In response to Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress – to repeat something I stated in an earlier post – who can begin to enumerate the number and variety of social economic, health and environmental issues ranging from poverty to homelessness to starvation across the globe? Just recently the NY Times in an article titled The U.S. Can No Longer Hide from Its Deep Poverty Problem showed a tally of those living on $4 a day or less in selected developed countries, and it included 5.3 million people living in the US. I don’t necessarily want to pick on the US, but with the highest GDP in the world you wonder how this can even be the case when a country is deemed the wealthiest country in the world.
Beyond that there is the disturbing statistic that half of the world’s wealth belongs to the top 1%, while the top 10% of adults hold 85%, and the bottom 90% hold the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth. If you believe that these discrepancies are simply a function of some folks working harder and smarter than others, and reaping the benefit of it, then bless you! But you may have to learn something about the celebrated tenets of predatory capitalism and how some people, organizations and certain governments operate in order to accumulate the incredible wealth that they have acquired, if only to ensure the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.
And how depressing is it when you read about the general well-being of people outside the developed countries and find out that approximately 9 million people die of starvation each year according to world hunger statistics; more than the death toll for malaria, AIDs and tuberculosis combined in 2012. And currently an estimated 130 children or more die every day in war-torn Yemen from extreme hunger and disease according to international aid groups working there.
Add to this the pollution of our life-sustaining atmosphere air with toxic gasses and poisonous particulates, the contamination of our precious living oceans with eight million metric tons of plastics each year, the relentless depletion of non-renewable natural resources and the creation of mountains of garbage and putrid waste that we really don’t know what to do with courtesy of our mindless obsessive-compulsive consumerism and you have a picture of a planet that appears to be in deep trouble no matter how rosy the glasses you are wearing you look at it.
Of course, there is far more going on in the world that should be of concern if you care about the future of this earth – which is our future, lest we forget – such as people continuing to slaughter each other no matter what. We are reminded daily of the ongoing tribal wars in the Middle East, featuring the long standing tradition of killing each other in the name of some deity or another, e.g., the murderous Taliban sect and today’s equally deadly version of the black plaque known as ISIS. And last but not least we have a nuclear threat mounted by that obdurate dictator living like royalty of the meager avails of his starving nation in South East Asia, all the while advancing the world’s Doomsday Clock to two minutes before apocalyptic midnight, and a situation sadly lacking in amelioration from that chap in the White House.
And speaking of that chap in the White House, who can forget H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) depressing prophesy come true last year, that “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Now I don’t know about you, but as much as I hate to see the current status of the world reduced to these tragic events, I can’t help but think that no amount of positive thinking is able to gloss over these sordid states of affairs with Pinker’s astonishingly naive claim that things are getting better by the day. If global poverty has been reduced and longevity expanded, it is nevertheless within the larger herd of human lemmings hurtling down the cliff toward extinction. One consolation might be that we have made damned sure every other species of creatures critical to our survival has been made extinct before us.
No need to give up all hope, however! Apparently, the great barren expanse of Mars is waiting for us, as all-round wunderkind Elon Musk will be able to shoot us there in a tin can perhaps as soon a seven years from now. It seems space is where our future lies as the acolytes of modern consumerism! Mars will be the first interplanetary step after we’re done with the earth, and from there we will spread it among the stars, to infinity and beyond. Our greatest gift to the cosmos, indeed!