We have reason to be optimistic. Enlightenment ideals have set the stage for a possible Kairos event. All we have to do is recognize and participate in it.
“Since the Enlightenment unfolded in the late 18th century, life expectancy across the world has risen from 30 to 71, and in the more fortunate countries to 81. When the Enlightenment began, a third of the children born in the richest parts of the world died before their fifth birthday; today, that befalls 6 percent of the children in the poorest parts. Their mothers, too, were freed from tragedy: one percent in the richest countries did not live to see their newborns, a rate triple that of the poorest countries today, which continues to fall. In those poor countries, lethal infectious diseases are in steady decline, some if them afflicting just a few dozen people a year, soon to follow smallpox into extinction.
“The poor may not always be with us. The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across the world’s countries and people. The proportion of humanity living in extreme poverty has fallen from almost 90 percent to less than 10 percent, and within the lifetime of most of the readers of this… it could approach zero. Catastrophic famine, never far away in most of human history, has vanished from most of the world, and undernourishment and stunting are in steady decline. A century ago, richer countries devoted one percent of their wealth to supporting children, the poor, and the aged; today they spend almost a quarter of it. Most of their poor today are fed, clothed, and sheltered, and have luxuries like smartphones and air-conditioning that used to be unavailable to anyone, rich or poor. Poverty among racial minorities has fallen, and poverty among the elderly has plunged.
“The world is giving peace a chance. War between countries is obsolescent, and war within countries is absent from five-sixths of the world’s surface. The proportion of people killed annually in wars is less than a quarter of that it was in the 1980s, a seventh of what it was in the early 1950s, and a half of a percent of what it was during World War II. Genocides, once common, have become rare. In most times and places, homicides kill far more people than wars, and homicide rates have been falling as well. Americans are half as likely to be murdered as they were two dozen years ago. In the world as a whole, people are seven-tenths as likely to be murdered as they were eighteen years ago.
“Life has been getting safer in every way. Over the course of the 20th century, Americans became 96 percent less likely to be killed in a car accident, 88 percent less likely to be mowed down on sidewalks, 99 percent less likely to die in a plane crash, 59 percent less likely to fall to their deaths, 92 percent less likely to die by fire, 90 percent less likely to drown, 92 percent less likely to be asphyxiated, and 95 percent less likely to be killed on the job. Life in other rich countries is even safer, and life in poorer countries will get safer as they get richer.
“People are getting not just healthier, richer, and safer but freer. Two centuries ago a handful of countries, embracing one percent of the world’s people, were democratic; today, two-thirds of the world’s countries, embracing two-thirds of its people, are. Not long ago half the world’s countries had laws that discriminated against racial minorities; today more countries have policies that favor their minorities than policies that discriminate against them. At the turn of the 20th century, women could vote in just one country; today they can vote in every country where men can vote save one. Laws that criminalize homosexuality continue to be stricken down, and attitudes toward minorities, women, and gay people are becoming steadily more tolerant, particularly among the young, a portent of the world’s future. Hate crimes, violence against women, and the victimization of children are all in long-term decline, as is the exploitation of children for their labor.
“As people are getting healthier, richer, safer, and freer, they are also becoming more literate, knowledgeable, and smarter. Early in the 19th century, 12 percent of the world could read and write; today 83 percent can. Literacy and the education it enables will soon be universal, for girls as well as boys. The schooling, together with health and wealth, are literally making us smarter—by thirty IQ points, or two standard deviations above our ancestors.”
Looking at all these wonderful accomplishments from a perspective of human evolution, are we not looking at a waiting Kairos event?