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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A List of Modern Human Accomplishments:

Speaking of Human Accomplishments, things that stand out above and beyond the norm, like the works of Plato or Aristotle, and make us proud to belong to the same species as these other human beings, I continue to be frustrated by Charles Murray's misanthropy which insists nothing good has ever happened since 1920 or so.  This is so absurd, and extremely insulting to the present generation.  Remember, a large percentage of humans who have ever lived are still alive today, since population growth has been exploding so exponentially.  If you look at just the literate time period of human history, in which human accomplishments can only be made (because any previous to then would have been forgotten so we know nothing about them), the people alive today are around 25% of all humans in history.  If we didn't have a comparably large portion of accomplishments to our name, then that would mean we were the worst generation in human history.

Charles Murray is wrong, though.  As someone who has enjoyed both the classical Human Accomplishments he refers to, like Rembrandt, Beethoven, and Aristotle, and the modern accomplishments of the world today, I can decisively inform him that we in no way are falling behind our ancestors.  Having read the entire Great Books series by Encyclopedia Britannica, I'm not just some uncultured cad who has never heard of Shakespeare and thus am not in a position to judge.  I'm as cultured as humanly possible, and I still think what we're doing now surpasses anything that has come before.  The real problem is that Charles Murray and his ilk aren't cultured enough in today's great cultures, which are, beneath their radar, producing so many good things worth enjoying.

Let's talk about some modern human accomplishments Charles Murray doesn't care about:

1.  Health Care.  We have eradicated many awful diseases like small pox, drastically brought down infant mortality rates, and drastically increased our average length of life and quality of life measures with old age care.  Wide scale epidemics that wipe out millions around the globe have vanished with proper nutrition, sanitation, and antibiotics/vaccines.  Even as we speak, treatments are being developed for both heart attacks and cancer, the new leading causes of death, both of which are becoming steadily less deadly over time.  How this can't be considered a Human Accomplishment is beyond me.

2.  Economics.  The per capita GDP of the world this year reached $12,500.  That is to say, the average person on Earth today is rich enough to afford all the accommodations and conveniences of modern life.  A varied and plentiful diet, a car, air conditioning, a large house with rooms for everyone in the family, running water, electricity, heating, a large collection of clothes, television, video games, movies, music, health care, education, so on and so forth.  $12,500 a year can afford almost anything imaginable that anyone would reasonably want.  And everyone on Earth is now that rich.  This is the greatest Human Accomplishment of all time.  As capitalism continues to expand into the furthest reaches of the world, like China, India, Latin America and Africa, world GDP will only continue to grow.

3.  World Peace.  The number of people who die by violence is continuously declining around the world.  When humanity began virtually every man lived only to kill each other and rape the helpless women who stood to the side.  Gradually, this lifestyle has been replaced by peaceful coexistence and cooperation, where even women and children's human rights are protected.  But ever since World War II, an even more remarkable change has swept the planet.  Now not only is war a rare and organized activity, it simply doesn't happen at all.  A rare skirmish crops up every now and then in backwards places, but given the world's population, the expected ratio of wars per year is completely out of whack.  When civilized powers do engage in war, they use such precision weaponry that barely anyone dies.  And when uncivilized powers try to indiscriminately massacre civilians, they tend to be stopped by the civilized powers of the world and so they end up acting just like the good guys do.  War has never been so clean.  To top it off, no country has been conquered by another country in decades.  The civilized world has simply forbidden such an occurrence from happening, even though it was 90% of what history talked about in the past.  Instead, dozens of countries have become free and independent, enjoying a wave of anti-conquests that began right after the end of World War II.  Even non-state violence is down -- like terrorists, criminals, and pirates.  They have been totally outmatched by the militaries and police forces of the civilized world and been forced to scurry into corners and caves to lick their wounds.  It's an unprecedented moral victory over the less kind instincts of mankind's spirit.

