Against pessimism

November 9, 2016

On the Left, and amongst what might be called liberal opinion, there is a prevailing sense of pessimism. Pessimism is the default condition for most progressive commentators. Events like the Brexit vote, the refugee crisis and now Trump’s win can all make it seem as if the world is in a bad way and that things are getting worse.

That view is entirely wrong.

Even a cursory glance at the data shows that not only has the condition of humanity improved vastly in the last couple of centuries but that the improvement is accelerating and that there has actually been huge global social progress in just the last few decades.

Here are five slideshows that demonstrate that astonishing progress in the areas of reducing violence and war, poverty reduction, nutrition and hunger reduction, health improvements and the progress being made in Africa.

The Visual History of Decreasing War and Violence

The Visual History of World Poverty

The Visual History of Hunger and Food Provision

The Visual History of Global Health

Progress in Africa

Click through them and celebrate the great times we live in.

Pessimism finds its most acute expression in the form of Green ideology. The Greens claim that the very things that have so improved billions of people’s lives (cheap fossil fuel energy, travel opportunties for ordinary people, mass industrial production and consumption, urban living, industrialised farming) are actually terrible because they are causing some sort of existential environmental crisis.

That is not true.

As just one example here is a link to page of data about forest coverage in Europe, a continent that has hosted for the longest time the very modernising trends the Greens hate. On the bottom right of the page the third diagram is an animated historical map of tree coverage in Europe. If you click it you can see that since 1900 the number of trees in Europe has actually increased significantly. In fact it is modernity and economic development that makes the environment better.

The growth in European forests since 1900

Norman Ellis November 9, 2016

A genuine thanks for some uplifting facts, Tony but, I’m feeling pretty pessimistic myself – at least politically: the lunatics have taken over the asylum. How fearful it must be in the US if you are muslim hispanic black or gay or feminist but what a blow to all who hoped at least to keep the darkness at bay
Part of me feels like staying silent, withdrawing and meditating on what’s happened.
The other part wants to get some thoughts down.
I accept that life has improved greatly over the centuries and startlingly so in the west after WW2.and that ironically globalisation has lifted the world’s poorest from the most extreme poverty, even though into Victorian exploitative working conditions but division of wealth in the UK has certainly become dramatically more unequal since the 70’s. Now feels like there are widening fault lines economically and socially and ‘in the interregnum morbid forms arise’ -Trump, Le Pen and our own Farage for example.
I think it was Owen Jones who said that while the left may have the right ideas and policies the right are often better making a narrative vision in every day terms that can catch the mood.It seems that that was true in the US.and it did seem to me that the Clinton Campaign concentrated too much on Trump’s moral failings which of course were manifest but in the end not a killer blow.
“It’s the economy stupid!’ is still true. Clinton was hampered here as in many ways she is an economic liberal. But, as we learnt during the Thatcher years and in our own 2015 election moral arguments alone do not win elections. Of course, there was little she could do to combat the racism other than repeat that we are stronger together but instead of continuing to flog the then dead horse of Trump’s grossness and reactionary views, I think she needed to forefront the economy and her plans to address some of the real concerns of blue collar workers. She had plans but they certainly weren’t forefronted enough, to build a narrative of how America would look different and better.
I think there are at last 2 important points here for the left in the UK, in particular the Labour Party.
Firstly, we need to forefront our vision for the economy and link that to a narrative vision of how that would play out in people’s lives (not just but including the poorest) and how you have to take on directly the myths sowed by the right: Miliband failed to tackle the myth that Labour spending caused the debt, thinking that would be looking backwards but when such myths become generalised, they become material forces in themselves and have to be tackled head on. I don’t agree with Tony Blair on much but his and Campbell’s strategy of immediate refutation of misrepresentation has been lacking with Labour.

It’s not enough to make the moral case about the cuts to welfare and public spending, we need to create a vision of a new economy and how that would improve the lives of all of us (apart perhaps from the super rich).
Corbyn needs to weave this in with the refutation that he is a ‘dangerous loony lefty’, in simple language like, ‘Is it extreme to want a home for your children; is it extreme to want a good quality health service; is it extreme to want to create well paid green jobs. We borrow to buy a home if we can; the government can borrow cheaply to invest in the economy.’
Ok I know we have the policies but someone better than me needs to put them together into a digestable vision.
It’s urgent!
It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there.

Ilse November 9, 2016

So, we got a few more trees.
What about rainforest deforestation?
I don’t understand why you hate the Greens. Hate those who destroy the world, not those who – maybe it seems naive to you – want to save it.

Tony November 16, 2016

Explaining why I hate the Greens would take a long time but the core is that Green ideology breaks with humanism by removing humanity and human welfare from the centre of political discourse and replaces it with quasi religious entities (‘The Planet’, ‘Nature’, ‘The Earth’) and proceeds to tell massive lies about many things (the planet is dying, nuclear power if very dangerous, mass extinctions are happening, there is more extreme weather and we are causing it, etc, etc – all lies easily contradicted by a simple examination of the actual data) in order to promote the slowing of economic development. The Green movement is a movement of rich people trying to stop poor people from getting richer.

DKL December 2, 2016

It’s a mixed bag, surely? Plenty of global-scale metrics show things are improving inexorably (health, education, etc). But I can’t help feeling worried by the slide in other areas. We see rising inequality in the developed world, and I was reading in the Economist recently that innovation in business in the West are diverging, creating a tiny minority of fabulously profitable companies and a vast majority that are only weakly profitable. That’s only in the West, but what if that turns out to be some kind of inevitable stage in developed economies. Such that, the rest of the world will eventually end up similarly developed but with increasing inequality? I don’t see that as a good thing. Add to this that liberal democracy appears to be on the slide worldwide. It would be tragic if rising inequality means that people give up on liberal democracy.

There might be plenty of nutters in the environmental movement, but there are still problems? We might not be living in some kind of mass extinction, but wildlife is in decline pretty much everywhere (including in the developed world, apart from the exception of large mammals. Look at pollinating insects and amphibians). Extrapolate those trends, and you will get extinctions unless something changes.

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