I’m an optimist, but not a mindless optimist. There’s no shortage of horror in the world, but I can see the bigger picture, and that picture is wild and exciting.
What if I told you that I’m the kind of guy who bounces out of bed every morning and says:
“What a glorious world to be living in!”
“What a potent and exciting moment in history it is today!”
“What an honour it is to be part of the most wonderful civilisation in history!”
“Where am I and can you help me find my pants?”
What does that say about the kind of person I am?
I’m more than a glass-half-full kind of guy. I’m more of a give-everyone-a-glass-it’s-my-shout kind of guy.
I’m optimistic, for sure. You would say that. But a mindless optimist? How about realistic? How about naive? How about borderline delusional with narcissistic tendencies?
For most people, the description above conjures up an image of some Forrest Gump kind of character, living in some La-La fantasy land, and just too stupid to see how dangerous and horrifying the world really is. Their innocence is sweet, but ultimately they’re just dysfunctional.
But what if I said, that I know we’ve still got problems – big problems – but no matter how you cut it up, this is the most peaceful, abundant, connected and wonderful time in human history, ever.
“C’mon Jon. Don’t you watch the news?”
- ISIS is causing havoc in Syria and Iraq.
- The Ukraine and Russia are on the brink of war.
- Malaysian Airlines flights are dropping like flies.
- There’s an Ebola outbreak in Africa.
- Surfers are being eaten by sharks in Byron Bay.
- Apple is having issues with its new operating software.
Sure, I see all that stuff. And I recognised that if you’re caught up in any of those stories, or any of the thousands of storms of poverty, disease and violence playing out across the world right now, you’re going through some shit.
Right now, you’re life isn’t much fun.
But I can see the bigger picture. The global picture.
I can see that on any measure, this is the most peaceful time on earth.
I know that can sound like a ridiculous thing to say. We’re very conscious about the wars and violent crimes that are going on around the world right now. But statistically it’s true.
Right now, the chance of a human being being killed by another human being is relatively tiny.
Check out the work of Harvard professor Steven Pinker (excellent TED talk here). Not now, read the rest of the article, post a comment and THEN watch the video… I’m the boss!
…anyway, I’ll quickly summarise.
He reckons that violent deaths as a percentage of all deaths has declined dramatically over the centuries. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century (which included 2 world wars!). The murder rate of medieval Europe was over 30 times what it is today.
I can also see that humans are beings are becoming more compassionate, more generous, and more caring. Empathy has come along in leaps and bounds, not just to other races and nations, but to other species, even the planet as a whole.
Consider this. In medieval London you could go along to the theatre and watch someone tie a cat to a pole and then set it on fire. That was entertainment. You could buy tickets at Ticketek.
That this idea horrifies you – seems inconceivably cruel – shows you just how far we’ve come. It shows you just how advanced human virtues actually are.
I can also see that we don’t have a shortage of anything on this planet. ANYTHING!
Take food for example. I can see that there are famines in certain places and people are dying from hunger, but it’s not because there isn’t enough food on the planet. We already produce more food than the entire global population needs.
If people are starving it’s a distribution challenge (and often tied to war), not a production challenge.
Same goes for energy. Fossil fuels are on the way out, but more sunlight energy hits the earth every hour than we use in a year. We just have to learn to harness it. But we’re doing that. Within 10-20 years, solar will have a total cost advantage over any other source of power. 50% of American cities will be solar powered.
And what about fresh water? Water wars are tipped to be a big part of the future, but our planet is 70% water. We’ve just got to get the salt out of it.
But there’s already a machine the size of a bar-fridge that does that – at 2c a litre. Hook it up to solar energy and the cost is negligible.
The future is abundant. Abundant energy, food and water. If those things are abundant, what space is there for war?
It’s this global, historical perspective (the big, big picture) that helps me accept and find peace with all the messed-up things humans continue to do to each other and the planet.
But I’m definitely not going to let myself get depressed because the evolution of our species is slower than I’d like.
And this sense that we’re at some incredibly fascinating tipping point in history really gets my juices flowing. There is no historical precedent for what the 21st Century will be like.
Our economic system – and great swathes of our culture – are built on the idea of scarcity. There isn’t enough to go around, so people will pay for little there is.
But abundance changes everything. If everyone can just 3D-print what ever they want in their own home, using free power from the sun, what does business actually look like in 50 years?
It’s wild and fascinating. And it gets me pumping out of bed in the morning, and straight on to the hunt for my pants.
But what do you reckon? Are we living in the greatest time in history? Or is the world still crappy and I’ve lost the plot?
Are you inspired and pumped about the future?