I know I linked to him in yesterday’s post about Romanticism, but I think David Brin really did have a point about the state of the world (beyond just the scope of Romanticism and the fantasy genre) and I wanted to highlight it in light of some other recent news.
From David Brin’s blog:
“. . . anyone who thinks we’ve gotten worse in our brutal savagery is simply a historical ignoramus. I mean an ignoramus of historical proportions, who knows nothing of what the Assyrians did to the lost ten tribes of Israel, or the Romans to Judea, or the Mongols to Poland, or the Spanish to every native population they encountered. Or the Polynesians to each other, every year. Do you doubt that I could go on with this list? All day and all week? Can you cite counter-examples? Sure, but not many.
By comparison, . . . the per capita rate of violence on planet Earth has plummeted every single decade.
Don’t believe it? Watch this: Stephen Pinker on the Myth of Violence. Then ponder the most marvelous irony: that you think modernity is more violent and cruel only because modernity has succeeded in raising our standards of decent behavior, making us more self-critical about the travesties that remain. Crimes that are so much milder than our ancestors committed routinely, without a twinge.”
It’s a good point to keep in mind. I know I fall victim to feeling like things are getting worse. It seems like every other day, some asshole from Tucson is making us all look bad. Or people are getting shot. Or blown up. Or blown up due to negligence. Anyway, it just feels like things are getting worse, even though, as Brin argues, the inverse is actually true.
That despair we’re feeling at the state of the world? That’s not the world descending into hell, that’s us getting more sensitive to the horrors that need our silent consent to continue unopposed. A generation ago, fuckwads like Tucson’s own Dean Saxton couldn’t be publicly shamed for his idiocy. Sure, that means he has a larger audience now and his message will reach more minds. It also means that more people will have an opportunity to say, “fuck you and fuck your ideas.” Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as bad publicity. The parts of you that exist on the Internet are eternal. These things have a way of sticking around. Maybe Saxton’s name will come up when he’s applying for a job and his fifteen minutes of fame will cost him. Or maybe this will be the greatest aspect of his legacy and this is how history will remember him, as a hateful misogynist swept aside by the changing times.
Silence and ignorance are the sanctuaries that breed cruelty the most effectively. Sure, it doesn’t make a big difference, calling out one asshole to a small audience on a wordpress blog (even if I did pay for my domain so you know that I’m hella serious). The effective change in the world won’t be felt today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. I haven’t made the world any better by writing this post. Nobody saves the world by tweeting about it.
But if you get enough small changes? Over a long enough period?
Then you have enough change to erode mountains. Enough small changes together can move continents.
That’s what our technology is doing for us. It’s making us better by helping us to demand that the world be better. And in the mind of a better person, an injustice that was once ignorable is now intolerable. The world seems more intolerable today than it did yesterday because today we’re less willing to tolerate today what yesterday we could comfortably ignore.