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The Best and Worst of Times

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

My daughter was living in San Miguel when I moved to town. When I did, I bought her a motorcycle. It looked like a motor scooter to me, but Sefira was very proud that at 150cc it was officially a motorcycle.

Some while later (a year?) it was stolen, off a street in Independencia when she went into a friend's house for 15 minutes. I waxed philosophical, "We've been stealing from them for centuries. They can steal a little from us." In saying this I reminded myself of this (27 second) clip from Woody Allen's Annie Hall.

Last week I had a conversation with S., a thirty-something woman, that ended badly. We were guests at a friend's birthday party. I was insisting that the world was getting better, much better. She insisted that the world was getting much worse, that, in fact, we were on the eve of destruction.

As with most disagreements ours, at least in part, was a problem in defining terms. Back in high school, riding down the road with my girlfriend, I glanced out my window and saw Al's Diner. Across the street, on my girlfriend's side, Al had built Al's Restaurant. Neither of us saw past our own side of the street. When my girlfriend remarked that Al's place looked like a good restaurant I replied, "It was a diner." She, who's family pedigree was way above mine, accused me of being elitist.

It is obvious to everyone, including me, that many things are getting much worse. And I understood that S. was not suggesting that everything about the world is getting worse. But S. could not grant me that some things, some crucial, essential things have, in fact gotten much better. She wouldn't listen and made illogical twists in the conversation to avoid agreeing with me.

S. brought up Bangladesh flooding over. I told her that, as tragic as that is, according to the scientists who project these things (Copenhagen Climate Consensus), by the time Bangladesh goes underwater the Bangladeshis will be rich enough to move somewhere else and do just fine. With that she had had enough. She got up and stormed away.

You may be wondering at this point, what are the crucial, essential things that have gotten much better? I'll tell you:

-family size is smaller (world population will peak at 9 billion and then shrink),
-people are living longer,
-extreme poverty has decreased (1994-2014 down 50%),
-deaths per year from natural disasters are down 80% from 1900-2000),
-the number of years of women's education has almost caught up with men's,
-the percentage of 1 year-olds who have basic vaccines is 80%.

The highly entertaining Swedish physician and Professor of International Health, Hans Rosling whose TED talks are my source for these statistics, suggests that the reason people aren't familiar with these statistics is because they focus on the most disastrous cases rather than the majority of cases.

I would add three other explanations. One is that, as a result of greatly improved communications, it's much easier to publicize problems. Anyone with a smart phone can publicize an abuse of power. Consequently, we are aware of more things going wrong. The second is, "If it bleeds, it leads." The media feeds this negativity, because we humans find negative news more interesting. From a survival point of view it's more important to, we are programmed to, pay attention to negative news.

"We’re awash in despair, bombarded by negativity, and drowning in a punishing sea of pessimistic media, so it’s little wonder that so many people think the world is in worse shape than it has ever been." - Reasons to be Hopeful

The third explanation has to due with our prejudice for the present moment. The bad things happening in our world today seem worse than past problems because they are happening in our world today.

When someone says, "This is the best chocolate cake that I have ever had," I am quick to respond, "Well, it does have the advantage of being the chocolate cake that you are eating now. All the others are just a memory."

For example, is the water crisis here in the Bajio worse than the Spanish cutting down the forest that once entirely covered the region, every single tree, to smelt the silver ore that they were mining up north? No, it's not. In terms of environmental catastrophes it doesn't compare. (Loss of forest cover greatly impacts the aquifer.)

"The world is much better; The world is awful; The world can be much better." - Max Roser

Let's use US-Mexican relations as an example. As I told my daughter when she lost her motorcycle, "We've been stealing from them for centuries." We've been warring. We've been invading. We've been interfering with their government. We've been robbing their resources. Since the 1960s the US has behaved much better. NAFTA has it's faults, but overall it helped the Mexican economy, no? A great boon to the Mexican economy is the receipt of remittance (Mexicans sending money home to Mexico), $25.7 billion of it in 2015, virtually all of it from the US.

US-Mexican relations are much better; US-Mexican relations are is awful; US-Mexican relations can be much better.

I apologized to S., the young woman whom I had offended, begging, in fact, her forgiveness. I apologize to her again. But here is why I am so passionate on the subject.

The sense of panic, that made it impossible for me to speak with an otherwise friendly woman on a rooftop veranda in San Miguel, also prevents reasonable debate on college campuses. It's the reason the Democrats have not been able to build a coalition to defeat Trump. Voters don't like Trump as much as they dislike the profound cynicism, pessimism, divisiveness and intolerance of dissent that characterizes identity politics. The militant hysteria of far-Left politics is losing the day. (Don't take my word for it, listen to this professor from Columbia University: Liberalism Beyond Identity)

If we want to solve our pressing problems, then we need to see each other's point of view. We need to build coalitions and consensus, because while movement politics is exciting, party politics wins... every time.


Dr David is looking for authors to contribute to San Miguel Sunday. He is also looking for people who want to add more meaning to their lives. See his new website below.

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