Things are Great – And They are Getting Better…

I recently read 2 very good books that I strongly recommend : Steven Pinker’s, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress and Robert Reich’s, “The Common Good“.  These books, however, seemed to share conflicting messages.

Pinker’s book provided a bird’s eye view of the incredible progress the human race has enjoyed since enlightenmen. Below is his TED Presentation I recommend you watch, “Is the World Getting Better or Worse? A Look at the Numbers“.

Robert Reich’s, “The Common Good“, unlike Pinker’s book, explained how things can get better, even though we are doing well. To make his point he highlighted current barriers to us continuing progress.  Specifically he identified the three current trends that are pushing us in the wrong direction. He spoke mostly from a political perspective.  Previously he served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. In the Clinton administration he was Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997. Specifically he blamed the practices listed below and suggested these are problematic because they will only benefit the few, specifically the wealthy and well-connected, and not the Common Good.  He clearly explains how instead of working toward a common good, the system now seems to encourage and promote people to do:

    1. Whatever it Takes to Win! 
    2. Whatever it takes to maximize Profits!
    3. Whatever it takes to rig the economy!

It was contrasting because Steven Pinker was demonstrating, very clearly, the incredible progress we have made, please listen to his TED talk if you have not.  Contrastingly, Robert Reich was suggesting a better society is now only available for the rich and that society is moving more in that direction.  Many may not notice the problems as outlined by Reich because we are so much better off and are a much richer society than we have been in the past. We can now do things not possible previously.

One contention I had with Pinker’s information was how he indicated our life expectancy had increased from 35 in the mid 18th century to over 70 years today if we consider the whole world and over 80 years of age in rich countries.  While this is wonderful, the numbers are misleading because the high infant mortality.  Infant mortality is when children do not live past 5 years of age.  In times past, the higher infant mortality drastically altered the average life expectancy number.  He even points out hat today all countries have lower child mortality than any country did in 1950.  It seems a more appropriate comparison would be of life expectancy for those that were able to reach adulthood, if that could be determined.  If people reached adulthood in the mid 18th century, did they reach old age?  The statistics he shares lead us to think that most people did not make it into their 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s – is that true?

To sum up how he thinks humans have made so much progress Pinker suggests it may have its origins in The Humanist Manifesto III (2003).  This manifesto states:

    • Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis
    • Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change
    • Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience
      • Shaped by humans circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond
    • Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals
    • Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships
      • Humanists strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence
    • Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness 

Either way, they are wonderful principles to integrate into life and are likely to lead to progress.  Whatever the cause, over all progress has been amazing. As he explains, “The children have obtained what their parents and grandparents longed for – greater freedom, greater material welfare, a juster society; but the old ills are forgotten, and the children faced new problems, brought about by the very solutions of the old ones, and these, even if they in turn can be solved, generate new situations, and with them new requirements – and so on, forever – and unpredictably”

Also what I found as one of the most profound insights was why most of us do not realize how much better things have become.  I previously discussed it in this previous post, Record Progress To Feel Good or Evidence Disappears.  As I noted, he explains we forget the progress made because because the tracks of progress are erased. They are erased because we turn our attention to what remains to be done rather than how far we have come. Such is the nature of progress. Later he suggests, Progress is a self cloaking action seen only in retrospect.

I also like the very powerful words he used to end the TED Talk and to end his book:

“We are born into a pitiless universe, facing steep odds against life-enabling order and in constant jeopardy of falling apart. We were shaped by a force that is ruthlessly competitive. We are made from crooked timber, vulnerable to illusions, self-centeredness, and at times astounding stupidity.

Yet human nature has also been blessed with resources that open space for a kind of redemption. We are endowed with the power to combine ideas recursively, to have thoughts about our thoughts. We have an instinct for language, allowing us to share the fruits of our experience and ingenuity. We are deepened with the capacity for sympathy – for pity, imagination, compassion, commiseration.

These endowments have found ways to magnify their own power. The scope of language has been augmented by the written, printed, and electronic word. Our circle of sympathy has been expanded by history, journalism, and narrative arts. And our puny rational faculties have been multiplied by the norms and institutions of reason: intellectual curiosity, open debate, skepticism of authority and dogma, and the burden of proof to verify ideas by confronting them against reality.

