Too many people around the world believe that society is collapsing and we are all going to hell in a hand basket. We are afraid to go outside our houses. Both as individuals and as a nation, we arm ourselves to the teeth and store up canned goods against the coming apocalypse. If the terrorists don't get us first, then global warming will. Each new government leader is the absolute worst ever for one-half our population, and we are sure our nation is doomed. All we can do is huddle behind our walls and hope/pray the bastards don't break through. This is an awful way to live.
I do not suggest that society doesn't have some real issues—we do—but they are not the end of the world, and if we will quit hunkering down and will get up to face our issues, then we can resolve them or work around them. We can.
Matt Ridley wrote a book called The Rational Optimist that looks at the data from 10,000 years of human history, and he says that by any measure you want to apply, we humans are better off now than at any other time in history. No doubt about it. There is no Golden Age in the past when things were better. We are the Golden Age, and tomorrow is likely to be better. His publisher's blurb summarizes his argument this way:
Over 10,000 years ago there were fewer than 10 million people on the planet. Today there are more than 6 billion, 99 per cent of whom are better fed, better sheltered, better entertained and better protected against disease than their Stone Age ancestors. The availability of almost everything a person could want or need has been going erratically upwards for 10,000 years and has rapidly accelerated over the last 200 years: calories; vitamins; clean water; machines; privacy; the means to travel faster than we can run, and the ability to communicate over longer distances than we can shout.
Yet, bizarrely, however much things improve from the way they were before, people still cling to the belief that the future will be nothing but disastrous. In this original, optimistic book, Matt Ridley puts forward his surprisingly simple answer to how humans progress, arguing that we progress when we trade and we only really trade productively when we trust each other.Where has our faith and trust gone? Just 100 years ago, you were far more likely to die a violent death either by attack or accident than today, but we seem more afraid today. Why? It is easy to blame the media who feed us daily with an endless parade of screaming heads telling us how bad things are. Whether you watch Fox or CNN, it's the same awful news with either Obama as the bad guy or Trump, the Muslims or the Russians or the North Koreans.
So what do we do? Well, you scholars are doing the best thing: you are preparing yourselves for the future. You are completing your degree as an act of faith that you will make life better—for yourselves, of course, but also for your families and communities. That's the best antidote to pessimism. Do something positive. Get a new degree. Prepare yourselves to face the future.
I have faith in you.