Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sanity Restored

Ah, the good news today is Dr. Sanity's return to blogging after a four month absence. That's a long time to go without a bit of her theraputic wisdom. Obviously rested and ready, in today's post she brings us her insightful commentary on the ingredients of human progress. The focal point for this exploration is Matt Ridley's new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, and a review by Gagdad Bob. The blog has a fine examination of the role of ethics and how its erosion leads individuals and the society they lead into narcissism and decline. References and links to the works of Ayn Rand and Thomas Sowell add to the discussion. If the following observation catches your attention, you will appreciate the wisdom this post brings to our attention:

There is no doubt in my mind that the key "boundary conditions" that have enabled the incredible advances in human progress around the world which have decreased both human misery and poverty everywhere is due to the adherence to a rational ethical system that allowed individuals to interact in a socially productive and mutually beneficial manner--"between brains" so to speak; without the use of brute force and government coercion.

Those boundary conditions are being systematically and deliberately dismantled and replaced by a medieval, irrational and unethical system, that depends primarily on force, involuntary servitude, and the submission of the individual to the will of the State.

Dr. Sanity is a medical doctor specializing in psychiatry and aerospace medicine. The photo of her at work is from her blog--obviously enjoys the work. I feel better already.

1 comment:

Frank S. Robinson said...

Ridley’s key theme is the salience of trade — commerce — exchange — in propelling progress. The great point (which too many fail to grasp) is that trade makes both sides better off. Ridley draws an analogy to the biological exchange of information, i.e., sex, which propels evolution. Trade, he writes, is akin to ideas having sex with each other.


Ridley’s book celebrates the human achievement. To lament modernity, to deny that we’ve progressed, even to condemn what we’ve done, while romanticizing a supposedly halcyon past, is pitiably foolish. Ridley does a great job showing just what progress has achieved in quality of life for the average human. He and I share a profound reverence for the titanic human exertions standing behind this.
Reading his book on an airplane — a half-day transcontinental trip that for our forebears was arduous, miserable, dangerous, and took months — made me marvel anew at the vast web of contributions by untold thousands of people across the globe and across centuries that made this possible. The same is true of even our simplest modern conveniences, to which most of us give scarcely a thought.

I have been following the reviews and blog commentaries on Ridley’s book. Most have been quite positive. The nastiest was by George Monbiot in Britain’s left-wing Guardian newspaper. One can of course quibble with details of Ridley’s analysis. But to dismiss his basic story, to actually condemn it as villainy, takes a really diseased cynicism, and blinding oneself to what is, well, blindingly obvious. It’s painful to observe. And it’s harmful, standing in the way of a better world (especially for the downtrodden, about whose plight such pundits constantly whine).


 Monbiot et al are intolerant guardians of a narrow orthodoxy. They portray Ridley’s book as fanatically pro-capitalist and anti-government. It is not, and only a fanatic would see it so. Their critiques reveal more about the critics than about the book.


Bravo to Ridley for his breath of fresh air and clear thinking. That his message is widely labeled “radical” is ironic — the reaction really should be, “Duh! Tell us something we don’t know.” Yet Ridley is indeed telling us something that, sadly, most people don’t know.


My own book, The Case for Rational Optimism (Transaction, Rutgers University, 2009), does make many points and arguments similar to Ridley’s, but is far broader in scope, covering not only such topics as the economy, war and peace, technology, democracy, etc., but also the evolutionary background and the philosophical and psychological issues involved with optimism versus pessimism. See http://www.fsrcoin.com/k.htm

ShareThis