Is the world getting worse or better? I worry, because I have assumed all my life that it’s getting better, and if I’m wrong I’ve made some bad choices. So this is a serious question, albeit one in need of clarification.
Here’s what I mean by getting better. Are we finding our way to more well-being for more sentient creatures? Well-being in the sense of physical health combined with social tolerance, or, best case, kindness? I believe the more people who live healthy lives, allow each other to do the same, and accept others’ non-violent personal choices, the better world the world becomes.
One note. I weight this imaginary index towards humans, others will not. For example, I believe we should not extinguish animal species, but it’s OK to eat them. Others find that unbearable. But I think we can ask the question, “Is the world getting worse or getting better?” and see that even with scope limited to people we are not sure the answer will be happy.
Two events from this week’s news, one fun and encouraging, one sad and violent.
The fashion house of Cèline chose Joan Didion as their new icon/model. Didion, to point out the obvious, is both old and intelligent. Oh, and she’s a woman. Designer advertisements rarely feature old intellectual females wearing clothes. Put that way, one might wonder why it’s something to hope for, but in fact we take Cèline’s decision to indicate that women continue to win scope and authority beyond their biological role as baby-makers. One plus in the social tolerance column.
And then. This sank my heart, almost altogether. A small group of men killed a larger group of people, in France, because they didn’t like having their beliefs mocked. One could use heavier terms, like insulted or vilified, or lighter, such as “made fun of.” I leave that parsing to others. To be clear, I am not making light of the event in any way, I am only unable to say more than has been said, by Liza Donnelly’s cartoon, for example.
For this discussion we do know that the events at Charlie Hebdo and following were about as far as one can get from well-being without fiction, and monsters. And it does feel, often, that similar horrors just keep coming. Feels like one hundred million pluses in all the columns of bad.
On beyond the immediate sorrow and outrage, I’ll ask again. Is the world getting better or worse? If I’ve been right, and in general it’s better, I can live my life local and kind. I can rely on personal generosity, honesty, and kindness to warrant me the privilege of being alive. But if I’ve been wrong, then I’ll have to act otherwise. If we’re breaking bad, one can’t just break along.
I am not the first person to ask this question. I Googled it, as one does. Turns out, the entire first page of search results insists the world is getting better. Economists, technologists, journalists, and men of god alike agree. The statistics back them up; average income, life expectancy, even violence – political and more locally criminal. The one identified parameter that’s worsening? Global temperatures and their effect on our environment. Huh. I understand that showing up on the first page of Google doesn’t determine absolute truth, but it’s enough for this morning.
Here are some links, if you’d like to read on.
This answer, we owe most to the planet, feels right to me. And gives us simple things to do; use less stuff, support technologies that enable sustainability, and continue to be kind, in all the meanings of that word. Maybe even, speaking here to myself so as not to be lazy, expand the scope of kindness in some way or another.
Of course I should do more, but don’t we always imagine doing more, tomorrow, and shouldn’t we sometimes focus on this morning?
I struggle with that question.
One last note. I don’t require that the world be good, only that it experience good. In other words, Cèline probably chose Didion to model because they thought she’d help their business, not because their hearts bleed for the right of women over 60. That’s OK by me. If greed takes us in the right direction, we’re apt to get there sooner.
Have a wonderful weekend. I shrink, usually, from exhortation, but it seems that any effort you make today towards the world, any kindness, will be to the good. And I’m a little tired and I feel the need for more good.