Tag: life

Extraterrestrial Life is More Likely Than You Think

By William Ramage | United States

Extraterrestrial life has long been a well-debated topic. It is a commonly held belief that there is no possibility of life outside our own planet, when in reality there are millions, if not billions, of possible life-supporting planets. Additionally, it is possible that extraterrestrial life does not follow the same basis of life we do. For example, foreign life may not need water and oxygen, but rather could be sustained by different elements or compounds. The universe is such a vast, unexplored region, that the mere statistical chances for life other than us are so high, we can almost be certain of them.

Despite the universe being so immense and unmapped, humanity has already discovered many possible Earth-like planets, analyzing not even a fraction of the universe. We have even discovered possible life-supporting planets where we may have been reluctant to look.  For example, NASA found a very strong candidate not far from us. An American probe, Cassini recorded jets of water squirting from cracks known near the south pole of Enceladus — evidence, scientists say, of an underground ocean kept warm and liquid. The possession of water makes Enceladus a very strong candidate to support life. Water is one of the main factors that currently determines if an area can sustain life, and since Enceladus contains an underground ocean that is heated, any life forms living inside are protected from the harsh outside elements. This also expands far past one potential life-bearing planet. At first glance, Enceladus did not appear at all to be Earth-like, but at a closer look, it is. Given this, we may be overlooking many planets that have the potential to host life.

Some argue that all life must follow the same guidelines as life on Earth when in reality it is very feasible that life may not follow any of the guidelines we think to be true. It is such a strange subject to think about, yet it is a very possible factor in our search for extraterrestrial life. The very definition of life is tricky, since scientists have only one example from which to draw conclusions, and that’s Earth life. If this comes to be true, possibilities of life may be endless. We could find life anywhere which once seemed completely improbable. Unearth-like life may not rely on any water, may not rely on any oxygen, and may not have any organic compounds. We think we know so much about life, and we’re just assuming all life is like ours, but once we discover more about our universe, we will uncover more and more solutions to these issues, and also uncover new mysteries.

With all of this being said, probability is still one large factor in finding extraterrestrial life. The possibility of any life other than ours in the universe can be determined by one equation–and the results are shocking. Using the Drake equation, Scientists at the University of Washington came to the conclusion that the chance that we are alone in the universe is one in ten billion trillion. Based on this knowledge, it seems almost impossible for other life not to exist. Knowing this, we may become more enthusiastic to search for life. A newfound enthusiasm paired with such a high chance of coming to a successful conclusion will fuel and motivate our search for life.


71 Republic is the Third Voice in media. We pride ourselves on distinctively independent journalism and editorials. Every dollar you give helps us grow our mission of providing reliable coverage. Please consider donating to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!

Advertisements

The Importance of the Individual in Life

By Nickolas Roberson | United States

The individual has been prominent throughout the entirety of human history, both in reality and mythology. In almost every instance of ancient culture, and even modern culture, there is the story of the hero facing the dragon. The hero isn’t represented by any group or collective, he represents Himself, the Individual. He is the culmination of domination and human will, the innate force to strive for achievement. This achievement could be happiness, freedom, or any other personal means. This hero’s goal is to slay the dragon and retrieve the lost gold or save the princess and kingdom. The dragon obviously represents evil, but what kind of evil? The answer is incredibly subjective. The abomination that is said dragon could be the collective that wishes to extinguish the flame of individuality, and it could very well be the flaws of human nature; in the Christian world, the dragon represents Satan, wickedness, or sin.

Ancient, archetypal stories that provide symbols and guidelines to living life beg the question: why is the individual important? Why should I, an ordinary human being, care about individuality? Without individuality, the core foundations of your life fall apart and your life loses its meaning. You become a lost soul without any personal guiding force in your life. Unfortunately, this has happened to quite a number of people in society today. They begin to lose their individuality and sense of Self, and adopt disgusting and weak, yet tantalizing, views of nihilism—they deem that life is meaningless, the void will consume all, and the wild, passionate flame of the Individual has been extinguished with no hope of coming to light again. In their eyes life is only, and will ever be, suffering.

