Rational Optimism
By: Date: August 7, 2011 Categories: Other

I spotted a friend had updated her Facebook status earlier today, describing her young son’s horror at reports of riots on Newsround. At the end of her status update she posed the question : “What world is it that we are creating her our children?

My initial one line response was “Not one that is materially much worse than at many points in human history.

Her response was : “But don’t we have the knowledge, wealth and the humanity to ensure that the future we offer our children is better? Did you watch the programme on BBC3 recently about children living in poverty? My grandmother grew up in London between the wars dependent on poor relief (her father was a WWI casualty). I find it hard to comprehend that there are kids today that are in the same position. I know the reasons can be debated but the only thing I know is that the kids aren’t to blame.

A very good point. And entirely true. The one group that are not to blame are the children themselves. This got me thinking, and writing. I have edited and tweaked what I responded with mostly just for grammar and typing (I keyed it out on an iPad). I have added some examples at the end, which were not there in the original. But this isn’t shown as a part of the quote.

Specifically picking up your point on knowledge…. knowledge is cumulative and the only situations in which knowledge is detrimental is when it isn’t universally available; or where it is deliberately withheld … ultimately rationally acquired (and by implication I mean truth) can only move us forwards as a population. Even where we discover something uncomfortable, it is still better that we know. Global warming being a possible example.

Wealth is a touchy one. Much as instinctively I feel that a capitalist system is the “least worst” option, it, by its very existence, creates “haves” and “have nots”. But as I say, it does seem to be the only system that works in some way. Where capitalism goes wrong is where it becomes corrupt. There are people who say capitalism inevitably and unavoidably leads to corruption. I prefer to take an optimistic outlook on this. I think regulated capitalism need not be corrupt. The biggest alternative; Communism just doesn’t work. I think it wouldn’t be foolish to say history proves this.

Has humanity really diminished? Or Would the press just like us all to believe it has? An overdeveloped sense nostalgia is, I believe, why people think people are not as kind towards each other as they used to be.. People who say that there was no crime in the 40s and 50s are wrong. Innate in almost all human beings is a sense of empathy. Evolutionarily I don’t think we would have made it this far without. That’s all I can really say on that.

And yet, having said all that, we still have child poverty, food mountains in some parts of the world and starving and thirsty in others. To paraphrase Sagan, we are a young species, and we have much to learn. I hope it isn’t a matter of ‘faith’ on my part that I remain optimistic that knowledge will save us. I don’t think it is; I think history shows promising signs.

So that’s what I said. I wonder if I come across as unreasonably optimistic. Or irrationally optimistic. But a few examples of where harm comes from the deliberate denial of knowledge or truth directly causes harm :

The starving and thirsty I mention; clearly I am referring to famine ridden Africa. One of the key problems is overpopulation. One of the simplest ways of remedying this problem is with proper education about birth control. Certain factions and groups are dead against this; to the extent of spreading lies and misinforming those that might benefit most from it. The denial of knowledge and education is costing thousands of lives.

Slightly closer to home but on the same subject, “abstinence only” sex education is demonstrated to actually co-incide with  higher rates of unwanted pregnancy among teens. And higher rates of STD infection.

There are probably countless other examples where the denial, or simple unavailability of knowledge on a given subject can cause real suffering; recreational drugs, alternative medicines, and so on.

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