The Problem With Neoliberal “It’s Never Been Better” Triumphalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/07/2019 - 6:00pm in

Saying that humanity is currently the best off it has ever been (a dubious proposition in any case) is like saying “I’ve never been warmer” as you burn down your house.

Globe on FirePeople like Pinker have been trotting out stats to claim that we’ve never been better off. Those stats are questionable, based on a definition of  poverty that is beyond questionable. Meanwhile, in India, people eat less calories than they did 30 years ago. (I traveled in India and lived in Bangladesh 30 years or so ago. Eating less calories is unimaginably bad. That a small middle class and a new wealthy class has been created means little to those eating… less.)

But let’s wave that all aside. Let’s posit that human life is the best it’s ever been.

Meanwhile, in India, people are dying in 50 degree C weather. France had a massive heatwave. Indian farmers are committing suicide in droves, in large part because of issues with ground water.

Extreme weather is getting worse, the permafrost is melting 70 years ahead of the consensus forecast and so on. Ecologically fish stocks are collapsing, the Amazon is being chopped down at a ferocious rate, more than one study has found collapses of insect populations of 80% or so, and others have noticed that without insects  you don’t have birds and so on and so forth.

Blah, blah, blah.

Not only is no human an island, but humanity lives among other species and they make our lives possible in ways we are barely aware of. Most oxygen in the world, for example, is produced by small ocean organisms, organisms which could have a mass die off.


So let us say that this is the bestest of best worlds, a Panglossian paradise.

Present prosperity is being paid for with future poverty; future mass death, and a non-trivial risk of human extinction. As for non-human species, they are already dying at a rate which will show up as the fastest mass extinction in Earth’s existence.

This is only a good bet if you are sure that  you’re going to die before the bill came due. That was a good bet for the GI Generation. A decent bet for the Silents and not a bad bet for about the first half of the Boomers. It’s a bad bet for everyone afterwards who expects to live to 70 or 80 or so (a normal human lifespan in most developed countries.)

And, of course, it’s a bad bet if you actually, y’know, care about your children, or other people’s children or the future of humanity when you’re gone. (Gonna be a shitty place to reincarnate too, if reincarnation exists.)

Now let’s bring this back to neoliberal “greatest time to be alive” triumphalism.

The sub voce message there is “we don’t need to change, everything’s fine and getting better.”

But, if we’re living not just unsustainably, but in a way that will call Biblical level catastrophe within the lives of most people now alive and their children, perhaps we do need to change, and radically.

So this sort of triumphalism, even if it were true, would be a disservice to not just humanity, but life on Earth.

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