Enjoy The Present Golden Age

You are living a life that future generations may greatly envy.

By Adrian Duyzer
Published October 29, 2011

Earlier today, I came across an interesting, though hard to understand (for me, anyway) article by a theoretical astrophysicist entitled Why we think there's a Multiverse, not just our Universe.

The article explained the scientific rationale for the existence of the multiverse, the "set of multiple possible universes", a profound concept that is all the more startling given its apparent theoretical reasonableness.

I arrived at the article via a news aggregating site, where I also found a comment on the article by someone wondering if they were "born too soon", because of the exciting new knowledge they expect humans will discover in the next 100, 200, and 1000 years.

As a science geek and a sci-fi fan (those are probably pretty much the same thing), I've often felt the same wistful longing for the future that is depicted in science fiction. Not the dystopian kind, but the mind-blowing stuff that's replete with faster-than-light travel, alien civilizations and true artificial intelligence.

In particular, I think many people anticipate a future where disease and disabilities are absent or easily curable, and where the human lifespan is elongated and perhaps even unlimited.

On the other hand, I think everyone who thinks they were born too early needs to recognize how lucky they are. There is no guarantee that the future will be better than the present, and there are many plausible reasons to believe that it could be much worse.

Future generations could find themselves dealing with serious catastrophes: the highly disruptive consequences of climate change; disruptions in the food chain due to ecological destruction; nuclear war (still a serious risk, even if it has faded from the public consciousness); massively destructive accidents (like the gray goo scenario); and so on.

Other long-term challenges, like peak oil and water scarcity, will test the ability of modern societies to maintain their present quality of life, carefree energy use, and casual disregard for the environment.

If we look into our past, we also find that we have much to be grateful for. We are better off than everyone before us since the first humans walked the earth.

Life in prehistoric times was harsh and brutal. Life in ancient and medieval times was better, but no cakewalk. Life expectancy in 16th century England was just 35 years, and "murderous brawls and violent death were everyday occurences".

In fact, as Steven Pinker points out in A History Of Violence, the present age is far less violent than any previous:

Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.

Of course, we don't have to look into the future, or gaze backwards at the past, to feel grateful for the privileged lives we lead as Canadian citizens. Just because you are currently reading this, you are almost certainly among the richest 1% of the world's inhabitants, able to access technology (and medical attention) as far advanced to someone in Sudan as the sci-fi technologies we dream about.

I realize that in spite of all this, many people - and many Canadians - are unable to enjoy the present. Indeed, that is one of the principal things that is wrong with the present age: it is characterized by great disparities in health and wealth, and I hope that human society does manage to improve this situation over time.

But if you are like me and many other Canadians, you are living a life that future generations may greatly envy. In fact, they may look back at this as a golden age.

So enjoy it!

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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By ollerac (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2011 at 17:32:20

If you want to write engaging articles I'd suggest getting to the hook sooner. Maybe delete the first three paragraphs of this article -- or try moving them to the end as footnotes?

I've found it difficult to talk about the past with most people. Even when I look at my own tendencies I can see that I have a strong negative bias against my own past. I'm always criticizing myself and looking for ways to improve. This is a perfectly natural tendency, sure, but I also think that I'm threatened by the idea that things could have been better at another point in my life.

Whenever I find myself thinking that a past experience was better than my experience right now I fixate on it. How can I reclaim the feelings I felt back then? I try to think of strategies for how to bring this circumstances back into my life -- or I try to convince myself that they weren't as awesome as I remember them. And I use the same strategies when I'm thinking about possible future experiences.

These habits usually have the desired effect. After I finally manage to convince myself that I'm on the right path (or I exhaust myself in this process) I'm finally able to allow myself to return to the present moment and relax.

However, after looking back over a lot of similar experiences I realize now that I've spent much more time trying to convince myself to live in the present moment than I've spent living in the present moment. So, in the end, my efforts toward the goal have gotten in the way of the goal itself.

So, sure, I can talk about how violent and terrible the past was. And I can talk about how the people who lived then died young. But all of this talking really just ends up getting in the way of doing/changing/creating/being.

In the end though, I agree with you. We are living in a golden age. Not because it's better than all the other ages. But because it's happening right now.

There are worse things in this life than poverty, starvation, violence and death.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 29, 2011 at 20:26:50

Life in prehistoric times was harsh and brutal. Life in ancient and medieval times was better, but no cakewalk. Life expectancy in 16th century England was just 35 years, and "murderous brawls and violent death were everyday occurences".

The average agricultural/civilized human didn't surpass the nutritional content of the average prehistoric hunter-gatherer until about the dawn of the industrial age. Until then, their lives were generally nastier, shorter and more brutish than their average hunting and gathering counterpart. This division has been clearly visible since the beginning of agriculture (smaller skeletons with more lesions, worse teeth etc),and even nomadic populations who settle today see similar results.

Many things have improved and 'proggressed' a great deal over the course of human history. Other things have not. Assuming that everybody is better off now than they were in the past (and in the recent past moreso than the distant past, etc) tells a grossly oversimplified story of human development. The "modern age" is golden enough, it doesn't need to be glorified for its own sake.

