Are you getting sick of people who think that things are getting better all the time? I am, and it’s hard to ignore the biggest positive-thinking idiot I deal with on a daily basis: me.
I wasn’t always like this; I used to think the worst of everything. And I still know how to go on a serious rant about the driver in the lane next to me or those incompetent managers who can’t seem to keep a steady supply of apple slices in their restaurants. But that’s little picture stuff… the big picture, I’m afraid, is bright.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t know that bad things happen, or that I am unaware of the suffering that happens around me every day. I’ve seen far too many parents lose their children, and too many people living in bad situations that don’t have any easy solutions. But that doesn’t change the fact that overall, things improve over time through human progress.
The key to my thinking is the progressive/reactive rate of succession. This is different than the rate of reproduction, as social conservatives have a higher birthrate than social liberals. (I’m talking social only; fiscal conservatives may have a birthrate that correlates more with tax laws regarding dependents. That may be a bad joke or a startling insight.) What the rate of succession denotes is that the chance of a socially conservative family raising a progressive child is much, much higher than the chance of a progressive family raising a child who is socially conservative.
This means that every generation results in a higher percentage of socially progressive individuals compared to the one that came before. Inevitably, this change in the worldview of the population results in a shift in what society views as “progressive”. In 18th century Britain, “progressive” meant things like letting slightly less wealthy landowners vote. In 19th century America, “progressive” meant abolishing slavery and the even crazier notion of letting women vote. In the mid 20th century progressive meant sharing drinking fountains with people of all races, and later on the bar moved to improving the treatment of people with minority sexual orientations. What seems progressive to many of us today, such as letting two men or two women marry one another, will seem perfectly normal to our children. Whether or not you think that’s good or bad, it’s the future of humanity. At least until people start living forever.
But social progression is not just about equality, it’s about solving other problems in the world. Progressives can often seem whiny when they’re going on about climate change or fair trade or proportional representation, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. (However, I will still be annoyed when my daughter starts lecturing me on how poor I am at recycling my plastics.)
When I look at problems that seem almost insurmountable, I look at the progressive shift of society and realize that many of them will simply take time. That time is mixed in with equal parts hard work, sacrifice, and innovative thinking, but the cake won’t rise if you don’t give it the time it needs. Look forward, or look backward, and you can see the same recipe.
Convenient yet Controversial Example: Civil Wars
- English Civil War: on one side, Absolute Monarchy; on the other, Theocratic Oligarchy. Today, both sides are completely out-of-date in England. (For our younger readers, England used to be a country and not just a soccer team.)
- American Civil War (or more accurately, the War Between the States): On one side, States Rights and Slavery; on the other, A Stronger Federal Government and Far Less Slavery But Not Racial Equality. Americans seem to be divided today between people who think the war was all about slavery, and people who think the war was never about slavery. But mostly North and South just make fun of each other in private.
- Irish Civil War: we all think that this one is over, but we probably won’t be sure for another twenty years or so. I’ve never been there, so I can’t say if the idea of Protestants and Catholics killing each other in Belfast seems as utterly ridiculous to the Irish as it now does to the rest of us.
- Conflict in the Indian Sub-Continent (India/Pakistan/Bangladesh): This one’s not over, but I like to think that it’s headed in the right direction. My general rule: when the attacks get more frightening and even less rational (assault on Indian parliament, attack on Mumbai), it’s the beginning of the end of the conflict. However, events in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are mostly unrelated to India could prolong the trouble here.
- Conflict in the Middle East: Considered by many as the big one (which seems odd compared to the item above). Israel will never be secure if they treat Palestinian Arabs as enemies. The biggest boost to Arab regimes (and to Iran’s dictators) is Israeli reactionism in the face of extremist terrorism. The conflicts in Gaza, the West Bank, South Lebanon (wash, rinse, repeat) are continually “rebooting” the crisis for each succeeding generation, which I believe is slowing the progressive shift for Israelis and Arabs. I don’t live there, so I can’t claim to know for sure, but I sincerely believe that Israel will need to stop dropping bombs and start building Palestinian infrastructure (for Arabs, not Israeli settlers) in order to resolve this conflict. Demographics are against Israel on this one, and even with Jewish immigration there will be more Arabs than Jews in Palestine long before the end of this century. The only way to win the peace is to create a new federation that brings both nations together on equal footing. Two or more states, one federal government, with state legislatures being provided a veto procedure for major policy? That’s my guess for 2060. Israel is already elected as one large constituency, so one day there could be 2-5 of them instead, including Gaza and the West Bank. And by 2150, the schoolchildren of Palestine will not even be quite sure which of the states were originally part of Israel. Many people living today wouldn’t like to see such a change, but it’s probably coming either way.
The same completely subjective reasoning can be applied to other situations, such as the energy crisis and the divide between rich and poor. We will solve these problems if we follow the recipe. Hard work, sacrifice, and innovation… mix it together in a large bowl and add an ample portion of time. It’s not just conjecture; it’s now something I can post on AllRecipes.com: the progressive shift will continue to make our world a better place.
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