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The problem with good news is that there's typically so much of it that the human mind balks at making a regular accounting of it, so instead we end up inflicting a world of negatives on ourselves.  For people who aren't too big on context, they start to believe that that is the actual state of things - but nothing could be further from the truth.  So without in any way belittling the real abominations, tragedies, dysfunctions, and myriad irritants that afflict human life, we can on occasion stop and open our eyes to the reality that things are generally awesome.  So below is a list to make that fact explicit.

1.  Gravity / Laws of Physics

Messier 74

Isn't it great that mass is attracted to other mass, and as a result forms all these beautiful and highly productive things like galaxies, stars, and planets?  Sure it also forms black holes - the astrophysical version of Too Big to Fail banks - but even the black holes themselves help bring mass together around them, helping form even more stars and galaxies.  There's one at the center of the Milky Way (its name is Sagittarius A*), so even the unimaginable cosmic dickishness of an object that has devoured millions of stars can still result in cute puppies and happy families.

Also helpful are the fact that the nature of gravity does not appear to change over time or vary from place to place, so the various objects in the universe have had plenty of time to get used to gravity and learn to work with it productively in a spirit of cooperation.  Can you imagine the hot chaos of a universe where moving some spatial distance or just evolving over time alters the gravitational constant so that it's actually a variable?  Things would look very different, to say the least.  You might still have structures evolve of some kind, but they would not be the stars and planets we know.  If gravity were to change even a little, our existence would end in short order: The Earth's orbit around the Sun would change, and the Sun itself would expand or contract - either of which would be catastrophic for us.

Now, some of the more reasonable spiritual types (e.g., Deists) might argue that this is a reason to have religious beliefs and see a Grand Design in everything - I don't go that far.  I see it mainly as a tautology: Of course the universe is exactly what is required to produce us - if it had produced something else, then that something else would have exactly the same self-important thoughts!  And if it produced nothing, then nothing would be present to ask why it had produced nothing.  So of course we exist - it takes neither a Grand Plan nor a belief in cosmic coincidence, so let me dispense with that line of philosophy right up front so it doesn't stink up the rest of my enjoyment of good things.

2.  The Sun


Thanks to #1 above, we have a stable Main Sequence star that delivers a constant amount of energy to our planet without significant variation, and that amount of energy is within the range that will keep water liquid in most places on Earth given our planet's solar distance and atmospheric density and chemistry.  Other combinations of circumstances could also yield life - some of them even better than ours - but these are pretty damn good.  Life is not huddled in some small corner of the world hiding from a brutal Sun, or huddled in some other small corner desperately conserving the rays of a cold and stingy Sun.  

Yeah, our Sun is a great big Sugar Daddy / Mama...and all we have to do for it is look sexy and occasionally do the laundry, and in return we get a high-limit credit card of 1360 W/m2.  For just existing, we get free light, free heat, a level of variety in lighting and heating conditions that makes things interesting without usually being too extreme, and of course, it gives us women's beach volleyball - something very much right with the world in every possible way.  But the Sun gives us our space too: It's not constantly hovering there being a clingy nuisance or a controlling tyrant - it respects that we occasionally need to hang around with other stars, at least platonically.

It's not a perfect relationship, of course - there are occasionally solar flares and coronal mass ejections that screw with our electronics, and people who wear out their welcome in its presence get smacked, but by and large it's a great big softy and a free meal ticket for mankind.  There are better stars to be around, to be sure: Ones with softer and more pleasant light that you could look directly at while wearing sunglasses and yet still get the same heat, and with minimal risk of ever getting sunburned; ones whose light is the warm, nurturing glow of an idyllic dream rather than as a floodlight.  

But this is a great Sun, folks: Most of them are sad and weak, and for their planets to be warm they have to be so close that they become tidally locked with no day/night cycle - like insecure children of neglectful parents, constantly afraid of being abandoned.  Others live with abusive, unstable stars that are constantly beating on them with massive stellar eruptions and mood swings.  And then there are the ones whose personalities shine so brightly and so powerfully - though beautifully - that a planet just can't get near them without losing their individuality (i.e., being sterilized by the intense radiation).  A few sad planets even have to wander the universe alone, without a star, frozen and dark forever.  We are lucky to have our star.

