Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Is life getting better or worse?

I read recently a short story about a disgruntled retired teacher who complained that things are getting worse, the world, morality, education, everything is going downhill. I have also read a piece in the New Yorker in which Steven Pinker, cognitive psychologist, argues that by every measurable standard, things are getting better, much better. People are healthier, wealthier and live longer all over the world, poor and rich. Education is better if we don't measure it exclusively by classical Eurocentric essentially British yardstick. Through the internet people have access to infinitely more information, with the ability to sort sound information from from misinformation, the down side of the wealth of information available. Yet there is a wide perception that the world is getting worse. Those of us who have been around for a very long time remember the World War, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War, the threat of a nuclear war, the divisive 60s when Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and other leading controversial public figures were murdered, the Vietnam war, the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Kosovo, Rwanda, and any number of murderous historical events. Compared with these Donald Trump's confused boastful war mongering words hardly rate. Yet people harbour nostalgic feelings for a better past. This is hard to understand. Some old people are excused for thinking that when they were young they were more vigorous, enjoyed life more, others like me appreciate that we live in better, more prosperous times, but why are the young despondent. Looking back on my life, I think that when my generation was young we looked forward to a better future, a fairer, more peaceful world. Now the only things to look forward to are gadgets with more unnecessary gizmos. Again In the New Yorker, the letter writer Randy Olson, quoting Studs Terkel and Victor Fankl asserts that 'quality of life and subjective well-being cannot be evaluated without discussing what is at the core of true happiness - that one's life has meaning'. 

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