Imagine if you went back in time to the middle ages or sometime before that and told people that one day we will build machines that will fly to outer space, land on the moon and visit other planets. You would be considered a lunatic or a heretic.
Hundreds of years later, people like Copernicus and Galileo would teach that the sun did not revolve around the earth as previously thought, but the other way around. Copernicus had to wait until the day before his death to publish a book about it. And Galileo’s reward for his forward thinking was permanent house arrest.
Today, people still resist new ideas and new ways of looking at things. But if we compare today’s conventional wisdom with the conventional wisdom of past generations it’s clear that we’ve come along way. We continue to repeat many mistakes of the past, but we’ve learned many lessons along the way.
Human nature has likely not changed much over the years, but it’s tough to argue that the world is not a better place to live in today than it was 1000 years ago. If you had been born only a little over 100 years ago, even in a “developed” country, your chances of surviving to adulthood would have been much lower than it is today. One thousand years ago the survival rate was even less and you probably would never have learned how to read or write and would have spent your entire life in poverty.
We’re also much less likely today to be made slaves or come under the authority of tyrannous regimes and dictators. The list goes on. It goes on in-spite of the relatively new realities of nuclear weapons and environmental concerns. Though the proliferation of nuclear weapons may be what has prevented a third world war from occurring. And steps toward improving the environment seem to be moving in a positive direction.
Even in the best of social settings — the best cities, the best companies, the best institutions, you’ll find not only imperfection, but outright corruption. That is one of the fundamental realities of the human family — that we are not perfect, and capable of doing many deceitful and damaging things.
But despite this and despite the popular view that the world is becoming a more dangerous place, it may actually be getting better. We are more civilized than we once were, much more democratic than we once were, and much less likely to kill each other than we once were. Life is now better for a greater number of people than ever before. Though it doesn’t seem that way via mass media, a study of history reveals that it’s true.
Many people have warned about the darkness of their times. Every generation thinks theirs is the most wicked, and doomed. There have also been many who have proclaimed that the human race was incapable of learning more than it had already learned and that further scientific discovery and economic progress was impossible. Yet in every case, generation after generation, century after century, the doomsdayers and pessimists were wrong.
Though “the world hangs on a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man,” as Carl Jung once said, and although there will be periods of stagnation and regression, I suspect that today’s and tomorrow’s prophets of doom will be proven wrong as well.
Here’s to an even better future.