As the spiral of recursive improvement gathers momentum, we eke out victories against the forces that grind us down, not least the darkest parts of our human nature. We penetrate the mysteries of the cosmos, including life and mind. We live longer, suffer less, learn more, get smarter, and enjoy small pleasures and rich experiences. Fewer of us are killed, assaulted, enslaved, oppressed, or exploited by others. From a few oases, the territories with peace and prosperity are growing, and could someday encompass the globe. Much suffering remains, and tremendous peril. But ideas on how to reduce them have been voiced, and an infinite number others are yet to be conceived.

We will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one. But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing. 

This heroic story is not just another myth. Myths are fictions, but this one is true – true to best of our knowledge, which is the only truth we can have. We believe it because we have reasons to believe it. As we learn more, we can show which parts of the story continue to be true, and which ones are false – as any of them might be, and any could become.

And the story belongs not to any tribe but to all of humanity – to any sentient creature with the power of reason and the urge ot persist in its being.  For it requires only the convictions that life is better than death, health is better than sickness, abidance is better th seean want, freedom is better than coercion, happiness is better than suffering, and knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance.”

Although progress has been remarkable, we must continue to work so we can continue to make it happen.  As you know, I will work for progress by generating comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits, or by practicing paneugenesis.  I look forward to hearing about the progress you help generate.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

If you want to contact me:

Action Needed More Than Hope

We often hear the need for hope.  Hope is important, however if we want something, it is time to start acting.

we do need hope, of course we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere…

We do not cause things to happen with good intentions, actions are needed.  To me, nobody made this point as clearly as the young Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, in her 11 minute TEDx Stockholm talk, “The disarming case to act right now on climate change“.

I encourage you to watch this presentation. As she explained,

We already have all the facts and solutions.All we have to do is to wake up and change.

The actions I take focuses on generating comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits, or by practicing paneugenesis.  I look forward to hearing about the the action you take to help generate a better tomorrow.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

If you want to contact me:

Boredom & Parenting Vindication – Sort of…

I have been reading and digesting Steven Pinker’s book, “Enlightenment Now“, which is fantastic and will be posting about that and Robert Reich’s excellent book, “The Common Good” soon.  As I work on that post, I am sharing an interesting article about boredom and children.

This NYT article,”Let Children Got Bored Again” by Leo Espinosa , caught my attention because I have often felt guilty for often saying to my daughters when they were bored, “Boredom is a choice.”  I was telling them they can do anything, they must choose to do something of interest.  The article explains this better – enjoy…

Let Children Get Bored Again

Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency.

by Leo Espinosa













“I’m bored.” It’s a puny little phrase, yet it has the power to fill parents with a cascade of dread, annoyance and guilt. If someone around here is bored, someone else must have failed to enlighten or enrich or divert. And how can anyone — child or adult — claim boredom when there’s so much that can and should be done? Immediately.

But boredom is something to experience rather than hastily swipe away. And not as some kind of cruel Victorian conditioning, recommended because it’s awful and toughens you up. Despite the lesson most adults learned growing up — boredom is for boring people — boredom is useful. It’s good for you.

If kids don’t figure this out early on, they’re in for a nasty surprise. School, let’s face it, can be dull, and it isn’t actually the teacher’s job to entertain as well as educate. Life isn’t meant to be an endless parade of amusements. “That’s right,” a mother says to her daughter in Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” “You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”

People used to accept that much of life was boring. Memoirs of pre-21st-century life are rife with tedium. When not idling in drawing rooms, members of the leisured class took long walks and stared at trees. They went motoring and stared at more trees. Those who had to work had it a lot harder. Agricultural and industrial jobs were often mind-numbing; few people were looking to be fulfilled by paid labor. Children could expect those kinds of futures and they got used to the idea from an early age, left unattended with nothing but bookshelves and tree branches, and later, bad afternoon television.

Only a few short decades ago, during the lost age of underparenting, grown-ups thought a certain amount of boredom was appropriate. And children came to appreciate their empty agendas. In an interview with GQ magazine, Lin-Manuel Miranda credited his unattended afternoons with fostering inspiration. “Because there is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom,” he said.

Nowadays, subjecting a child to such inactivity is viewed as a dereliction of parental duty. In a much-read story in The Times, “The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting,” Claire Cain Miller cited a recent study that found that regardless of class, income or race, parents believed that “children who were bored after school should be enrolled in extracurricular activities, and that parents who were busy should stop their task and draw with their children if asked.”