Indeed, life is suffering. It’s full of poverty, sickness, sorrow, tyranny, and death. Yet we, the human race, prevail; we’ve been doing so for over a millennium. How? Through determination, willpower, and individuality. We steeled and fortified ourselves against the howling winds of extreme chaos and suffering. Through innovation, order, and freedom we established a foothold and prosperous society in the world. That is what these followers of nihilistic principles need to realize: yes, life is suffering, but it is your responsibility to find meaning in life. That meaning is found in being an individual, being determined, having willpower and by allowing human nature to run its course.

Discover and establish a balance of chaos and order in your life; be innovative, free, and find happiness. Allow your individuality to burn bright and run free, like a stallion running through a dew-filled prairie in the early morn. Fight against the endless suffering of life and defeat the dragons of evil.


Get awesome merchandise. Help 71 Republic end the media oligarchy. Donate today to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!

Inevitable Death at the Hands of the Former

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

As Jake sprinted down the dimly lit hall, he did not dare a look over his shoulder. Doing so would spell out his certain and inevitable death at the hands of the Former.

All-seeing and all-powerful, the Former, having created the whole of existence, could inhabit the mind of any man who did not recognize its power. However, Jake, having learned the world’s true nature in a dream long ago, was not under Its control. Rather, he was a threat to the Former’s hold, and thus, needed to be erased.

Jake had spent ten years on the run, never trusting, never even speaking to another man. From ghost towns to desolate woods to arid deserts across the world, the traveler always was ahead of anyone else. But now, in the abandoned theater, the Former had caught him.

Rounding a corner, fearing for his life, he bumped into a young boy of about ten years. “Wh.. what are you doing here?” the child asked, puzzled. “Are you going to erase me, like the scary man says?”

The question struck Jake like a heavy metal mallet, freezing him in place and dumbfounding him. “You hear it too? In your dreams?” He began to sweat, hands growing clammy, terrified and excited that he may not be alone in this world. The boy frowned slightly, mumbling, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”. Quivering, he reached into his coat. Jake realized what was happening a moment too late as the boy pulled out a small silver revolver and shot him in the chest.

Gasping deeply, Jake woke suddenly, sitting upright with a look of alarm on his slightly wrinkled face. Though only twenty-nine, his knowledge wore away at his years, and he looked nearly double that. With grizzled gray hair, a coarse beard, and tattered clothes, Jake looked as if he had spent a number of months alone in the woods.

The woods, though, would have been preferable to his current surroundings. For nearly ten years, Jake had been in an insane asylum. For most of that time, today included, he was in solitary confinement, due to his tendency to attack anyone in sight. After all, he had yet to meet anyone who the Former had not taken control of.

If at any time, he thought, he helped another man see the world for what it really was, nothing more than an energy source for a powerful being, the Former would lose a little bit more energy. Without access to the mind, the Former could not control it, feed off of it, harness it for greater power. Jake knew little of the nature of the Former, why It desired such energy, why It could only inhabit males, or what It used it for. Merely, he knew that the Former was real, could inhabit anyone, and wanted him dead.

Anyone, then, could end his life at any time, for he was a threat to the natural order of the world.

Jake sat and thought, as he often did in the mornings. Of course, he thought at the other times of day too, for there was little else to do without the company of another person. But something about the mornings made those thoughts of particular importance to him.

In the previous night’s dream, he remarked, the boy had suggested that he, too, was enlightened. This was the first time, in his many lonely years, that a dream had revealed the possibility of someone like him. Every night had been the same: endless running, never stopping, always running into another person who killed him without hesitation.

At around noon, a scratchy-sounding buzzer rang through the confines of the small, uninviting room. A female voice rang through, no more smooth than the buzzer. “Visitor here for you, Mr. Anderson.”

