Kieran Tapsell. Things are improving.

Apr 16, 2014

Héctor Abad Faciolince, El Espectador, Colombia, 29 December 2013,

Summary: The world we live in is frightening, but it is less frightening than it used to be.

One of the best definitions of the word, “intellectual” that I have read is: “a person who has studied beyond his own capacities”.

There are those incapable of comparing the world of today with that of yesterday, of weighing up the gains and losses; their obsession consists in outraged criticism, arrogant moralising, scorn for any progress, enjoyment or happiness, in the conviction that there is no creature more repugnant that the human being, nor a place more inhospitable than the Earth.

The intellectuals I am talking about are the ones wallowing in the culture of complaint, for whom contemporaneous society (especially the West) is a kind of invention of the devil: the most vulgar, unwieldy and hellish thing that has ever existed in the history of the world.

The modern world, for them, is the most violent, aggressive, exploitative and unjust place: a society that we will have to destroy to start another on its ruins. The worst thing about this nauseating whine, this permanent moral indignation, is that this supposed “elite of the intelligentsia” has managed to convince millions of young people – as Karl Popper deplored years ago – that we are living in the worst world that has ever existed.

Increasingly I come across young people who are convinced that having children is an awful thing to do, because they will be bringing into the world new human beings whose only fate is to suffer.  And most of these willingly sterile are young people who have studied the most, that is to say, those who have been most exposed to this evil influence of that “intelligentsia” for whom the achievements of humanity are one big lie.

These “intelligentsia” are immune to all criticism and logic, and it makes no difference to point out the undeniable: comparing the world of today with the world without anaesthetics, without antibiotics, and without pain killers (they believe that in the “natural” world, where there were no illnesses and where humans would have lived 600 years, like the biblical patriarchs).

It’s pointless telling them that there has been moral progress since the times of slavery (they say that the slave of yesterday was a pampered child compared to the worker of today; as if they were being branded with red hot irons).  Demonstrating with figures that life expectancy has increased exponentially in the last century only creates scorn because the only thing that we have achieved now is more people.

Nor does it seem to them important that a poor person today – in Colombia – receives much better medical attention than a Renaissance king, nor that we have better transport, better clothing and shoes. That infant mortality – even amongst the poor – was much higher than amongst the poor in the countryside today.

You can’t say to these intellectuals, without causing outrage, that things have been improving for decades in almost the whole world. That sexual or racial discrimination was much worse 50 years ago; that never before could homosexuals better defend their right to be free. That never in history have there been so many women studying and working in important ositions – thanks to, amongst other things – the existence of contraceptive methods, and that they themselves have managed to make sure that they are respected.

Poverty also – even in Colombia – has been dropping in absolute and relative terms in recent decades. Violence itself, as Pinker has demonstrated, to the disgust of the pessimist intellectuals, is today one of the lowest in the whole history of humanity.

When you are an optimist, the intellectuals of indignation and complaint look on you like an idiot. Of course, we are confronting very serious problems (global warming is the worst of them), but perhaps never before in the history of humanity have we been better prepared to confront them. Because of those convictions, we can wish and even hope that the year 2014 will be a little less bad than the 2013 that is just finishing. The world in which we live is frightening, but it is less frightening than it used to be.

A guest blogger, Kieran Tapsell drew to my attention some good writing from Colombia on issues of international importance. Kieran is a Spanish  translator. I hope you enjoy something a little different.   John Menadue

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