3.  Earth

Earth Globe

Obviously humans could not have evolved on worlds much bigger or much smaller, much hotter or much colder, much more or much less climatically and geologically active than Earth, so it goes without saying that our world is within a reasonable range on these metrics.  But think about what a great place Earth is at this point in time even within the hypothetical community of habitable planets: Vast liquid water oceans; a transparent atmosphere so we can see the beauty of our world from space rather than it just being some featureless cloud ball; atmospheric chemistry in dynamic balance (for now, notwithstanding our reckless carbon dumping) conducive to reasonable temperatures and energetic biology; active tectonics that keep the continental surface replenished from erosion without being so violent that it makes life difficult, and so on.  All in all, this is one pleasant planet.

As with stars, there are undoubtedly better planets out there than Earth - ones where the nice places occupy a bigger part of the surface, where destructive weather and geological events are fewer and further between, where climates are more constant, and the life is both more diverse and more ecologically in tune with the whole biosphere.  But very likely we will find that the vast majority of habitable worlds are marginal cases that would have to be artificially manipulated in some way to flourish: Planets where the life only lives in caves and cracks because there's too much or too little heat above, not enough or too much of a given gas in the atmosphere, where water is scarce or else so ubiquitous that the weather is a perpetual global hurricane (there's another quibble to pile on the failures of that Waterworld movie - Kevin Costner obviously didn't understand climatology).

Ironically, the fact that Earth is not the perfect abode of life is probably a good thing: If a planet were the Garden of Even, nothing would ever change, and even if intelligence evolved on it the society that developed would be rigid and incurious - they would never grow outward and explore, never find other worlds.  Their biosphere would be an interwoven work of art, and the minute an errant asteroid or solar catastrophe changed anything the whole thing would fall apart and spiral into complete ecosystem dissolution.  That's partly what happened to the dinosaurs and other land animals at the time of the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary impact - things had gone so well for so long that the megafauna had over-adapted, and then when everything fell apart, they didn't have the versatility needed to keep going in the harsh new circumstances.  Only our rodent ancestors did.  

So Earth is a great planet for nurturing generalism and curiosity, and that's why I think humanity is the highest expression of our planet's nature rather than some kind of "disease" on it - and whether that nature is suicidal is not really material to the question, although I strongly dispute that it is.  So we have a great planet for learning things: Many places on it are mild enough to reward effort and curiosity to some extent without being so easy that there's no point, and even the harsh places can be rewarding for some people, under some circumstances.

While we are rather stupidly and haphazardly altering climates for the worse on Earth, even then it's unlikely to become truly hostile - just less nurturing than it's been so far.  Our planet will not protect us from determined stupidity, but it is nonetheless amazingly resilient, and we should be glad for the margin of error it permits us.  Some day, probably millions of years from now, we won't have the Earth - but we will miss it from a distance, in myth and legend, rather than sharing its grave, because it has been an awesome mother to us that taught us how to evolve beyond immediate limitations.  But for now we can still happily live in its embrace.

4.  Peace is the norm, and spreading.


By far the vast majority of human beings alive today have never fought in war, never sent a family member to fight in war, never personally witnessed an act of war outside of news coverage, never had to leave their homes or take any special precautions in their daily lives due to war, never had to experience economic shortages and rationing due to war, and have never feared that they might have to experience any of these things at any point in their lives.  Relations between nations and peoples in general are more regular, more involved, more organized, and closer than ever before, with the growth of common worldwide cultural experiences that now make people the world over more similar in their lifestyles, hopes, and expectations than ever.  A person almost anywhere can talk to almost any other person almost anywhere else in the world with the touch of a button - though, notwithstanding clumsy translation apps, they probably would still not understand each other.

