We have to do better.
Yes, yes, we do. Whatever it is, we have to do better.
COVID-19, race relations, socioeconomic inequities, the war on drugs, climate change, media accuracy, our favorite failing football team, the burnt steak at dinner tonight.
Yes, by God, we have to do better.
But you probably don’t need to read that here because if you’re reading anywhere else you’re sure to have heard the message:
“WE HAVE TO DO BETTER!”
Often what it actually means, however, is that you have to do better:
“I spent my days working from home. I wore my mask from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. I only left the house to get groceries when the cupboards were bare. I followed all the rules, and still I caught the COVID.
“We have to do better!”
The “we” there is actually “you” because I did everything right and it turned out wrong which has to mean someone else in the collective didn’t do her or his share.
We have to do better.
Why this constant refrain? Can no one actually figure out what it is we need to do?
“Partisan tribalism is spinning out of control in this country. We need to do better!”
How about we stop warring with each other? Just because your neighbor’s philosophical and political views differ from your own doesn’t mean she is Satan.
Then again, maybe she is. You never know. Satan is sneaky. She can pass as black or white, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, rich man or poor man, Progressive or Libertarian. This list goes on and on.
It’s why we have to do better!
If only we’d all think and act and dress alike, everything would be better, right? But how many of the people who appear to believe this have the guts to say it? It sounds so unAmerican to suggest we Borgify the country, but that appears to be what many on the left and on the right would prefer.
The pandemic is the plague of the 21st century. The global economy is on the verge of falling apart. The planet is heating up. There are human rights abuses even in the good, old United States. It all so wrong.
We have to do better.
So what do we do if we can’t? What if we’re still basically governed by the fundamental laws of nature – whether we are willing to accept that idea or not – and we are really doing about as good as we can, maybe even a little better than we should be?
Does all this handwringing about the need to do better help us then or just add to our angst? How about if all the people saying we need to do better actually just did better?
Is it possible the forces of good could make the world a better place by individually doing good rather hectoring everyone else on how they need to do better?
Of course, we need to do better. That’s a given. We will always need to do better.
It’s part of that nature thing. The planet and all life on it is in a constant state of evolution and the fundamental yardstick for all organisms – humans included – dictates they do better and flourish or do worse and die.
From that standpoint, it could be argueg we’re actually already doing too much better. The world is over-run with humans. There are 7.8 billion of us here now, almost double the number in 1974. We’ve populated the planet largely unchecked since our brains spawned the Industrial Revolution.
“It had taken all of human history until around 1800 for world population to reach one billion,” notes the Worldometer population counter. “The second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in 30 years (1960), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).”
OK, numbers aren’t everything, but at least in the Western world we’re not doing so bad by other measures either. You and I live in a far less violent place than our parents knew even a generation ago.
Yes, there are problems in other parts of the world. Wars always seem to be erupting somewhere in the Mideast or Africa, but there hasn’t been a world war for 75 years – not bad when you consider there was only about two decades between World War I and World War II.
And before WWI, wars involving Western powers were, well, common: the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-15; the Boxer Rebellion, 1900; the Boer War, 1898-1901; the Spanish-American War, 1898, the First Italo-Ethiopian War, 1894-96, the Russo-Turkish War, 1870-71; and the farther back in time the closer together they get.
The American Indian Wars in this country ran until almost the end of the 20th Century. Yes, it involved largely European immigrants violently seizing control of a North America from earlier Asian immigrants, but the country has been trying to make peace with the first American ever since and much more so in modern times than in the past when the rules of civilization exerted less control over the rules of nature.
Nature’s rules are pretty simple. The strong dominate and the weak can only hope for the best. We generally now try to take care of the weak. The system isn’t perfect. There are still failures. Some people in power still abuse the powerless because they can.
But the practice is no longer institutionalized. Slavery is long gone in this country, though it survives elsewhere. World Population Review cites 167 countries in which slavery still exists with big numbers of people in slavery in six of those: 18.4 million in India; 3.4 million in China; 2.1 million in Pakistan; 1.5 million Bangladesh; 1.2 million in Uzbekistan; and 1.1 million in North Korea.
Don’t read this wrong. This is not some creed to American exceptionalism. We’re not that exceptional. There are plenty of other countries doing quite nicely, including Japan, which was a pretty barbaric country at the time of WW II.
Thankfully it is no longer involved in the business of invading other countries, massacring large numbers of their residents as in China in 1937-38, or running concentration camps where large numbers of people, including U.S. prisoners of war, were worked to death.
The world overall is a better place than it was then, and in this country, the glass is not half empty. It is more than half full. Arguably a lot more than half full. Alaska offers a fine example there.
In 1950, the average life expectancy for a Native born in Northwest Alaska was 46.6 years, according to a study published in Global Health Action. By 2001 it was over 70 years, and it is now up over 76 years.
A 63 percent increase isn’t just a better; it’s way better. And it’s not just in Alaska. All over this country, most people live way better than their parents and grandparents did in 1950. There are exceptions, of course, because there are always exceptions.
But the reality is we are doing better, and anyone who doesn’t recognize that needs to go back and study their history. Those who do might even come to conclude that we’re now at the point that it has become much harder to do better because we’ve done so much better.
We’ve made such big improvements over time that we’ve entered the world of marginal gains. Progress inevitably comes slower in that situation, which is not to say we shouldn’t keep trying to get better.
But there is no indication that whining more helps.