At the beginning of 2018 the alarm bells are ringing. Doomsayers are crawling out of their holes, terrifying the rest of us with their predictions. Including, pollution, global warming, anti-biotic-resistant germs, nuclear war (especially in northeast Asia), computers that are more intelligent than we are, and what not. Accordingly, this is as good a time as any to draw up a balance of what we humans have achieved and not achieved on our particular cosmic speck of dust over the last few millennia or so.
Without any further preliminaries, here goes
What we have achieved
By some studies, 70,000 years ago humanity numbered just a few thousand individuals. Today the figure stands at about 7.6 billion. Had something similar applied to any other species, e.g chimpanzees, surely we would have called it an unparalleled triumph. Some ninety percent of the increase, incidentally, took place during the last two centuries or so.
We have extended our life expectancy from less than thirty years during the Neolithic to a little over seventy years today. Most of the increase also took place during the last two centuries or so.
We have reduced women’s perinatal mortality by approximately 95 percent. Ditto.
We have more or less done away with a number of important killer diseases. The last global outbreak of a pandemic that killed tens of millions was the so-called Spanish flu in 1919-20. Since then, all we’ve had is flashes in the pan. Hats off to the medical establishment.
The kind that is self-inflicted apart, we have more or less overcome famine. In many parts of the world today we are more likely to die of overeating than of not eating enough.
We have made life more comfortable. In fact, such are the amenities most of us in the West in particular enjoy as to exceed anything available even to royalty until the middle of the nineteenth century.
We have vastly increased our understanding of the universe, the things it contains, and the laws according to which it works.
Our technological genius has enabled us to set foot on the bottom of the sea as well as the surface of the moon. Also, to explore the planets. It has even enabled us to build machines that think, after a fashion.
We have built weapons capable of more or less putting an end to us. Though whether or not that should be counted as an achievement is hard to say.
What we have not achieved
We have not succeeded in uniting humanity under a single government (not that such a government would necessarily be a blessing).
We have not put an end to war.
We have not surpassed the achievements of, say, the ancient Greeks in such fields as sculpture, architecture, literature, drama, rhetoric, philosophy, and historiography.
We have not put an end to misery or to madness.
We have not made life less stressful. Some claim, to the contrary.
We have become no happier.
My grandfather used to say that, while growing old was good, being old was bad. That was almost certainly true during the Paleolithic It remains true today.
We have not put an end to death (though that may very well be a good thing).
Pace Freud and the entire psychological community, we do not understand ourselves any better than we did millennia ago. Did anyone ever understand human nature better than Shakespeare did?
Feminist claptrap to the contrary, the gap that separates men from women has not closed or even narrowed. Men are still from Mars and women, from Venus. Make up your own mind as to whether that is good or bad.
We still have no direct knowledge of the way animals think. Nor improved methods of communicating with them.
We have not become wiser.
Everyone thinks he or she knows about education. So how come we have not yet found a way to make our children better than ourselves?
We have not built a kinder, gentler, more just society. Nor, though everything is relative, is there any question of eliminating poverty.
We have not improved our methods of dealing with evil, when and where it raises its ugly face.
We have not closed the gap between free will and determinism even by one jota.
We have not discovered the secret of life. As a result, we are unable to create it either.
We are unable to control the weather or even forecast it much more than a week in advance.
We are unable to predict earthquakes.
We do not know what the future will bring. That means we are not in charge of our destiny.
We still do not know whether God exists.
Make up your own mind which of those two lists predominates.