Tuesday, December 12, 2006

when was the best time for humans to be alive?

When was the best time for humans to be alive if not now? Why?

This is a serious question. I'll post substantial suggestions and explanations on the normal blog.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one and I'm sure it's impossible to know because we're not there and we don't have sense of what they value, their expectatations and just overall happiness. It is possible to say confidently, that in some times, some places, some people were clearly very badly. But others were probably really well off, like the ancient greeks who had the luxury of eating olives while philosophising and the slaves who did all their work.

As for today, no matter how long we live, or how many things people own, this does not equal happiness.

The steps in terms of human rights and dignity where they have truly been put into practice, are obviously a positive point and I many people have taken advantage of this which is great! Others don't know how to because life times of family history and cultural baggage weigh down on them.

But there are a lot of people who are really badly off. And I don't know how to compare that to the suffering of people long ago. Did people always live in constant fear of militant groups, or close to death because of hunger? Like in Africa? I'm not sure. How much do and can we know about the past?
-Tracy

stuart said...

I think that there’s a subtle difference between the “best” time for humans to be alive, and a particular time when we were happiest. It’s probably the same (and I guess happiest could just be a way of defining best), but I imagine the best time to be alive to be the time when there is the largest possible chance of a life that meet certain pre-defined criteria that command the widest possible agreement.

The criteria would include things like life expectancy, infant mortality and safety (which could include political freedom). I would suggest plenty of other criteria, but I can already think of people who would disagree with even these basic ones (except perhaps infant mortality).

I bet there have been societies where the inhabitants were on average very happy but the criteria are not met.

stuart said...

"Brave New World" outlines a society where all the inhabitants are happy, but we're not meant to think of this society as good.

cristi said...

I'll still rather live in the "happiest" society than the "best" society (if i have to chose). those bushmen seem rather happy, if you can trust "the gods must be crazy". monks seem rather content with their simple life as well.

obviously, if their is some way to achieve the level of contentment that u get from the simple life, combined with the quality of life u get from advanced society, then that would be the best world in my opinion.

stuart said...

I can't tell how serious the bit about 'the gods must be crazy' is, but it sounds funny considering your knee jerk dismissal of just about all media and even some academic papers.

I grumble about people dismissing the conclusions of economists because of their innate evil but I have the same feeling about anthropologists from.

I'd also consider choosing some happy societies over some good ones. Brave New World doesn't seem like a nightmare to me.

cristi said...

it was a joke. although the joke was fueled by watching the dvd recently with a friend who sincerely believed that the romaticized depiction of the bushmen community could be true. i was my usual killjoy self. so no fear, i am still a miserable sceptic (with a "sunny disposition").