that are going the right way
Hmmm ... 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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  ah, (5+ / 0-)

    The Myth of Human Progress.

    h/t Chris Hedges.

  •  Trued dat. The planet's fucked, but we're happy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, petral

    for now.

    Dick Cheney 2/14/10: "I was a big supporter of waterboarding"

    by Bob Love on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 07:39:07 AM PST

  •  This Has Been the Neoliberal Rant for 40 Years. (6+ / 0-)

    Things are improving for the poor in most places, so you Americans, give us all your stuff and your future.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 07:41:37 AM PST

    •  Except for the fact that their islands (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel, petral

      are sinking under the sea and most of them aren't going to have water to use for agriculture and stuff.

      To quote a phrase:  "Fuck off, pigs."

      I tried to go online to find a similar bear head...but when I searched “Big Bear Head” it gave me a San Diego craigslist ad entitled “Big Bear needs some quick head now” and then I just decided to never go on the internet again.--Jenny Lawson

      by SouthernLiberalinMD on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 08:05:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thoughtful post, very interested to follow the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Be Skeptical, david78209

    linked text.

    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.)

    Move Single Payer Forward? Join 18,000 Doctors of PNHP and 185,000 member National Nurses United

    by divineorder on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 07:58:15 AM PST

  •  He's absolutely right. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    david78209, Be Skeptical

    That doesn't stop us from saying that 2013 sucked in absolute terms, vs. what we could reasonably have, and it doesn't stop us from pointing out that the world is likely on a seriously bad path.  

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 07:58:35 AM PST

  •  You're fucking shitting me, Pyle. (0+ / 0-)

    I tried to go online to find a similar bear head...but when I searched “Big Bear Head” it gave me a San Diego craigslist ad entitled “Big Bear needs some quick head now” and then I just decided to never go on the internet again.--Jenny Lawson

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 08:05:01 AM PST

  •  pangloss beauchamp (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    might want to figure out that all five things he cites will deteriorate in major ways, if climate change isn't addressed. never in human history has a problem of such magnitude been so ignored by the world's ostensible leaders. beauchamp might want to read the stern review, and stern's comments from the past year, that the review was a gross underestimation.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 08:09:29 AM PST

  •  The glass is half full and getting fuller (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Be Skeptical, Catte Nappe, A Siegel

    An occasional reminder of that trend is a good thing, to the extent it keeps us encouraged.  The reminder is only bad if it leads to complacency, and complacent is about the last thing I'd call anybody who posts or reads on Daily Kos.  
    Consider sayings from two wise men:
    "The poor will always be with us," and "God must love poor people; he made so many of them."  (I think Lincoln said the second one, and Jesus said the first.)  Worldwide, abject poverty shrank from 40% to 14% from 1981 to 2010.  God, or something, isn't making nearly as many poor people.  I can't imagine we'll never have anybody poor, but when they're a minority the rest of us can take care of them.

    One thing that wasn't mentioned in the Think Progress post is population growth -- it's leveling out.  In about 1964 Tom Lehrer wrote a "survival hymn" mentioning "nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak."  We're now over 7 billion, but the latest estimate is that we'll top out near 10 billion in about 2050.  The baby boomers will live through a doubling or even tripling of world population, but their grandchildren may live in an era of zero population growth.  With current technology I think it's possible (though perhaps difficult and politically impractical) for the earth to support 10 billion of us in a comfortable life style.  There's plenty of reason to hope that by 2050 our technology will have advanced to the point that there's not just enough to go around, but enough surplus that there's no point in fighting over stuff.

    We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

    by david78209 on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 08:39:02 AM PST

  •  My hope for humanity (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    side pocket, Catte Nappe, A Siegel

    That we accentuate the evolutionary heritage that makes us a more compassionate, sensible, and cooperative species, to use it to overcome environmental degradation, intolerance for other humans, and greed so we survive and we evolve to eventually rid barbarism and blood-thirst from our DNA in the next hundreds of generations.

    I was studying violent crime rates in the United States the other day. In spite that I maintain that we are still a very violent country, metrics like the murder rate and aggravated assault continue to fade gradually.

    We can appreciate the direction we're headed without ignoring the unassailable truth that times are still hard. Climate change/resource depletion and inequality are the most frightening topics of all. It may be insatiable, but we should continue to demand better. Societies do change, people change. It doesn't feel that way sometimes, because politics and societal norms tend to be gradual and on a generational scale more than anything, so year-to-year changes are less noticeable than decade-to-decade changes. Keep fighting the good fight, all.

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

    by rovertheoctopus on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 08:41:03 AM PST

  •  A similar argument (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    has been made by Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He presents a convincing picture that humans have become dramatically less violent over time.

    Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

    by milkbone on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 09:40:05 AM PST

  •  We had this argument in the 17th century (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    between Leibniz ("The best of all possible worlds") and Voltaire (Candide). Dickens weighed in in the 19th century, commenting on the 18th century.

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
    Still true. Those who take the good points of the present age as an excuse to ignore what is still wrong, or downplay its significance, are, as somebody pseudonymous (not Steven Wright) put it under the name Henry J. Tillman
    Part of the precipitate rather than part of the solution.
    because so many of their children are abandoning the old greeds and hatreds.

    The worst of them are those who respond to the glass being half full with, "Hey! That's my glass!"

    Those who are ready to build on what is actually good and attack the major remnants of evil and the looming threats of catastrophe have opportunities never before available to improve our society. We are at the point where we can attack all of global poverty and oppression, and all the rest of the ills that follow from them. We can deal with Global Warming (unless we hit a major climate tipping point such as releasing all of the methane or changing the ocean circulation), although we would not prevent major damage. The Denialists will lose in public opinion and then in Congress, although nobody can give a date for that loss.

    Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

    by Mokurai on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 10:27:19 AM PST

  •  One more cantilevered plank (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    Each year, modern industrial civilization puts one more plank over the chasm of catastrophic climate change.  And why not?  Each plank up until now was stable and reached further and higher and made things better for all.  

    But each plank requires 8 or so gigatons of carbon, a couple more ppm of CO2 up in the atmosphere, more in the oceans, more soil erosion, and more groundwater withdrawn.  And the net result is growth, wonderful growth.  More people to consume more and more.

    The doomsayers have been around since Malthus, but each generation has managed to dodge the bullet that would finish them off.  New lands were found, new technologies invented, new energy resources -- they have managed to stave off collapse in ingenious ways.  But every animal population in history that has exponentially exploded has also crashed, and the human population will be no exception.

    Isn't is nice to have a front row seat as it all comes to a head?  

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