Every spare moment is to be optimized, maximized, driven toward a goal.

When not being uberparented, kids today are left to their own devices — their own digital devices, that is. Parents preparing for a long car ride or airplane trip are like Army officers plotting a complicated land maneuver. Which movies to load onto the iPad? Should we start a new family-friendly podcast? Is this an O.K. time to let the kids play Fortnite until their brains melt into the back seat? What did parents in the ’70s do when kids were bored in the way-back? Nothing! They let them breathe in gas fumes. Torture their siblings. And since it wasn’t actually for wearing, play with the broken seatbelt.

If you complained about being bored back then, you were really asking for it. “Go outside,” you might get, or worse, “Clean your room.” Was this fun? No. Was it helpful? Yes.

Because things happen when you’re bored. Some of the most boring jobs I’ve had were also the most creative. Working at an import factory after school, I pasted photos of ugly Peruvian sweaters onto sales sheets. My hands became encrusted with glue as the sweaters blurred into a clumpy sameness. For some reason, everything smelled like molasses. My mind had no choice but to drift into an elaborate fantasy realm. It’s when you are bored that stories set in. Checking out groceries at the supermarket, I invented narratives around people’s purchases. The man buying eggplant and a six-pack of Bud at 9 p.m.: Which was the must-get item and which the impulse purchase? How did my former fifth-grade teacher feel about my observing her weekly purchase of Nutter Butters?

Once you’ve truly settled into the anesthetizing effects of boredom, you find yourself en route to discovery. With monotony, small differences begin to emerge, between those trees, those sweaters. This is why so many useful ideas occur in the shower, when you’re held captive to a mundane activity. You let your mind wander and follow it where it goes.

Of course, it’s not really the boredom itself that’s important; it’s what we do with it. When you reach your breaking point, boredom teaches you to respond constructively, to make something happen for yourself. But unless we are faced with a steady diet of stultifying boredom, we never learn how.

The idea isn’t that you suffer through crushing tedium indefinitely like Neville (“N is for Neville who died of ennui”) of “The Gashlycrumb Tinies.” It’s that you learn how to vanquish it. This may come in several forms: You might turn inward and use the time to think. You might reach for a book. You might imagine your way to a better job. Boredom leads to flights of fancy. But ultimately, to self-discipline. To resourcefulness.

The ability to handle boredom, not surprisingly, is correlated with the ability to focus and to self-regulate. Research has shown that people with attention disorders are particularly prone to boredom. It makes sense that in a hyperstimulating world, what at first seems captivating now feels less so; what was once mildly diverting may now be flat-out dull.

It’s especially important that kids get bored — and be allowed to stay bored — when they’re young. That it not be considered “a problem” to be avoided or eradicated by the higher-ups, but instead something kids grapple with on their own.

We’ve stopped training children to do this. Rather than teach them to absorb material that is slower, duller and decidedly two-dimensional, like a lot of worthwhile information is, schools cave in to what they say children expect: fun. Teachers spend more time concocting ways to “engage” students through visuals and “interactive learning” (read: screens, games) tailored to their Candy Crushed attention spans. Kids won’t listen to long lectures, goes the argument, so it’s on us to serve up learning in easier-to-swallow portions.

But surely teaching children to endure boredom rather than ratcheting up the entertainment will prepare them for a more realistic future, one that doesn’t raise false expectations of what work or life itself actually entails. One day, even in a job they otherwise love, our kids may have to spend an entire day answering Friday’s leftover email. They may have to check spreadsheets. Or assist robots at a vast internet-ready warehouse.

This sounds boring, you might conclude. It sounds like work, and it sounds like life. Perhaps we should get used to it again, and use it to our benefit. Perhaps in an incessant, up-the-ante world, we could do with a little less excitement.

Pamela Paul is the editor of the Book Review and a co-author of the forthcoming book “How to Raise a Reader.”

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Pamela Paul is the editor of the Book Review and oversees books coverage at The Times. She is the author of five books, “By the Book,” “Parenting, Inc.,” “Pornified,” “The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony” and most recently, “My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.” @PamelaPaulNYTFacebook


Boredom may create health promotion gains. Please share your thoughts on how you will take action to help create a better tomorrow.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

Contact me at: