From time to time, my clarion calls for change are met with a chiding retort along the lines that we have never had it so good; the world is not more precarious, volatile or unknowable.
The arguments take the form of:
People live longer today.
Social progress is on the rise – equality, education, health and so on.
Extreme poverty is on the decrease.
Spanish flu was worse than Covid.
We now have sanitation.
We live like yesteryear billionaires in respect of Increasing convenience and comfort.
Approximately a century ago, nobody anticipated the arrival of two world wars.
These arguments have merit, though climate change is never mentioned.
Let’s look at this from a livestock’s perspective. Some animals would also argue that “we have never had it so good. There has never been more of us on the planet. Many of us get to lounge around lush fields and live a lot longer than our ancestors. We don’t suffer the illnesses of our ancestors and in winter we are often given free housing and home delivery with respect to food”.
Admittedly some live in terrible conditions. Often crammed together with little space, with an increased risk of illness. In human terms, these are known as cities, which were of course built for the benefit of the factory owners, not the workers. Entertainment, so easily found in cities, is also referred to as a ‘diversion’ for a reason.
In many respects, humans are just another variant of livestock, bred for their ability to both produce and consume. The factory owners are not concerned about their wellbeing beyond ensuring they live long enough to reproduce, support the production machine and have enough disposable income to consume what is made.
Our way is best
There is perhaps a question mark around the motivation for tackling poverty. Has a person’s quality of life improved if they are taken from their precarious tribal existence and turned into factory horsepower and self-medicating consumers? The people who live in the shantytowns and favelas are the worst off because they abandoned their precarious but more natural existence and headed to the cities in the hope of a more ‘civilised life’. It didn’t work out for them, so they are trapped in society’s edge, a kind of hybrid natural / synthetic limbo.
Much wants more
Am I critiquing capitalism? No. The problem is that in most cases it is optimised so that only a few reap its rewards. This leads to economic inequality and social disparity. It also exploits our natural greediness. Back on the savanna, we could never be sure when we would eat again so when food presented itself we would eat beyond satiation. Today we buy stuff we don’t need because we can. Worst of all instead of using our professional skills to buy us more time, we spend more time working, which has a myriad of negative social implications. We have a wave of young people who will hit adulthood in the next decade who were denied emotional development because busy parents outsourced their responsibilities to an iPad. Covid 19 had added gelignite to that impending societal tsunami.
Today, technology and globalisation have essentially connected everything to everything and thus to some extent everything affects everything. Many of us are feeling that first hand. Thus the world is more unknowable, which leads to increasingly anxious people.
You may have the adornments and chattels of success. You may be admired by older relatives for your work in giving the family DNA a social boost. But do you really believe that progress is being ‘worked’ like livestock in a world beset by an increase in mental health problems? And that there are billions of innocent people on the verge of joining the herd through economic colonialism?
Not my problem
Even the few who are managing to capitalise on this dystopian trajectory need to reflect on the implications for their descendants. I think it is fair to say that some of us have been duped into believing that we have never had it so good.