Chapter 1: Framing

2020 October, 18
Image - globe crashing down upon a row crumbled columns

This is a draft of one of the chapters from my book, The Descent Into Complete Order. This version may differ from the final publication.

Over the past few centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled from less than 30 years to more than 701; literacy rates have dramatically risen from under 20% to over 80%.2

Globally, our diets have become more diverse and balanced, incorporating larger amounts of food.3 That means we are eating more healthily and suffering far less from famine or malnutrition. And as we’ve become richer and more productive, we’re spending fewer hours working4 and so have more time to spend on leisure activities or with our children, friends, and other family.

More subjectively, the number of people living in open democracies has exploded in the past century5, and as we’ve begun taking measurements of life satisfaction we find that people are generally becoming happier.6

Are the gains perfectly distributed? No. Are they the best they could be? No. However they are all immensely positive, persistent, and substantial changes that have manifested in almost every corner of the world. These are causes for jubilation!

Perhaps you sense a giant "But" coming. Surely this is all too good to be true. 'What's the catch?' you may be wondering.

I won’t lie, this book will provide no shortage of depressing statistics and sober news in the following chapters. This chapter though is to provide some broader framing. While much of this book will focus on recent and contemporary events, it’s important to step back and look at today’s world in the context of the long history that has brought us here.

ARC OF HUMANITY

For much of our history, we were scattered small tribes, never more than a few million in total. Agriculture, writing, mathematics, and back breaking labor built civilizations around the world, allowing skilled craftspeople and artisans to specialize and expand our understanding and experiences.

Since then, engines, electricity, and advancements in transportation and communication driven by millions of dedicated individuals have built a global civilization capable of supporting billions of fascinating people. And expansions in compassion and conscientiousness have brought levels of violence to lows not seen in millennia.

At every point in that history, there were problems. There were always inequalities and social divisions. There were always existential threats to cultures from external incursion (by man or virus) or from internal decadence. And yet, more oft than not, a combination of intelligence, resourcefulness, and collaboration saw us through those challenges as we built better and better futures for ourselves and our children.

That is the arc of our global history. There have been plenty of highs and lows along the way, yet we prevail. Today is no different. We have problems. We have inequalities and social divisions. We are threatened by disease and pollution. And we have the tools, knowledge, and resources to address those problems. We have the means and the ability to address those inequalities and social divisions, the technology and wealth to address those threats.

It won’t happen automatically, it never does. Just because it can does not mean that it will. It will take, just as it has always taken, individuals remaining vigilant in the world to identify and categorize the threats. It will take the initiative of millions willing to do the hard work of fixing the problems of the world and of our communities.

PROBLEMATIC RESPONSIBILITY

That’s what this book is about. This is an attempt to identify problems in the world, and propound solutions to some of them. It is my way of articulating some of my own views so that you might learn from them, or voice your dissent.

The process of this book was useful to me because it forced me to clarify my ideas, explaining them at length, and seek counter points. I hope by sharing it to spark discussions and new ideas. And I hope that the process of your reading of this book provides you with new ideas and perspectives.

This book will talk about a wide variety of very big problems. You may find yourself thinking that the intricacies of the money market rate, the bureaucratic tangle of conflicting regulations, the increased politicization of our public discourse, or the poverty of people halfway around the world is not your responsibility. You would probably be right. At the same time, I’d like to leave you with this quote to keep in mind as you read this book.

“This is not your responsibility but it is your problem.” - Cheryl Strayed7

Is it your responsibility to develop robust testing procedures and quarantine best-practices? No. And yet when no one does these things and a pandemic roils the globe, it does become your problem. Is it your responsibility to balance your nation’s budget? No. And yet when your government defaults on its debts and inflation spikes, it does become your problem. You can complain about that, or you can figure out how to chip in and help solve those problems.

Sometimes the problems can be solved by someone else. Some distant expert implementing a program in a top down manner. Other times solutions need to be driven by individuals rolling up their sleeves and chipping away at the problem, bit by bit, bottom up.

This book is about the complex issues that aren’t necessarily any one person’s responsibility, and yet are often a problem for all of us. This book is also about potential processes for how to start fixing those problems.

WITH A HEAVY GRAIN OF SALT

One final note before diving in. This book is meant to propound ideas, not to pronounce beliefs. I select that word with care. To propound something is to put that thing forward for consideration. Propound does not mean endorse. Rather, to propound is to say that I believe an idea is worthy of your time and attention to hear and consider, something worth discussing and investigating.

I am propounding, not professing. I don’t know if I am correct about everything in this book. I’m open to the large possibility of being wrong on many fronts. However I spent the hours (in their thousands!) to write these pages because I believe the problems I see are problems, that their causes are not well understood, and that we are not deploying optimal solutions that will solve them and improve our lives as best we could.

I hope to change that. I hope you will approach this book with an open mind and a willingness to grapple with these complex ideas, disagreeing or agreeing as you judge fit, in the shared goal of determining better processes for living our lives and improving our world for our selves, our communities, and our families.

So enjoy! And may you prosper in your future endeavors to solve the problems of the world, whether at the scale of nations, or in your own local community. God Bless.