Other than that point (and largely, for that reason), I pretty much agree with the premise of the article. There's nothing special about our society which guarantees a bright and prosperous tomorrow unless we decide to make it so. If, instead, we choose to spend our time naval-gazing in slack-jawed wonderment at the grandeur of our society, we're going to meet the same kind of end that fell upon Babylon, Rome or the Classic-Age civilizations of central America. Being the largest, most "advanced" and prosperous empires of their time didn't protect them, and it won't protect us.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2011 at 21:00:41

Indeed, there is nothing that guarantees a bright and prosperous future. If anything, the likelihood of a monumental collapse of our current civilization is probably greater than before. It is not because naval gazing is more prevalent in our society than in past empires, but because the stakes are higher than ever before since the entire planet is involved. Europeans would have likely met sooner with a damning fate, had they not been given an entire half-planet subsidy as Ronald Wright points out in "A Short History of Progress". As long as we proceed with caution while we still have wealth and natural capital, we may be able to avoid the "progress traps" that destroyed Sumer, Easter Island, Rome and the Mayan Empire.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 30, 2011 at 16:23:44 in reply to Comment 70953

>> there is nothing that guarantees a bright and prosperous future


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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted October 30, 2011 at 06:50:44

For a wonderful double-whammy of insight and context, I highly recommend Charles Mann's '1491' and '1493'.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-10-30 06:50:54

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By Parallel Lines On A Slow Decline (anonymous) | Posted October 30, 2011 at 17:32:55

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 30, 2011 at 21:54:35 in reply to Comment 70958

That was a truly interesting article. I knew that most mutual funds perform worse than basic index funds, and that the more well-paid managers the more that performance tended to decline. But all luck? That's almost surprising.

Human beings have an amazing capacity for creating abstractions to help us understand and interact with the real world. Unfortunately we also have an an amazing capacity for getting trapped within them and losing touch with the real world.

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By Anjoman (registered) | Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:35:58

Just finished reading Ronald Wright's "A Short History of Progress" before reading this article. Very similar ideas.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted October 31, 2011 at 18:17:20

If this is the "golden age" why are young people protesting in cities that there is no work for very intelligent and skilled people? "Golden Age" Hardly at all or else the world is indeed doomed.

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By boredom (anonymous) | Posted October 31, 2011 at 18:34:14

No other logical reason other than its what young people do and today's social media makes it easier o organize. The reality is that the vast majority see this no differently than the Tea Party Wing nuts of the US. Both fringes grossly overestimate their support

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 01, 2011 at 10:45:27 in reply to Comment 70965

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted November 01, 2011 at 04:31:25 in reply to Comment 70965

Both fringes grossly overestimate their support

Of course!

Because naturally, energies such as those being expended by the Occupy movement are only marshalled because they're convinced the 'vast majority' support their views. Because nothing in the world ever happens unless this occurs, no innovation, no change, no betterment, nuthin'.

You sound like a bitter old grump. (Maybe there's even an element of 'protest envy' going on...)

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By old maybe (anonymous) | Posted November 01, 2011 at 09:02:36

but not bitter nor a grump. There is not likely support from the majority simply because there is no defined cause to support. In fact the the majority is almost always silent due to indifference on any issue not just those of the fringes.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted November 01, 2011 at 10:24:10

I agree that many are silent due to indifference. I haven't been to the protests other than the small one here in Hamilton, but my understanding is that there are quite a few people at the US protests who know exactly what it is they want. They want accountability for corporations and banks. According to Chris Hedges, the protestors are not extremists in the least. They are "the true conservatives, since they are asking for a restoration of the rule of law." It is the extremists of the criminal class that have seized power. We haven't been affected to the same extent as US citizens because our banks have been more tightly regulated.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 01, 2011 at 12:47:02

It's worth mentioning that in America, the Occupy movement has roughly twice the popular support of the Tea Party, and half of the negative opinions as shown by polls.

Why protest? Because it really looks like it's the beginning of the end of said Golden Age. Many people, especially those now looking at the crippling poverty in America or southern Europe, are already seeing this. Chalk it up to peak oil, global warming, a rapid expansion of first-world lifestyles into China and India or just the constant buffoonery of the world's economic leaders, but the prospects for all of this look a little dim. Everyone heard about Greece yesterday, right?

For the last decade, in reference to all of these problems and more, people just keep coming back to vague allusions about how the world will "have to change". Sometimes they talk about a new set of philosophical values, new forms of economics and accounting, or entirely new ways of relating to each other. Well, here we are. So what now?

If you want a long and in-depth list of answers, I can spell one out - technologies, economic models, political structures etc. Might even bring the first draft of my book. That would, however, be my viewpoint, which really wouldn't be much of a basis to rebuild a world upon. The other option, of course, is a long and open process of public consultation in which we all develop a way forward. That route doesn't provide any easy answers for quite a while, but it also doesn't write itself into a corner by the end of the second week.

Expect all of this to go down very rapidly in terms of the lifespan of civilizations, and painfully slowly in terms of the average human attention span.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted November 01, 2011 at 15:53:57 in reply to Comment 70981

Expect all of this to go down very rapidly in terms of the lifespan of civilizations, and painfully slowly in terms of the average human attention span.

Fuckin' excellent. Or, in the words of 'The Fast Show'...

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By Cinder Claws (anonymous) | Posted November 02, 2011 at 14:41:52

On an annual basis, Colliers’ forecast, which is generated using a trend-based model comparing recent activity with historical patterns, pictures an even gloomier prediction. Total retail sales (excluding Automotive) for 2011 is expected to slightly surpass $297 billion, a marginal one per cent year-over-year increase from $294.3 billion.

“With inflation taken into account, Canadian retailers are actually expected to see a slight drop in annual sales compared to the previous year according to our forecast,” says Drew Keddy, Vice President of Canada and National Retail Leader with Colliers International. “Fears of another global recession and a strong loonie are only two of the reasons shoppers are more cautious about their spending and conscious about where they spend their dollars, often looking for bargains south of the border.”

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