Could it be that, even with all the issues that we face today, there is cause for optimism? It would seem so, at least set in the longer context of human history. Take a look at HumanProgress.org for some data that will give reason for hope. A few tidbits from that site:
In fact, for most of human history, life was very difficult for most people. People lacked basic medicines and died relatively young. They had no painkillers and people with ailments spent much of their lives in agonizing pain. Entire families lived in bug-infested dwellings that offered neither comfort nor privacy. They worked in the fields from sunrise to sunset, yet hunger and famines were commonplace. Transportation was primitive and most people never travelled beyond their native villages or nearest towns. Ignorance and illiteracy were rife. The “good old days” were, by and large, very bad for the great majority of humankind.
Average global life expectancy at birth hovered around 30 years from the Upper Paleolithic to 1900. Even in the richest countries, like those of Western Europe, life expectancy at the start of the 20th century rarely exceeded 50 years. Incomes were quite stagnant, too. At the beginning of the Christian era (CE), annual incomes per person around the world ranged from $600 to $800. As late as 1820, average global income was only $712 per person.
Humanity has made enormous progress – especially over the course of the last two centuries. For example, average life expectancy in the world today is 67.9 years. In 2010, global per capita income stood at $7,814 – over 10 times more than two centuries ago.
But forget for a moment the last two centuries, and let us consider just one lifetime – that of the Old Man, who a couple of weeks back saw his 91st birthday. One of his earliest memories would have been around 1926 or 1927, and that was the memory of the night his younger brother Lee died – of pneumonia. In today’s world, Lee almost certainly never would have been in any danger. He also remembers having twin sisters, also younger than he, who died shortly after birth, following a long, difficult labor. Again, today, they probably would have been delivered by C-section and survived. It bothers to Old Man to this day to think how his mother felt to have lost three of her five children before any of them saw their third birthday.
But that kind of thing wasn’t that uncommon then.
Personally, I never had the chance to ask my paternal grandmother how she felt about any of that, because she died in 1944, aged fifty, a massive stroke almost certainly caused by undiagnosed hypertension. Again, today, she would have been diagnosed and treated, and probably lived much longer.
Fast forward to my own children; our youngest daughter was born in 1996, three months early. Mrs. Animal suffered through eclampsia and the labor was induced to save her life. Both survived just fine, and our little Peanut is 18, now a second-degree black belt and a college student, so she obviously came out just fine – but a few days after the delivery the doctor presiding over this high-risk case told me “twenty years ago, they probably both would have died.”
It’s a great time to be alive.
Take some time and browse HumanProgress.org. One of the things you’ll come away with is that there is one great driver to human progress: Liberty. As their “About” page states:
While we think that policies and institutions compatible with freedom and openness are important factors in promoting human progress, we let the evidence speak for itself. We hope that this website leads to a greater appreciation of the improving state of the world and stimulates an intelligent debate on the drivers of human progress.
Threats to freedom, threats to liberty and the rule of law are found all over the world, of course; most notably in the Middle East. If one needs a reason to oppose the spread of Bronze age barbarity like that advocated by ISIL, Al Qaeda and the like, the Human Progress project will give you plenty of reasons.