We live in interesting times

There is a Chinese proverb that says: May you live in interesting times.

This means that every era and every generation has their own problems, things that go well and things that don’t. That most eras are not better or worse, simply different.

I would argue that the modern era is better than the ancient ones. Yes, we sure have some interesting and extremely complicated problems to solve and maintain. But many of the problems that previously dominated human existence have been eliminated. All of the pre- and most of the written history humanity has constantly been on the brink of starvation. Most people did not know if they would have food to eat the next day, and a drought would wipe out entire regions. Violence was also prolific and often fatal. In many cultures murder was one of the prerequisites for becoming an adult man or member of society. Women didn’t have it much better, being treated like chattel or slaves. Oh, wait. Thanks to ISUS that still happens. But in most of the world, murder is forbidden and the transgressors found and severely punished.

Come on! There are human rights! Just because you are alive you have a right to things that most members of society did not have in ancient times. In those times, might was right, and tough luck if you didn’t like it. Many human rights are still abused, but at least, we think this is a problem and not just a fact of life.

Violence is so rare as a percentage that most individuals don’t walk around armed. People are much more likely to die from heart disease or cancer than another human. A surprisingly large proportion of the world is living so long, that they are dying from old age. Not starvation, war, disease or an easily treatable infection. Old age! That alone is almost enough to wake up every day as happy as can be. Not going to happen, because humans have a baseline happiness, but still.

These amazing benefits come at a price: Depression and suicide have become more prevalent and obesity is causing massive damage to many nations’ health. The same science that allows one person to grow enough food for 250 also allows chemicals to be created that are highly addictive and kill people within a year of becoming a user.

The internet gives us limitless information at our fingertips, but also gives us the limitless opportunity for distraction and wasting time on trivial pursuits. The same tool magnifies who we already are: distracted and unfocused people get more distracted and achievers can get more done than ever before.

Innovation and progress are progressing so fast that society can’t even keep up. Future shock is becoming more and more of a problem. Many of the cultural institutions that worked very well for the industrial age are now obsolete and are straining under loads of information and events, exceeding their capabilities to respond and take the correct actions.

There is increasingly a disconnect between human labour and production and this is leaving unskilled people biting the dust. More and more wealth has the potential to be concentrated in very few hands. If this trend continues for a few more decades, there will come a point where socialism and even communism will become feasible. The maximum efficiency of technology will become so high that even if it runs at very low efficiency it will still be able to provide for all people’s basic needs sustainably.

The human population is too large to be sustained by subsistence farming. There is no turning back to a previous era, the only way forward is to more and better technology. You can either accept and embrace this or turn your back on growth and be just one more of history’s forgotten relics. These are interesting times, enjoy them!

To happiness, and beyond!


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