【媒库文选】人类生活处于有史以来最佳状态

2019-09-11 13:38   参考消息网  

Life Is Actually Better Than It Has Ever Been for Humans

人类生活处于有史以来最佳状态

Mohadesa Najumi 穆哈德莎·纳朱米

I was once an eco-pessimist. I'll admit it. I believed that the world was doomed and humanity was stunting its own growth. I could not have been further from the truth. It is now a popular trend to jump on the doomsayer bandwagon and depict the world as a tale of woe. Not only is this trope detached from reality, more importantly it is not based on evidence.

The non-monotonicity of social data provides an easy formula for news outlets to accentuate the negative. Then there is the availability heuristic, which stipulates that the more vivid, gory or upsetting a story is, the more people will overestimate how likely it is in the world.

Here are my gripes with the doomsayers: technology has reduced the need for physical labour, mortality rates are down, IQ scores are on the rise, wars are less frequent and deadly, markets are overflowing with food, critics of the powerful are not jailed or shot and the world's knowledge is available in a shirt pocket –and yet, these triumphs are unsung.

In the experience of those in less fortunate parts of the world, war, scarcity, disease, ignorance and lethal menace are a natural part of existence. However,the world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human wellbeing and here is the shocker: almost no one knows about it.

In the mid-18th century, life expectancy for the world as a whole was 29 years. By 1950, it had grown to around 60 in Europe and the Americas. In Kenya, life expectancy has increased by almost 10 years between 2003 and 2013. The global child mortality rate has fallen from 18 to 4 percent.

In just two decades, poor countries such as Bangladesh and Kenya have seen the rate of stunting child growth cut in half, according to Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, in his book Enlightenment Now. What's more, vulnerability to famine appears to have been virtually eradicated from all regions outside of Africa. Pinker observes that the 20th century will go down as the last during which millions of people died due to lack of access to food.

This is not to say that war is any less haunting or tragic for those who are affected by violence today. For instance, over 11 million people are currently in need of emergency aid in war-torn Syria and the country produces more refugees than any other nation. Malnutrition is also a universal issue with 20 million babies being born underweight each year globally. A third of child deaths in the world are as a result of malnutrition.

Indeed, the idea that the world is better than it was and can get better still fell out of fashion among the clerisy long ago. It is probably the reason why you have heard of The Idea of Decline in Western History,but the book Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger, and War does not ring a bell. In fact, recent Pulitzers in nonfiction have been given out to four books on genocide, three on terrorism, two on cancer and one on extinction, while no books on progress have been recognised with a major prize.

Whether or not the world really is getting worse,the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is. Pinker argues that the reason for this could be that “optimists sound like they are trying to sell you something”. Whatever the case may be, knowledge of science is a moral imperative because it can alleviate suffering on a global scale by curing disease,feeding the hungry, saving the lives of infants and mothers, and allowing women to control their fertility.

I put eco-pessimism down to ignorance – a shortfall of knowledge of how best to solve our problems. The solution to eco-pessimism? Enough intellectual honesty to admit that now is the best time to be alive than at any point in human history. Life is getting better, there is just no way around it.

我一度是生态悲观主义者,我承认。我认为世界在劫难逃,人类在阻碍自身发展。我错得不能再错了。现在的流行趋势是赶灾难预言家的时髦,把世界说得悲惨不堪。这种说法不仅脱离现实,更重要的是,它毫无依据。

社会数据的非单调性为新闻机构突出阴暗面提供了简单公式。此外还有可利用性法则,也就是说,一篇报道越生动、越血腥、越令人不安,大家就越会高估它存在于世界上的可能性。

以下是我对灾难预言家的不满之处:技术减少了对体力劳动的需求,死亡率在下降,智商得分在提高,战争的爆发次数和死亡人数减少,市场上的食品充足,强权的批评者不会被囚禁或枪毙,全世界的知识都可以装进一个衬衫口袋里——可是,没有人赞颂这些巨大成就。

在全世界不幸地区的人们的经验中,战争、匮乏、疾病、无知和致命威胁是生存的固有组成部分。然而,世界在人类福祉的每项指标上都取得了长足进步,可令人震惊的是:对此简直无人知晓。

18世纪中期,全世界的总体预期寿命是29岁。到1950年,欧洲和美洲已经提高到60岁左右。在肯尼亚,预期寿命从2003年到2013年增加了将近10岁。全球儿童死亡率从18%降到了4%。

哈佛大学心理学教授史蒂文·平克在他的著作《当下的启蒙》中说,短短20年间,孟加拉国和肯尼亚等穷国的儿童发育迟缓率降低了一半。此外,非洲以外的所有地区差不多消除了饥荒易发性。平克说,20世纪将作为最后一个食物匮乏导致数百万人死亡的世纪而被后人铭记。

这并不是说,对于如今受暴力殃及的人而言,战争不再那么难以摆脱或具有悲剧性。例如,在饱受战争蹂躏的叙利亚,目前有超过1100万人需要紧急援助,而该国产生的难民数量超过了其他任何国家。营养不良也是普遍问题,每年全球有2000万新生儿体重不足。全世界有三分之一的儿童死亡是营养不良造成的。

其实,世界比过去好、而且会变得更好的想法在知识分子当中早就不流行了。很可能是因为这个原因,你听说过《西方历史中的衰退观》,却想不起《无限进步:互联网和技术将如何消除无知、疾病、贫困、饥饿和战争》这本书。事实上,近年来的非虚构类普利策奖颁发给了四部关于种族屠杀的作品、三部关于恐怖主义的作品、两部关于癌症的作品和一部关于灭绝的作品,关于进步的书籍却无一荣获重大奖项。

无论世界是不是真的在变坏,新闻的属性都会与认知的属性交互作用,让我们觉得它在变坏。平克认为,其中原因可能是“乐观主义者听起来像是在努力向你兜售什么”。无论如何,科学知识都是道德律令,因为它能通过治愈疾病、喂饱饥肠、拯救母婴生命和允许女性掌控生育力来减轻全球范围的苦难。

我把生态悲观主义归结为无知——缺乏关于怎样最有效解决问题的知识。生态悲观主义的解决办法?那就是要有足够的学术诚实去承认,在人类历史上的所有时期当中,活在现在是最好的。生活在变得更好,这是无可回避的事实。(葛雪蕾译自英国《独立报》网站8月25日文章)

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