Friday, January 28, 2011

Anthropological Optimism: It's Getting Better All of the (Archaeological) Time

Pessimism is all the rage these days. It seems that everywhere you turn, one talking head or another is shouting about how bad we have it. Make no mistake. Things could be decidedly better, but they could also be a whole lot worse.

As we argue over things like education and healthcare, it's important to remember how fortunate we are to have healthcare and education worth arguing over. There was a time when both of those assets were available only to the very wealthy and even then were suspect, at best. (Think “flat earth” maps and bloodlettings.) Even that was an improvement over the time before education and healthcare even came into existence. (Think “Grandpa adrift on the ice flow” rather than playing shuffleboard over at the assisted living home.)

The simple truth is that things are getting better. It just takes time – many, many generations sometimes – for the whole, or even a significant portion, of humanity, to progress along the same social path.

For some, this pace of change seems maddeningly slow. In the parlance of US politics, these people are usually dubbed “Progressive” or “Liberal.” For others, change feels like a whirlwind, tearing down established foundations in a flash. These people are generally considered “Conservatives.” The perception of this same progression can even alter over the course of an individual's lifetime, depending on their experiences and influences. This seemingly awkward situation exists for a good reason, though – to keep humanity moving forward together at a rate that is comfortable, or at least tolerable, for the greatest number of people.

So, be wary of sly foxes who would have you believe the sky is falling. It's true that we have many important decisions to make, as a nation and, more importantly, as a species. Strongly differing opinions don't signal the end of days, though, so much as the slow, certain march toward our shared future.

Today's exercise: Read any book written 150 or more years ago and note the many ways human life has improved.*

Next: Why February is, in fact, the Yummiest month of the year.
(Never let it be said that we don't enjoy a challenge... Who comes up with these topics, anyway?)

*Films of reasonable historical accuracy may be substituted by parents of children under 10 years of age. We are not without mercy. (We are, however, without titles to suggest. If you find anything good, do let us know. Our taste is not limited to bad movies alone.)

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