4.  Human Rights.  For the vast majority of human history, only a few people were treated at a minimum level of morality.  Women, children, slaves, serfs, foreigners, the poor, gays, non-co-religionists, etc were all treated like dirt and less than human, not deserving of even a minimum quality of life.  Since all these outgroups together added up to the vast majority of human beings, we had a ridiculous situation wherein 90% of people or so were given so little respect that morality didn't even apply to them.  But these people had feelings and dreams just like the oppressor class had, and were in no way less deserving than the officially sanctioned group.  Only today, and still only partially, have we moved the needle away from this disgraceful selective application of moral treatment to those around us.  Now the ratio is probably 90% of people who are treated as people, and only 10% as disposable vermin, based on people's various prejudices.  Of course, if you are talking about libertarians, they still think 99% of humans are less than human and need to be exterminated, because they're just 'socialist parasites.'  The same is true of Muslims, who think all infidels deserve to die, and all women deserve to be locked in black duffel bags.  The rich still consider the poor to be inferior and undeserving of any level of economic security or benefits.  Black men still think killing people for sport is okay in games of 'knockout king,' and in South Africa virtually every woman has been raped by them.  But the needle is moving in the right direction.  It's not unimaginable that some day the prevailing philosophy will be that everyone else on Earth is a moral agent deserving of moral treatment, no exceptions, no exclusions, no one left to discriminate against.  We've already liberated vast segments of the population from immoral treatment on the basis that 'they aren't really part of us and therefore we don't need to treat them well.'  That's already a Human Accomplishment.  But we can still continue to get better, and the day we finish the task will be yet another Accomplishment to our name.

5.  Space Exploration.  We put a man on the moon.  Though we are still taking baby steps, this technology is so important that even baby steps are remarkable.  Space Exploration equals the continued survival of mankind over a much longer period of time, and a trillion-fold increase in our resource base which will either contribute to many more people who get to live, or people with many more resources than they used to have, increasing their quality of life to unimaginable heights.  It also means that every group will be free to peacefully secede from every other group on Earth, giving everyone the right to self-determination.  Today, SpaceX yet again improved its 'launch and land' technology which promises to make space flight 100 times as cheap as it is today.  Its grasshopper rocket hovered in the air at 800 ft and safely returned to Earth.  If they can replicate that feat all the way to the atmosphere and back, we change the entire space economy from the cost of an entire rocket per payload, to the cost of merely the rocket fuel per payload -- and rocket fuel is no more expensive than jet fuel or filling up your car on a road trip.  At that point space is an open frontier available to anyone who wishes to enter it.  Enormous payloads can be delivered into space, like entire space stations that can be flown to new habitable planets while protecting the people inside from harmful radiation.  And just this week, three new habitable planets were discovered by the Kepler telescope that were about the same size as Earth (we could walk around on it and handle the increased G no problem), circling about the same size sun at about the same temperature.  Since carbon and water are everywhere across the universe, those planets are also sure to be full of said elements.  Basically the only thing stopping us from setting up shop on those planets is their atmospheric composition (which we currently don't know what it is).  A little selective terraforming -- like throwing some archaea that generate oxygen as a waste product of their life cycle onto the planet's surface -- and we'd be good to go.  When we combine the discovery of habitable exoplanets all around us and Space X's vastly cheaper launch systems, we are talking about an enormously important Human Accomplishment.

6.  Physics.  The Standard Model of physics has been verified with the discovery of the Higgs boson.  In addition to various quarks, neutrinos, and such, we have been able in a fantastic manner to accurately predict all the phenomena of the universe and how they interact even on the smallest of scales.  We have solved the deepest mysteries of the universe which Plato and Aristotle could only theorize about.  Recently, we've even made advances in the discovering of Dark Matter, using the sensor mounted on our International Space Station.  It doesn't seem long now before we get to the very bottom of the nature of reality.  As we continue to answer all the 'how did we get here?' questions with physical science, religion has slowly melted away, taking all of its ignorance and bigotry away with it.  Now the trend setters and culture creators of the world are all embedded in a scientific viewpoint, which controls how the masses think about the world, and gives us unlimited opportunities for further advances in our understanding and mastery of the world.

7.  Genetics.  We've sequenced the human genome.  We've also sequenced the genomes of virtually every other important species we rely on, like domesticated crops and animals.  Though it's just the start of a genetic revolution, we've begun to recognize harmful genetic mutations and cure them with gene therapy -- the direct insertion of better genes into our body's code.  We can also screen unborn children for genetic flaws and abort them ahead of time rather than bringing a disabled baby into the world.  Our mastery of genetics allowed us to perform the Green Revolution, which moved the world away from a constant history of famines to obese levels of abundance for all.  It's only a matter of time before we fully understand what every gene does and why.  At that point, we'll be able to create the perfect human being from the ground up, and make every homo sapiens left behind look like an obsolete joke.  We've already performed miracles worthy of a Human Accomplishment, but this is really just the beginning.

8.  Computers.  Need I say Moore?

9.  The Internet.  The internet has given people free access to all the information in the world, and a way to communicate with each other we've never had before.  Combined with computers, the internet has done more to increase our quality of life than any other invention, since at least the advent of electricity.  It has even contributed to increased political liberty and economic efficiency.  What more could you ask for?

