The Book of Questions #7: Do you think that the world will be a better place in 100 years?

Introduction

That is a simple question is it not? Then why would you even need to answer it knowing that you will not be alive in 100 years (bar some incredible scientific discovery that slows aging). So the questions seems either an academic exercise or it should be framed with having grandchildren in mind, who would inhabit the world in a hundred years. We could also look at the question from a factual point of view or a more philosophical one.

escalator up train station
Future Up (2007) Canon EOS 20D + EF-S 50mm @F1.8 1/100s

Do you think that the world will be a better place in 100 years?

The Book of Questions #7 by Gregory Stock, Ph.D. (1987)

The factual answer

“I do not know” would be the honest answer. I can only make educated guesses. Looking at how the world developed over the last few hundred years it seems reasonable to assume that humans will continue to make progress and the world will be a better place in 100 years. Of course we could look at the horrible things happening around the world and decide that the future is getting worse year. The late Hans Rosling has made it his life-long work to educate people that the world has been getting better despite what we see on the news every day. He even made a website called GapMinder fighting common misconceptions about the world’s development. He called himself a possibilist. Someone who thinks that a better future is possible as well as a worse one but knowing this gives us the ability and perspective to work for a better future. I consider myself a possibilist as well. More on that later. Of course I should mention the turkey fallacy which Nassim Nicholas Taleb mentioned in his Black swan theory. The turkey is being kept warm and healthy, it gets fed very well and thinks that life is great this way. Well until the turkey meets the butcher’s knife on Thanksgiving. Something to keep in mind.

The philosophical answer

The question can also be answered not in terms of knowledge, trends and statistics but also in terms of belief and trust. Do I trust and believe that the world will be a better place in 100 years? I should hope so because what would be my reason for living if I do not believe that things will be better or at least not worse. Sometimes when people complain that the world is getting worse I ask them why they are still alive. I ask why they do not just end their lives instead of suffering from a progressively worse life. The answer is always some muddled argument about the world getting worse “right now” but long term these problems will be overcome and it gets better. So they do believe the future will be a better place after all, they just like to complain or maybe they have a skewed view of the world considering that the news mostly presents bad things instead of progress.

This question is also very unique for our times. If you would ask someone from the Middle Ages that person would most likely answer with a no. For most of human history the world did not get better it just stayed more or less the same. With hindsight we can see the slow march of progress from the first civilizations to today’s scientific world. But for the people alive back then this would play out over several lifetimes. It has only been a few hundred years where people actually witness progress within generations. Today we can imagine the world becoming a better place because we actually witnessed it.

I can give you another answer: Many religions and beliefs have this idea that life is suffering. And if you are being honest you know that is true because we humans can actually anticipate disease and death. Suffering is essential to our being. Not that life can not also be joyful and happy but suffering is an integral part. Denying it just makes it worse. Knowing that life contains suffering each of us can at a bare minimum try to not add to the suffering. And many people worldwide have escaped extreme poverty which allows us to focus on things beyond pure survival. So the next step could be to see how we could alleviate some of the suffering no matter how much time, energy and money we can spare. Because then the world will be better place in 100 years. Because you lived in it. You helped ease suffering for others. And some people will remember you for it. So will you help to make the world a better place in 100 years?

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