Monday, July 10, 2023

Stuffed to the gills but lacking gratitude

Abe Greenwald in The Free Press:
.... Massive protests have been rising in the West for years. In the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Israel—you name it—activist armies have been taking to the streets in greater numbers and frequency. And the nominal causes are all over the place: anti-coal protests, cost-of-living protests, farmer protests, trucker protests, anti-immigration protests, anti-capitalist protests, and, of course, Covid-lockdown and police-brutality protests. ....

So what’s going on? Why are Western populations now so primed to explode? If you’re exercised over a given political or social cause, you’ll see that cause as the explanation. But are all these causes coincidentally coming to a head at the same time? Are Western countries staring at once into the multiple abysses of racism, state-sanctioned brutality, and economic adversity?

I’d argue just the opposite. The West has made such extraordinary—indeed, historically unique—progress in reducing suffering on a large scale that we’re now left grasping for new ideals and new aspirations to fulfill. This is not to say that everything is perfect. But the current penchant for protests and riots is profoundly out of proportion with the relatively small-scale challenges we still face.

Our accomplishments on human rights, freedoms, and the alleviation of hardship are so gargantuan that statistical comparisons with previous ages are made absurd. ....

The widespread poverty known to previous ages now seems science-fictional compared to life in today’s West. Between 1960 and 2023, the French GDP per capita went from $1,334 to $43,659, with other Western European nations showing similar growth trends in income and consumption. In the U.S. over the same time period, per capita GDP rose from $3,007 to $70,249. It’s not noted nearly enough that the life of an average citizen of a modern Western country makes the existence of an old-world aristocrat look pauperized by comparison. And the reduction in global poverty driven by Western trade, industry, aid, and debt forgiveness over the past decades has been even more astounding. Between 1990 to 2017 alone, the global poverty rate fell from 36 percent to 9 percent.

We’ve stuffed ourselves to the gills with the good things that we’ve created. But we are still human beings—the one species on the planet that yearns for meaning. And we don’t know where to turn next. In a different age, many would turn to their faith. ....

How do we see ourselves out of this? The way out surely begins with gratitude. Some appreciation for how far we’ve come would go a long way toward getting our progress back on track. But gratitude is antithetical to the false promise of mass protest. And so, we may have to wait for the new ideals and new tactics to fail before reclaiming the aspirations on which our civilization was built. (more)
Abe Greenwald, "The Fury in France—and Across the West," The Free Press, July 10, 2023.

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