10.  Organized Sports.  Starting with the modern Olympics, the resurrection of massive spectator sports is one of the best things about the 1900's.  In Roman times, it was common for the public to go out and watch the chariot races or the gladiatorial duels, the holy athletic contests hosted in Greece or other places.  But when Christianity took power and brought about the dark ages, not only were the philosophical schools closed down for heresy, but the 'pagan' sports were ended as well.  For thousands of years the idea of sports simply went away.  A few martial arts like archery and jousting remained for the improvement of the troops, but sports for fun disappeared as a concept.  Today we have surpassed even the greco-romans by making fun and exciting sports that don't rely on bloodlust as a spice for the masses.

How important are sports?  Well, basically, they're the favorite pastime of at least half the people on Earth.  When people aren't working, odds are, they're watching organized sports, above and beyond any other possibility.  Our entire economy relies on the people going to various stadiums every weekend and buying a hot dog, or tuning in to ESPN on their mobile phones or cable television networks.  To imagine that these people had nowhere to go and nothing to do every evening and holiday before the advent of sports is a truly shocking realization.  How much fun do kids have playing sports together and making friends together as a result?  And in the past, just what did these children ever do?  The answer is generally died of illness, started working immediately, or lived extremely strict, dull lives where even smiling was frowned upon, where they were merely props for their parents to show off in dinner parties or at church.

To grasp how important organized sports are, each sport should really be listed off as a separate human accomplishment.  The World Cup, the professional soccer leagues, the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, rugby, tennis, golf, and all the little sports that show up during the World Championships and the Olympics.  So many have been invented and almost all of them in modern times, sports of all types, individual and collective, winter and summer games, that allow humans to excel in any physical and mental way imaginable.  Each and every sport isn't just a wonder to behold, it's also fun to play, and lastly it develops the human capacity to the limits of our human frame.  In a sense, every world record in every sport is a Human Accomplishment.  What could be more basic than celebrating the victory of the human being over all previous limits that existed before?

11.  The Arts.  Art has been with us for a long time, but up until modern times, only the rich ever really got to enjoy any.  Today art is a universal medium that everyone swims in every day.  Books, comic books, visual novels, collectible card games, video games, television series, animated television series, movies, music, dance troupes, plays, the list goes on and on.  Now even the poorest of the poor, with access to the internet, can enjoy all the finest art of the world right alongside the rich.  They can read any book or comic, watch any television show or movie, listen to any song and play any game.  The novel only began fitfully as an entertainment device in the 1700's.  Science fiction and fantasy books only started in 1900-1950, Movies began in 1900, tv in 1950 or so, video games in 1980 or so, manga in 1970 or so, anime in 1980 or so, vast music collections that could be listened to anywhere (as cd's originally and then itunes playlists) in 1980 or so, collectible card games in 1990 or so, Massive Multiplayer Online RPG's in 2000 or so, visual novels in 1990 or so, and so on.  As technology has progressed, entire new genres of art are emerging one after another.  In each of these new fields, all-time greats have emerged, which totally dominate their unique position in the world.  Each and every one of them is a human accomplishment.

For instance, Key when it comes to visual novels.
Street Fighter as the originator of the fighting game.
Dragonball as the first shonen action manga.
World of Warcraft as the titan of MMO's.
Final Fantasy as the flagship of video game RPG's.
Magic the Gathering as the original customizable card game.
Isaac Asimov and Robert E Heinlein for science fiction books.
Tolkein and Robert Jordan for fantasy books.
Star Wars for movies.
The Beatles for music.

And the list goes on and on.  Since there are so many new ideas floating around in the arts, because there are so many new opportunities to pursue, the list of 'the best ever of this idea' is endlessly voluminous.  And every one of them deserves acknowledgement, so long as we're acknowledging even the tenth or twentieth best painters of mere still frames.  Paintings are intrinsically inferior to these new categories of art, which involve sound, storytelling and motion as well as pictures, but nevertheless Charles Murray lists every last decent painter in history.  By that standard, the top 100 anime series all belong in the list of Human Accomplishment (which I totally believe they do.)  So do endless rock bands, video game studios, movie directors, and so on.

Pretty much everyone who isn't entertained by organized sports is instead spending their time with the arts.  As work hours continue to decrease around the globe and the internet allows for free transmission of any good piece of art to everyone who wants it all around the world, both organized sports and the arts continue to grow in importance every day.  As the economy grows, we can afford more.  As lifespans extend, we can consume more.  As computers grow more powerful, we can produce more.  You could say all the other advances in mankind were aimed at this one point, where we transform all our capabilities into pure Beauty, sit back on our thrones, and relax.  It isn't surprising, then, that this would include the largest number of Human Accomplishments.

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