In 2017 I have set myself a task of reading a certain number of books, and by reading, I mean finishing a number of books.
I have also tasked myself with improving my writing, writing more, and writing more regularly… So what better way to tick a few boxes than to combine reading and writing and jot down some thoughts once I finish the books I’ve read!?
Today I finished a different kind of book. Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead is predominantly a transcript of a debate, conducted by the Munk Debates in Canada. It is a debate arguing the pro and con side of the question, “Do humankind’s best days lie ahead?.
On the pro side (Yes, humankind’s best days lie ahead) are scientist Steven Pinkler, and author and member of the House of Lords Matt Ridley.
On the con side (humankind’s best days do not lie ahead) philosopher/author Alain De Botton, and author Malcolm Gladwell.
It is set out with an introduction and pre/post debate interviews with each of the debators. It is mediated by Munk debate facilitator Rudyard Griffiths, who also conducts these interviews.
As I write this it occurs to me that it is the exact opposite of a podcast or audiobook (which I first wrote as ‘book on tape’ initially #GettingOlder). It is really the long form. A text version of a spoken and filmed event. As a result, it was a quick read of just over 100 pages, and yes, you can find it here.
So… Are we doomed? Or is there hope for us yet!? WHAT DID THEY TALK ABOUT!?
I felt as though the two sides of the debate were not really speaking the same language which made it difficult for them to argue this topic.
Predictably the ‘pro’ side focused on a variety of metrics that have improved over time, reduced epidemics, reduced famine, less civil war, lower infant mortality rates globally etc. Arguing that even if people aren’t all super happy, it’s better to be
The ‘con’ side focus on two things predominantly. That the interconnectedness of the world, and improved technology also increases risk of catastrophe (i.e. the internet connects everyone but exposes people to mass identity theft, or cyber warefare and nuclear power brings a threat of nuclear war). The second argument is that no combination of these metrics actually guarantee happiness or contented humans. Alain makes the point that as a Swiss national, with Switzerland being one of the gold standard countries by nearly every measure there are still people who are unhappy, that the best days of the humankind of Switzerland are not reliant on ticking a bunch of metrics.
Personally, I feel as though the pro team probably glossed over what may or may not define humankinds best days, I don’t believe that we can just say that because of technical advancements that we are going to all be definitively better off. It is important to reduce things like disease and famine, but it is equally important to improve opportunities for people to advance beyond being just not-sick and not-starving. Just because people cross an arbitrary line from ‘extreme poverty’ to ‘poverty’, does not necessarily mean an exponential increase in the chances for their best years ahead. Metrics are necessary but not the be all and end all of the best years for humans.
I don’t want to go through the whole book/debate, go and read it or watch it, it’s an interesting and very relevant topic especially in this day and age.
It raised some interesting points for me, if anything further validating my belief that it is opportunity that creates the best, most productive environment for humankind’s best days, and happiness. I will address that topic further, seeing as I will be writing and filming much more this year too.
Happy New Year. Happy Reading, and as always, Just Be Nice.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports