Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Rational Optimist

This was a seriously paradigm-shifting book for me. I loved it, because it resonated with many of my own personal beliefs and observations. The premise is that, contrary to almost everything everyone ever says, the human situation keeps getting better with time. All of our human problems, pain, suffering, hunger, war, poverty, pollution, etc., have been getting better for centuries, and will continue to get better for centuries to come. This is a very unpopular viewpoint -- people seem somehow comforted by the idea that the world is going to hell, and are made uncomfortable by the idea that things are getting better.

The book is intensely thorough, and does more than just present data -- it attempts to uncover the forces that are at work making things better, starting with the question of why we have it so much better than the other animals. The answer, Ridley explains, is trade. We are the only animal that trades. Other animals give and take, and use tools, but none of them trade. He even shows interesting evidence that this is what allowed us to kill all the Neanderthals -- they couldn't trade and specialize, and we could. He goes farther, suggesting that our differences in gender roles are probably what got this started.

I found this an incredibly thought provoking book, and it gave me great tools for thinking about the future -- I recommend it highly.

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