Those who conceive of war as a tool of seeking political or economic advantage rather than a last resort of self-defense - and have the arrogance to openly express this view - are increasingly isolated, deprecated, and to the extent they are powerful, undermined.  Gross violations like the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 or the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 stick out like sore thumbs and invoke worldwide contempt, and the governments responsible typically end up with nothing whatsoever to show for their naked aggression: No new territory, no new oil supplies, no new revenue streams, no military bases, nothing, and their international standing is shattered.  Actual military conquest has, for all intents and purposes, disappeared from the world as a viable option, leaving petty border skirmishes, police actions, and gang-style militia chaos as the sole sources of organized fighting - and even those are waning.

In Afghanistan - the poster child for warfare as it exists today - the world rightly reacts with dismay and often anger to a civilian death toll in the thousands, perhaps not remembering (and understandably, not wanting to remember) that the death toll was in the millions under the taliban and the Soviet Union before them.  Meanwhile, in Africa, where so much chaos continues, and so many murderous militias continue to pick at the flesh of already impoverished countries, life goes on...and in some cases improves due to the influx of cheap modern technology like mobile phones, applications of technology like web-based micro-credit, and economic changes such as the high level of investment China has made in upgrading infrastructure in African countries.  Yes, much of it is exploitive, but it's exploitation with some benefits - not the naked rapaciousness with which Western businesses have typically sought out African commodities without bothering to build up the local infrastructure.

5.  Democracy has won the moral argument, and is spreading.


Although the process is hardly complete, and - as usually happens in such cases - there is always a danger of backsliding or even falling into something worse than what came before, the nations of the Arab Spring (Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya) and also a few countries in other regions such as Burma have demonstrated that freedom is once again on the march.  It is on the march even in some places where violent religious extremists have often dominated the conversation, and the reason is because democracy has won the moral argument, totally and completely, and the only thing left to all of its counterfeits and competitors are lies that fewer and fewer people will believe and outright force that fewer and fewer people are intimidated by.

Try and find an argument against democracy from those who constantly act to crush it, and you will most likely fail - they have nothing.  Religious fundamentalists just say "This is what I believe, and you're going to believe it too and obey all the ridiculous strictures I interpret from it or I'll blow you to pieces."  Dictators and petty Mafia thugs like Vladimir Putin don't even bother with the belief part - it's just "Obey me or die" or "Obey me or go to jail" if they're merely authoritarian rather than tyrannical.  But their supporters will not, cannot, and do not even try to offer justifications the way that Renaissance philosophers and the Classical philosophers before them had rationalized monarchy, dictatorship, oligarchy, Maoism, etc. - it's just either "I'm on this team, and you're either with me or against me" or "I'm right because I say so, and I'll do whatever I want to make you obey."

Not only have these ideologies lost every argument they once took part in, but they know it and they know they're just killing time (and people) until the day when they finally have to pack it in and give up.  When was the last time China tried to argue that other countries should emulate its system of government?  There was such a time - under Mao, when his infamous "little red book" was distributed worldwide.  That was when the Chinese government actually believed in what it was doing, however deranged and horrifying.  Funny thing is, the rivers of blood and mountains of emaciated corpses Mao created spoke louder than his little red book, so that all fell apart rather quickly.  So then Deng Xiaoping comes along and basically reintroduces capitalism to China, albeit with the "Communist" Party still wielding total control of everything.

And how hilarious that Politburo meeting must have been: "Okay, folks, let me start off by saying that Communism is 100% the right path for China, it's been a rousing success, Mao was a hero and a god.  Communism forever!  Now, for some minor housekeeping issues, no big deal - we're going to start phasing in markets, private property, for-profit businesses, massive wealth inequality, and turn our people into indentured servants for the manufacturing of useless crap that fat Westerners buy.  Any questions?"  Of course money is one thing, and democracy something else entirely - the Communist Party bureaucracy can work with capitalism, but it would have to yield most of its control if it were to permit democracy, and that would of course defeat the purpose of being in power.

