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Why Be Optimistic

June 3, 2013

It took billions of years to form the stars in the sky, billions of years for God to weave life from the primordeal soup, millions of years for humans to emerge from the chaos of evolution. But over a few generations, mankind has become something unrecognizable from what we were. Not our physical forms, but our society, our technology, and our way of life. Our society is as different from that of the 1700s as hunter gatherers were from them, whose society in turn is closer to that of chimpanzees than it is to us.


Darwin wrote that there are 3 criteria for evolution: mutations, selection and inheritance. There needs to be a source of new changes, and for culture it is new ideas. Technology and innovation take the place of mutation and just as most mutations are harmful to the organism, most new ideas are bad. Entrepreneurs continually try out new ideas and plans to see if they work. Selection in a society is just as prevalent as in nature. In market situations, it is easiest to see this success and failure. Profit is a measure of success and losses are failure. Companies that provided good products at a price people are willing to pay become more profitable and get larger and attract competitors. Ideas that are unprofitable are abandoned as companies lose money and possibly go out of business if they do not adapt. Countries and regions can compete with one another for power. Although the competition is not as intense as in a free market system, it can be far more deadly. Countries that become weak may be invaded and taken advantage of. The more intense the competition, the faster bad ideas will be weeded out.

Technology, once created is very hard to uncreate. As long as people are able to store the discoveries we’ve made, it is unlikely we will ever go back to sustenance farming. As more and more people get education, more and more knowledge is created. Science exhibits “increasing returns to scale” which means that the more scientists you have, the more productive each one is. By feeding off one anothers’ ideas, teams of engineers and scientists are able to create ever more complicated devices. New materials lead to increased manufacturing abilities and techniques. One invention can positively impact hundreds of other inventions and make them more efficient. For example, the electric motor made many other machines more powerful and efficient compared to the steam engine. Plastics allowed for devices to be made with properties people could only imagine before.

Both liberal democracy and market capitalism use competition to promote what works and get rid of what doesn’t work. Politicians who pursue unpopular and ineffective policies are eventually voted out of office. Having multiple states allows the U.S. to experiment as see what works while still remaining under a solid basic set of rules. As long as people are free to travel, they can leave areas with ineffective rules and enter areas with better rules. Market capitalism also has this function. Companies that people do not like can be boycotted. Those who do not satisfy the needs of the consumer lose money and those that do are profitable. The inefficient are continually replaced by the efficient. Entrepreneurs are continually experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t.

Even if the world looks dark, there are small improvements being made every day. People all around the world are working to make better lives for themselves and their families. As time goes on, more and more of the world is becoming capitalistic and free, which I believe will lead to more peace. Not only is our society discovering things at a rapid pace, we are always discovering rules that allow us to discover other things at a rapid pace. In other words, we’re continually discovering how to discover better. I eagerly await what will come next in the epic tale of humanity.

Further Media:
Graphs showing human advancement.
Human Progress

One Comment leave one →
  1. Josef Houston permalink
    June 18, 2013 5:03 pm

    When the mind engages in pure creative thinking it comes up with new thoughts and ideas. When it applies itself to society it can come up with new organizations. When it turns its attention to the study of nature it discovers the laws and mechanisms by which nature operates. When it applies itself to technology it comes up with new discoveries and practical inventions that boost productivity. Technical creativity has had an erratic course through history, with some intense periods of creative output followed by some dull and inactive periods. However the period since 1700 has been marked by an intense burst of technological creativity that is multiplying human capacities exponentially.

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