[Paleopsych] Atlas Sphere: Good Happens, Too
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Fri Dec 9 21:34:28 UTC 2005
Good Happens, Too
[Increased attention to Frank Sinatra as a sign of things getting better??]
By Jeffrey Perren
Nov 30, 2005
In response to a recent comment of mine, someone asked me for some
examples of good things that have happened in the last thirty-five
So here's a partial inventory. Some of the things listed are personal,
some are global, with lots in between. Of course, all of the
categories listed below are tightly interrelated.
The opportunity to meet like-minded, reasonable, and good people is
greater today than it was in prior decades. Just as one example, I
would've been very unlikely thirty-five years ago to have 'met' and
'conversed' with some of the fine Ayn Rand admirers I've corresponded
Many could say the same.
Despite abysmally poor U.S. K-12 (and even college) education, more
people are sharing more good ideas and useful information than ever
before in history. The opportunity for this kind of
cross-fertilization simply didn't exist even as recently as ten years
Obviously, the Internet is one major factor, but there are others.
The Internet made sharing ideas easy and cheap, but even in the print
world there are more magazines now to satisfy every possible interest
than ever before.
In addition, we've now been the recipients of decades of beneficial
influences: Rand, some conservative thinkers (Sowell, for example), a
general rise in the number of large bookstore chains, and the failure
of grand social experiments. These provide helpful theoretical
guidance and useful empirical evidence, allowing us to lead wiser
Evolving mores have driven to historically unprecedented low levels
the amount and severity of sexual and racial prejudice, rigid
adherence to restrictive social behavior, etc. (These are a couple of
the few good effects of the 60s.) This 'moral anarchy' creates an
opportunity for better, and better-grounded, practices to emerge. The
near monolithic thinking that characterized the intellectual
atmosphere of the first several decades of the twentieth century is
gone, probably for good.
Yes, there certainly has been produced far too much post-modern,
nihilistic, irrationalist garbage from some of the same causes but
this article is about the good things.
In my lifetime alone the Soviet Union has morphed, and is no longer an
active threat to the U.S. and the rest of the world. The Berlin Wall
has been dismantled and Germany re-united. These are not small things.
Many formerly socialist countries, India and Argentina to choose only
two examples, have moved considerably toward greater freedom.
The Middle East, so very troublesome now, is being actively dealt with
instead of sitting to stew to become an even bigger problem later.
(Yes, this one is in the nature of a prediction, but the present good
is that the U.S. is no longer standing idly by.)
The current heated controversies about foreign policy, domestic
policy, and the debates about the character of politicians on both
major sides of the aisle are actually good.
Just as two examples, no one would've been willing to so much as
seriously discuss radical changes to tax codes and Social Security
Thirty-five years ago there was plenty of complaining about all these
things, but much more uniform opinion and much less real debate. We
now have considerable historical experience with socialism and the
welfare state, much better grounded arguments for various desired
outcomes, and much more substantial disagreements and clearly
distinguishable views. This is a necessary prelude to improving the
And there is much more divided opinion within the two major U.S.
parties, with more viable potential alternatives to both than ever
Ayn Rand's novels continue to sell phenomenally well. Tom Clancy,
Michael Crichton, and Ken Follett continue to write bestsellers. J.K.
Rowling's recently released novel made her $36 million in one day,
and, to date, her books have sold almost 270 million units.
I'm not arguing that these latter writers are anywhere near being in
the same league artistically or philosophically; but their novels are
not full of degraded people whining about their miserable lives. Quite
the reverse. Yes, plenty of the opposite still dominates the
publishing industry. Again, this article is about the good things.
The dreck produced too often by Hollywood from the 70s to the present
is lately accompanied by offerings such as Braveheart, Air Force One,
What Women Want, Titanic, Patriot Games, and others. (I'm not making
the case that these are great movies, but they're much more reflective
of the spirit of the 40s and 50s than those produced during the late
60s to early 80s, after which the trend began to reverse. And none of
them would likely have been produced during that time.)
In fine painting, Jack Vettriano, Chen Yifei , and a score of other
'romantic realist' painters have been making a living. In some cases,
doing very well, thank you. This is not something you would've been
likely to see thirty-five years ago.
Most popular 'music' continues to be as bad as ever. But with improved
distribution mechanisms young people are being (re)introduced to Frank
Sinatra, Puccini, and many others who are more popular than they were
twenty years ago. This can't help but encourage composers to actually
write new good music.
Post-modernism is rapidly coming to a close as an active artistic
force. This, along with a much wider variety of much less expensive
distribution channels, creates an opportunity for more art that is
consistently good to be commercially successful.
The improvements in this area are pretty obvious. Today we have
internet-enabled cell phones, faster and smaller computers, the
Internet, satellite TV and radio, artificially increased tree
production, a larger average home size, and more efficient heating and
air conditioning systems. In the area of biotech products, there are
genetically altered food as well as enhanced agriculture in general,
improved pharmaceutical products, and medical technology (e.g., CATs,
NMRs, artificial organs).
All these have either been introduced or substantially improved in the
last thirty five years.
There has been a fairly recent widespread revival of concern for
ethics in everyday life. (Granted, much of the answers to such concern
have been wrong-headed. For the last time, I'm focusing on the good
There's much more discussion today about authentic values and
non-Nietzschean, non-Pragmatist style self-interest than was the case
before. The general atmosphere up until the last few years was that
people didn't think much about the harm they did to themselves or to
Theories of rational self-interest and other positive intellectual
forces are definitely having an effect. It's up to us to make sure the
right side wins.
The need to solve serious problems is hardly gone likely it never will
be. But a sense of perspective, and a recognition of the positive
changes of the last few decades, may help counter-balance the tendency
to despair or cynicism that too often colors the enthusiasm for life
of many. Personally, I'm looking forward to the next fifty years.
Jeffrey Perren is a novelist with a background in Physics and
Philosophy. His latest novel, The Geisha Hummingbird (in progress), is
the story of a ship designer whose fiancé disappears on the eve of her
wedding, amidst a whirlpool of industrial espionage.
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