Thursday, December 30, 2010

Does This Pass The Critical Thinker's Smell Test?

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” So said Doctor Pangloss in what is probably Voltaire's best-known satirical work, Candide. And perhaps it is understandable that I briefly thought that The Hamilton Spectator had decided to devote part of its op-ed page to French literature upon seeing the title, 'All in all, things are getting a whole lot better' (Dec.30).

Written by David Seymour, described as a senior analyst for the Frontier Centre, a conservative/libertarian organization whose website boasts the article's original title, 'Cheer Up- The World Is A Wonderful Place,' the article extols the tremendous advances the world has made in a number of fields, including economic growth (hasn't Ebay enriched all of our lives immeasurably?) sanitation and longevity. At the same time Seymour hints at something deeply pathological about those who do not see the glass as half-full, dismissing them as 'the glum,' 'the moaners, and 'merchants of doom.'

To the reader with critical-thinking skills, perhaps most risible is Seymour's assertions “that everyone is getting wealthier and the environment is generally improving ...” and that “ freer and wealthier countries are better environmental custodians. “

Hmm... In his worldview, the writer has conveniently omitted that pesky problem of climate change which almost all balanced studies suggest will ultimately engulf low-lying lands in catastrophic flooding, make many parts of the world much more vulnerable to drought and consequent starvation, and cost world economies many many billions of dollars. Indeed, although no single year's volatile weather can be attributed to climate change, one cannot help but begin to see a pattern emerging in hotter summers worldwide, record snowfalls and freezes in Europe, and massive disruptions in travel throughout the world.

Indeed, I suspect that few would argue that it is the industrialized, free and wealthy countries who are responsible for the massive buildup of greenhouse gases at the root of these changes, the same nations that are proving quite intractable in their refusal to lower their emission rates in order to slow down the rate of earth's degradation.

And yet, according to Mr. Seymour, things just keep getting better for our species.

Would I prefer to live in an earlier time, before the advances of which the writer speaks? Of course not. But let's not kid ourselves that a world offering us greater longevity, sanitation, opportunity and technological marvels is one separate from the world of poverty, child labour, human exploitation, starvation, disease and early death that are constant realities for a significant percentage of our fellow human beings.

But let's face it. There is something beguilingly attractive about Seymour's premise that we can enjoy and exploit the world, guilt-free, because after all, things are so much better now than they were in ages past. Indeed, that nettlesome small warning voice in our heads can finally be put to rest – as long as we are also willing to cast out any sense of morality and concern for those less fortunate who have to pay a very heavy price for our indulgences.

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