ayjay + progress   9

Andrew Sullivan: Is There a Way to Acknowledge America’s Progress?
I get fundraising emails all the time reminding me how we live in a uniquely perilous moment for LGBTQ Americans and that this era, in the words of Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Charlotte Clymer, is one “that has seen unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ people.” Unprecedented? Might I suggest some actual precedents: when all gay sex was criminal, when many were left by their government to die of AIDS, when no gay relationships were recognized in the law, when gay service members were hounded out of their mission, when the federal government pursued a purge of anyone suspected of being gay. All but the last one occurred in my adult lifetime. But today we’re under “unprecedented” assault?

The right is not immune to the same syndrome. Donald Trump talks about crime as if we are still living in the 1980s. Here’s a great tweet from the acting DHS secretary, Chad Wolf, this week: “There has been a complete breakdown of law and order in NYC.” Really? Last year, there were 295 murders in New York City; as recently as 1990, there were 2,295. Trump himself speaks of a surge in illegal immigration overwhelming the country. And it’s true that we are close to a record percentage of foreign-born Americans, and that last year there was a surge of asylum seekers from Guatemala (many fraudulent). But in 2018, to provide some perspective, there were 400,000 people caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally on the southwestern border; under Reagan and George W. Bush, those numbers peaked at over 1.6 million. It was only when such apprehensions were back down at levels not seen since the early 1970s that an insurgent anti-immigration candidate won the presidency. Go figure.
[It’s so strange to see how determined people are to cast their arguments in historical terms while knowing *less than nothing* about history.]
progress  history  BBD  from instapaper
4 weeks ago by ayjay
Opinion | This Has Been the Best Year Ever
So I promise to tear my hair out every other day, but let’s interrupt our gloom for a nanosecond to note what historians may eventually see as the most important trend in the world in the early 21st century: our progress toward elimination of hideous diseases, illiteracy and the most extreme poverty.

When I was born in 1959, a majority of the world’s population had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. By the time I die, illiteracy and extreme poverty may be almost eliminated — and it’s difficult to imagine a greater triumph for humanity on our watch.
progress  from instapaper
7 weeks ago by ayjay
We’ve just had the best decade in human history. Seriously | The Spectator
Efficiencies in agriculture mean the world is now approaching ‘peak farmland’ — despite the growing number of people and their demand for more and better food, the productivity of agriculture is rising so fast that human needs can be supplied by a shrinking amount of land. In 2012, Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and his colleagues argued that, thanks to modern technology, we use 65 per cent less land to produce a given quantity of food compared with 50 years ago. By 2050, it’s estimated that an area the size of India will have been released from the plough and the cow.

Land-sparing is the reason that forests are expanding, especially in rich countries. In 2006 Ausubel worked out that no reasonably wealthy country had a falling stock of forest, in terms of both tree density and acreage. Large animals are returning in abundance in rich countries; populations of wolves, deer, beavers, lynx, seals, sea eagles and bald eagles are all increasing; and now even tiger numbers are slowly climbing. [...]

As we enter the third decade of this century, I’ll make a prediction: by the end of it, we will see less poverty, less child mortality, less land devoted to agriculture in the world. There will be more tigers, whales, forests and nature reserves. Britons will be richer, and each of us will use fewer resources. The global political future may be uncertain, but the environmental and technological trends are pretty clear — and pointing in the right direction.
futurism  progress  economics  from instapaper
7 weeks ago by ayjay
Is the rate of scientific progress slowing down? - Marginal REVOLUTION
Our task is simple: we will consider whether the rate of scientific progress has slowed down, and more generally what we know about the rate of scientific progress, based on these literatures and other metrics we have been investigating. This investigation will take the form of a conceptual survey of the available data. We will consider which measures are out there, what they show, and how we should best interpret them, to attempt to create the most comprehensive and wide-ranging survey of metrics for the progress of science.  In particular, we integrate a number of strands in the productivity growth literature, the “science of science” literature, and various historical literatures on the nature of human progress. In our view, however, a mere reporting of different metrics does not suffice to answer the cluster of questions surrounding scientific progress. It is also necessary to ask some difficult questions about what science means, what progress means, and how the literatures on economic productivity and “science on its own terms” might connect with each other.
science  progress 
november 2019 by ayjay
The One-Sided Worldview of Hans Rosling - Quillette
The claim of Factfulness, however, is not just to present some good news: “This is a book about the world and how it really is.” Do the authors live up to this bold claim? The short answer is no. My criticism concerns three major problems in the book:

• Its selection of statistics does not do justice to the complex and contradictory trends in global developments.

• Its silence on the preconditions and ecological consequences of the current techno-economic regime makes its analysis of the positive trends superficial and inconsequential.

