The market is tanking, we're treading water in expensive wars, unemployment is high, people are eating garbage, school is failing us, our government is dysfunctional, pollution is rampant, kids are hooked on drugs, and our prisons are packed. Many things are going horribly wrong with this world, and I'd even say that some metrics we might judge ourselves by are at an all-time low.
If you focus on these things, and by that I mean "watch the news", you might reminisce about a better time. You might think of the booming markets of the 1980s, the relatively peaceful 2000s, or even the pollution-free 1500s. You could yearn for the fifties when kids listened to their parents, ate their vegetables, and could count on a solid career right out of college.
But that's just one side of the coin, and a one-sided coin isn't worth much of anything.
We have technology that would have passed for magic during our great-grandparents' lifetimes. Life expectancy is near an all time high. For a nominal fee, I can talk to someone on the other side of the globe in real-time.
For the same amount of money the average American makes in just a few days, it's possible to travel in a few hours a distance that previously would have taken weeks. And you don't have to worry about getting cholera on the way anymore.
Unlimited knowledge about our world, our past, and ourselves is available for free. More people than ever have access to it. As a group, humanity knows more about our world than any generation ever has.
It's unrealistic to expect that every single category of life will continuously be at an all-time high. That's just not how things work. Some areas will lag, or even falter. Others will shoot ahead, but we'll adapt so quickly we don't even notice (how impressed are you that you have color screens on things?). Like so many things in life, our appreciation of what we have is left squarely in our own hands. The world is a horrible place if we only focus on the bad. If we focus on the positive, it's nothing short of heavenly. And if we take a balanced and objective view, it's still spectacular.
We have problems, but they offer us the opportunity to struggle for progress, which is perhaps the most satisfying human experience. Like every other "impossible" problem we've solved, we'll conquer most of what seems so horrible today. Along with that will come deterioration in other areas, but overall the tide rises with time.
We are unbelievably lucky, even though we lose sight of this fact sometimes. The only better time than now is the future, so let's be thankful for this amazing world we have, and be justifiably optimistic about what's coming next.
regardless of the economy or what not, there has been no better time in the world for people to do something and start something. Before you needed a couple of insanely strong, obsessed leaders who were willing to dedicate their entire lives to change (Martin luther King, Ghandi, etc). Nowadays anyone with a bit of time can start a blog or use social media to start a following and get something started.
Everyone's comments are just proving how ridiculous life really is. Everyone will always bicker back and forth about who has it worse and why, but really, it all doesn't matter. Even if our entire economy collapses, and the world ends, and people live off the land, and you're forced to live off of squirrels for the rest of your days... is it REALLY that bad? You're ALIVE. I think that's something everyone could use a little reminding of.
A ton of you are quick to point out 'it isn't that simple', but you're all really part of the problem. If you're one of those people who complain 24/7 about the economy being bad, with no suggestions for solutions, seriously, you're showering everyone around you with pointless negativity and you're bringing your own life down. There's nothing more annoying than 'that guy' who brings it up every night and in every conversation. Either stop complaining and annoying everyone around you, or go complain so damn much that you're gonna do something about it. I cannot stand the middle. Complainers who don't act.
We've been granted an incredible chance at living in this wonderful world. I think no matter if you have faith in science, or religion, or nothing at all, that the most important thing is to not lose sight of the fact that in EACH and every scenario you're still incredibly lucky to even have the chance to be able to think, see, act, breathe, live. A bundle of trillions and trillions of atoms, sitting and thinking in front of a computer screen, seeing/processing/reading this sentence. Mindblowing. Be thankful! You're alive, go live.
It's great to see a positive perspective on thigns because that's exactly what we should have. Instead of just looking at the negatives we should look at the positives and instead of saying we can't change things we should look at how we can change things. Just like your website my website focuses on helping others improve themselves and their lives.
Not to nitpick... but the markets went haywire in the 80's with the savings and loan crisis. Wall Street was full of scandal. We were stuck in a recession for both the beginning and the end of the decade.
The 2000's weren't exactly peaceful with three wars, and 9/11.