Still, it's often funny hearing the Chinese government speak to foreign summits about the question of democracy - instead of "We will crush your false, corrupt, banker-driven lie of a system with a real people's government!" since that turned out to be bullshit, it's "Well, see, we don't really have any objections to democracy per se.  You know, to each his own.  You do your thing, we'll do our thing, it's all good."  LOL!  No one is under any illusions at this point that any country on Earth offers a superior alternative to democracy, and authoritarian states that refuse to implement reforms in good faith toward eventual democratization are just spinning their wheels waiting for the inevitable day when internal or external events force them.  

From what I've heard, Chinese people are learning all sorts of innovative labor-organizing and public criticism guerrilla tactics to make at least a small dent in the wall of power and bullshit that smothers them, and the dents keep getting bigger, more numerous, and more frequent.  I don't think there will be a democratic revolution in China, since that's just not how things seem to work in that society, but I do think the ground-level changes in ordinary people's attitudes, expectations, and small acts of defiance piling up over time will just make it more practical eventually for people to have the freedom to speak and vote.

Back on the subject of the Middle East, Syria unfortunately is under the thumb of such ruthless, evil, and parasitic people that they've basically had total war thrust upon them rather than simply be allowed to voice their opinions.  It's horrifying, and one of the worst exceptions to the general spread of peace in our world, but most people agree that Assad and his regime are finished and he's just dragging it out at such a cost in life because he's a vile and arrogant person.  Once they win, then the rebels will have to come to some kind of broad-based arrangement to have a functioning democratic government, and most likely they will have to fight the extremist religious militias who want Syria to be a theocracy.  Things could get even uglier at that point than before, or the Syrian people could unite behind a vision of freedom and plurality like the Libyans and smack the militant fringe down.  But even the possibility of a free, stable, and pluralistic Syria is something no one would have contemplated just a few years ago.

The world is getting better.  Life is getting better.  You just have to be able to raise your awareness to the level where the long, sweeping arc of these changes becomes visible rather than always being buried in the noise and chaos of your own misfortunes or the practical necessity of focusing on bad news to the detriment of appreciating everything that is just fine or even improving.  So every once in a while, remember to stop and poke your head up from the canopy of everyday events so that you can really see where things are going.  Unless your mind is clouded by fear and can't see anything other than the bad, you'll know that our problems don't need any miracles to be overcome.  Have a nice day.

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Comment Preferences

  •  And in Universe number 62352342 (5+ / 0-)

    I just won the lotto.

    Course that is if you ascribe to the multiverse theory, Occams Razor and all that. But when I hear that I like to quote a movie that put it so aptly.

    "Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow. "

    Great write up

    --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

    by idbecrazyif on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 10:40:59 AM PST

  •  thanks trou, for reminding us (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that most of us here in the usa and the "western" world at least, have plenty to be happy about, and that we ought to get around to appreciating it

    one thing hat makes me very happy is the thought that americans have seen the light about waging War--

    i have the impression that if any of our "leaders" tried to get us to support another incursion into another country, they'd find themselves out of office

    •  I'd say we're safe from another Iraq-style war. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      isabelle hayes

      We who opposed the Iraq War were really lethargic about stopping the war machine from rolling forward.  There were protests and such, some of them quite large, but we didn't really act as though anything of great value were at stake.  

      Cheney et al had planned it well - a volunteer army, so those who opposed it would not feel their own lives were on the line, and anyone with family in the war would have to acknowledge that their loved ones had made a choice (at least to obey orders, if they had enlisted earlier); no tax increases to fund it, so no opposition from business; and a relatively light hand in prosecuting the few soldiers who did refuse, so as not to make them into martyrs.  Result: We shouted, but we did not revolt, even though our flag was drenched in blood by a mad dictator in a ten-gallon hat.

      We're not going to let that happen again.  If Republicans  try it again the next time they're in power, they'll have a very different war on their hands than the one they wanted.

      In Roviet Union, money spends YOU.

      by Troubadour on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 01:34:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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