• Its view on global population growth as unproblematic and impossible to influence is flawed and has potentially serious political implications.
progress  economics  from instapaper
november 2018 by ayjay
A. R. Wallace on progress and its discontents | OUPblog
In 1898, Wallace published the ironically titled The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Failures. Here, he provided a sophisticated deconstruction of many of the icons of late nineteenth-century materialism. Wallace singled out nineteenth-century militarism as a first main target, especially as it has been augmented “by the application to war purposes of those mechanical inventions and scientific discoveries which, properly used, should bring peace and plenty to all, but which, when seized upon by the spirit of militarism, directly tend to enmity among nations and to the misery of the people”. But it is ‘the demon of greed’ that poses in Wallace’s mind a more immediate threat: the enormous and continuous growth of wealth in the Victorian era, without any corresponding increase in the well-being of the general population. For Wallace, it was not science itself but rather capitalism’s myopic deployment of scientific discovery and technology that distorted the industrializing world of the nineteenth century and gave the enormous increase of material productive power almost entirely to the “capitalists, leaving the actual producers of it—the industrial workers and inventors—little, if any, better off than before”. When to this cauldron of inequity is added “the enormous injury to health and shortening of life due to unhealthy and dangerous trades, almost all of which could be made healthy and safe if human life were estimated as of equal value with the acquisition of wealth by individuals,” it becomes clear why Wallace’s critique was so unpalatable to many late Victorian leaders and would be similarly disparaged by many in power today. One need think only of such climate change skeptics as President-elect Donald Trump and many corporate leaders to see the modern parallels.

In the final chapter of Wonderful Century, starkly entitled “The Plunder of the Earth”, Wallace ties environmental concerns directly to the bulk of social, political, and moral deficits of the nineteenth century. His arguments here are reflective of those other thinkers and activists who articulated a set of environmental concerns—including the decrease in natural resources, the fate of “sublime” wilderness, and increasing pollution—in Britain and the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. But most such arguments proved feeble against the onslaught of the powerful forces of Victorian industrialism. Hopefully, Wallace’s critique of progress will find a larger, more receptive audience in our own day when the baleful cultural and environmental consequences of Victorian progress that Wallace perceived—especially the frenzied global attempt to adapt industry and agriculture to the demands of quick and ever-increasing profitability—are magnified enormously.
history  progress 
january 2017 by ayjay
The Dark History of Liberal Reform | New Republic
If Leonard didn’t have the quotes from prominent progressives to back up his claims, this would read like right-wing paranoia: The state’s most innocuous protections reframed as malevolent and ungodly social engineering. But his citations are genuine. Charles Cooley, a founding member of American Sociological Association, warned that providing health care and nutrition for black Americans could be “dysgenic” if not accompanied by population control. The eugenicists weren’t just dreaming: Between 1900 and the early 1980s, over 60,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized under the law.

To bring right-wing fears full circle, the progressive Supreme Court of 1927 (including Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis) ruled 8-1 in Buck v. Bell that forced sterilization was constitutional. Holmes wrote that, “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.” The lone dissent was Justice Pierce Butler, a conservative critic of state intervention, devout Catholic, and one of nine children born to poor Irish immigrants. Butler never wrote his opinion, and the Court has never expressly overruled Buck.
[maybe the facts really ARE conservative after all]
history  politics  progress 
september 2016 by ayjay
Gordon on Growth
Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished macro­economist and economic historian at Northwestern, has been arguing for a long time against the techno-optimism that saturates our culture, with its constant assertion that we’re in the midst of revolutionary change. Starting at the height of the dot-com frenzy, he has repeatedly called for perspective: Developments in information and communication technology, he has insisted, just don’t measure up to past achievements. Specifically, he has argued that the I.T. revolution is less important than any one of the five Great Inventions that powered economic growth from 1870 to 1970: electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine and modern communication.

In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” Gordon doubles down on that theme, declaring that the kind of rapid economic growth we still consider our due, and expect to continue forever, was in fact a one-time-only event. First came the Great Inventions, almost all dating from the late 19th century. Then came refinement and exploitation of those inventions — a process that took time, and exerted its peak effect on economic growth between 1920 and 1970. Everything since has at best been a faint echo of that great wave, and Gordon doesn’t expect us ever to see anything similar.
innovation  progress  tech 
january 2016 by ayjay
Moderately Socially Conservative Darwinians - The New Atlantis
Darwinian thinkers’ thoroughgoing naturalism leads them to be characteristically confident that as reason progresses, it does so alongside our moral sense. Psychologist Steven Pinker argues in The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) that the progress of reason leads to moral progress, so there is more morality and less sociopathological cruelty in the world now than ever before. That is also why naturalist and founder of sociobiology E. O. Wilson is so confident that the human domination of the earth is due much less to some liberated techno-impulse than to our superiority as social animals. Because science itself must be in the service of our species’ social flourishing, it doesn’t occur to Wilson that scientific enlightenment could, on balance, undermine social cohesion or humane progress. Larry Arnhart, meanwhile, who is more attuned to concerns about the morally degrading effects of evolutionary science expressed by philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Leo Strauss, dismisses or mocks the idea that there are scientific truths that we are better off not knowing. Wilson and Arnhart agree that the reality of human nature as revealed by Darwinian science must be good for us to know. Arnhart calls for “Darwinian liberal education,” and Wilson explains that the true narrative about who we are as a species, one that dispels the more narrow tribalism of religious illusions, might well help bring about a twenty-first-century paradise in which human beings find themselves fully at home with, and completely responsible for, flourishing as natural beings made for our planet. Scientific truth is not only about making us “masters and possessors of nature,” but also about setting us free to be fully who we are, and so to be as happy as our evolved nature intends us to be.
evolution  science  reason  progress 
august 2015 by ayjay

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