And just to be an ornery prick, in the 1500's people burned wood and manure for fuel, horribly inefficient and even more unhealthy and poisonous than fossil fuels. There's a reason people didn't live past 40 back then.
Stuff has always been amazing and horrible at every point in history. At any point in time, people were more advanced than ever before with more opportunity than ever before. Also at any moment in time, people faced difficult problems and unprecedented challenges. Hindsight is 20/20.
So basically you're just saying: stay positive.
Very interesting post, Tynan! I often think about how the way I travel today would be impossible even five or ten years ago--I travel with my small computer, I Skype to relatives, I am able to access the internet almost anywhere I go, and I can do all that plus get from place to place cheaply. Even Couchsurfing and Helpx were just beginning about ten years ago! It's a great time to travel.
Meh - pretty superficial post, Tynan. The situation is much more complicated than you make it out to be. We can't really "progress" if we have a Technology > Environment (or whatever) mindset, can we? As we become more connected through technology, society becomes more complex. As complexity increases, institutions that we have an irrational faith in start to fail systemically, etc... We can't ignore these things and just expect solutions to emerge without shifting our focus and changing our values. We need to stop this "mental-masturbation" and start using these new connections we have to one another to acknowledge legitimate problems and try to come up with solutions, collectively. You may not have to worry about cholera Tynan, but most of the people who do, do so as a result of "industrial progress." Society is much more complex and dynamic than a poker hand, Tynan. It's going to take some work to keep it stable.
It's midnight and I'm on my cot in a tent on the island. It's quiet now, just small waves slapping the rocks and jokes between me, my cousins, and my friend Nick, When we wake up, it will be very windy and possibly rainy. There's a hurricane en-route, which is expected to weaken to some less impressive category of storm.
Installed on my phone now is a tide app, which always strikes me as bizarre when I'm walking around the city at home. But here it's part of life. When it's high tide it's easier to boat back, and possible to carry heavy loads in the boat. At low tide boating requires a lot more precision to find the deep water channel, but we can circumnavigate the island easier on foot.
I like having to think about the weather a little bit. It's a connection to the real world from which we've largely insulated ourselves. Most of the time that's a good thing, but tradeoffs hide behind convenience.
Our island has no luxury, other than that of time and space. One of the luxuries lost is the luxury of being fussy. One of my cousins runs inside when mosquitos come out, and another is inexplicably scared of butterflies. But the island trails were flooded with tiny white moths and the constant whine of mosquitos is the soundtrack of the deep woods.
I had the good fortune to interview Benjy Wertheimer at Bhaktifest, 2011. I was really interested in his prison work, and so I asked to talk to him about it. Benjy relates with startling clarity and compassion, discussing his work with kirtan and world music at the Oregon State Penitentiary. It was truly moving to hear him talk about relating with these devoted souls who have managed to turn a prison into an ashram... Please enjoy.
(SRD) What piqued my interest was that you are playing at the Oregon State Penitentiary, and that once upon a time, Jerry Garcia Played there too. As both a dead head and a yogi, I was really curious to follow up on this connection. Can you comment on that?
(BW) Totally. Absolutely, I used to be in a band that rehearsed in the barn- Micky Hart's barn so, I actually got to see him a fair bit. I was in this band with Micky, called the Zakir Hussain Rhythm Experience. And then- there were some other, related ensembles that also would sometimes practice, and Jerry and all the guys would come by at different times! That was their primary recording space, and they always had their rigs set up, at all times. But, Jerry, interestingly enough, of all The Dead, was the one who was most interested in what we were doing, with this ensemble, I think. I mean, Micky was certainly engaged in it, directly. There's a certain kind of rock-star mentality that people get into, and even though Jerry was perhaps, arguably, the biggest rock-star of all of The Grateful Dead, he was also the one who seemed to be least on the rock-star trip. He was really accessible. He would look straight at you and take an interest, 'cause you were there. And, I was playing Tabla, and I was doing some of this other stuff, and he was really curious about it. I liked that, a lot.
(SRD) Did he ever mention the prison project to you?
(BW) No, he didn't. I had heard about that because the woman who's a chaplain at Oregon State Penitentiary knew about that and mentioned that. She said 'There are a lot of different people who've played here, including Jerry Garcia.'