As a nation we love to complain. We complain about the weather when it’s raining and we complain when it’s too hot. We moan about traffic jams and queues, we moan when there’s too much choice and then we complain when there’s not enough. We truly are a bunch of miserable souls. But here we are living in a world where life expectancy has increased by a third in the last fifty years, birth rates are falling everywhere and we are enjoying the cleanest air and rivers we have experienced in centuries. We really have never had it so good.
Ok so we haven’t had the best start to the century. Terrorism has damaged our sense of security, war has torn countries and families apart, climate change has turned us into eco-friendly obsessives and the recession has tightened purse strings and seen unemployment soar, not to mention the Euro crisis. It seems to be going from bad to worse, so who could blame us for having a bleak outlook on the future?
Acclaimed science writer Matt Ridley says that these doomsayers have always been among us and have always been proved wrong. In his latest book ‘The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves’ Ridley demonstrates that thanks to trade and unique human specialisation, the human species has always found an innovative solution to every obstacle faced so far. We are a super species!
Ridley is difficult to argue with as he backs up his statements with very clear and very persuasive examples. Take innovation for example; he takes us from when hunter-gatherers first ventured out into Africa right up to modern day entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. We have always built upon innovation after innovation to provide new and more advanced gadgets which people are going to want to buy. This is all thanks to collective intelligence which the human species learnt to develop. And thank God we did. Just imagine if we tried to make everything ourselves believing in the ‘myth’ that self-sufficiency is best. We would still be stuck in the cave man era making our own tools, getting our own fire wood and catching our own food. We could have been tucking into a freshly caught rat tonight, yummy!
So Ridley’s got a point, the human species just keeps jumping over these hurdles and developing solutions and gadgets which were thought impossible just 50 years ago. So why is it that people still recall ‘the good old days’?
If they are referring to the past 60 years then the ‘good old days’ consist of a high child mortality rate and low life expectancy. Not to mention that ‘those who had never had it so good’ would now be below the poverty line. Do you still want to go back to the ‘good old days’? I thought not.
We all have this dream to live like Kings and Queens when in actual fact we already are. Using Louis XIV as an example Ridley illustrates how like Louis XIV we too have 498 people preparing our dinner. Only we have a choice of restaurants, supermarkets, hotels and cafes. We have so much choice that we live better than Louis XIV did and we don’t even have to have the mountains of gold that he had. We have evolved from slavery and work for each other and that is what prosperity is.
I think it is safe to say that we should leave the past where it belongs and have faith that the human species will do what it does best and that is survive and innovate. Let’s all take a leaf out of Ridley’s book and remain optimistic. Live life and enjoy.