Hearing this, Jake erupts into a panic, knowing only the Former would have any interest in visiting him. Though his life was without freedom or ability, he nonetheless feared deeply for its end. In life, at least, Jake knew how the Former reigned; but in death, anything was possible.

As his door creaked open, he feared for the worst. Surely, someone would emerge holding a weapon. Every night’s dream showcased one, always catching him off guard. Sometimes it came in the form of a knife, club, even a flamethrower, but none were so frequent as the silver handgun.

Suddenly, a flash of silver moved in through the now ajar door, and Jake flew out of his seat. “Jake! I told you I would come for you!”

But the voice was female, not male, as the Former had always been. As Lucinda, his fiancé, entered the room, Jake felt his heart turn to liquid, and he relaxed back into the seat.

“Luce, where have you been? Ten years in this place and not even so much as a letter or a message?” Jake spoke with no malice, only longing relief, as he embraced her for the first time in what felt like lifetimes.

Lucinda frowned slightly, looking ashamed. “It wasn’t easy getting in here. I spent the whole first year trying to get myself in. But after that, I couldn’t do it. I saw you through the monitors here, but every time you looked to be having those horrible dreams of yours.”

Jake began to make a remark, but Lucinda continued abruptly. “After that, I marched myself into the office and told them to let you go, and that you needed me, not some dark cold room. But they didn’t like that, and things escalated, and I did things I regretted. Spent some time locked up myself.” Jake inhaled sharply at the thought of his beloved behind bars but kept listening. “As soon as I got out, I decided it was time to do the same for you. I called everyone I knew, I fought the state and the country and the world and raised more money than I ever thought I’d have. You’re coming home with me now!”

The patient tensed suddenly at the thought of being a part of the outside world again. “Home?” he spoke quietly. “What home? Lucinda, this has been my home for almost a decade. This is my home now.”

“Well I mean, our home! I bought the place last week, a beautiful ranch on the river where we used to sit and watch the sunset. Not too far from where you proposed!” Lucinda flashed her engagement ring, beaming when she saw his as well.

Jake screwed up his eyes as if some horrible demon was grappling his brain. “No, no, no. This is my home, Luce. It’s the only place I’m safe from the Former!” He trembled as the words slipped out.

Lucinda, hearing this, looked sullen. “Jake, you know that’s why they put you here. It was wrong of them and I fought so hard against it and I won. But this is all in your head, love. I’m real, and I love you, and I made a new life for us! You don’t have to live like this anymore.” She spoke with a soothing tone, delicately balancing her assertion with a strong regard for his predisposition.

“Well, of course, it’s in my head,” Jake replied thoughtfully. “But that doesn’t make it any less real. Ten years I’ve had to do nothing but dream horrible dreams and think horrible thoughts, and as much as I hate the latter almost as much, it helped me realize so many things. Nobody can disprove the existence of the Former, whether I’m right or not.”

“What are you going on about, sweetie?” Lucinda appeared not to understand this new direction. Though he had begun fearing the Former slightly before his confinement in the ward, he rarely spoke of the matter to her.

“I mean, those men out there can never, with full certainty, insist that their minds are their own. If a Former took them over, could it not, just as easily, convince them that they were thinking clearly and of their own accord? And even if I am wrong, and their minds really are their own, how could I ever prove it to myself? With all of the visions, all of the dreams, it is too dangerous to dismiss the possibility! I die every night in bed, only to come back to reality where I suffer through to die again the next. Nobody else has to live like this, and nobody else’s head is full of the Former’s haunting voice!” Jake’s own voice rose suddenly, with growing anger, then shrank again. “I’m sorry, Luce. I love you too but cannot jump into a world in which everyone wants me dead.”

But Lucinda, now fully understanding, took matters into her own hands. “You think your life is so rough? Then why sit there and dream and think? You don’t have to do this anymore. You can come with me and start a new life. We can even sell that stupid ranch and get a place wherever you would like, with nobody else around.”

“No, Luce, we can’t! They’ll always find me, they always do! The Former is in every man and can get everywhere, everywhere but for some reason, inside of this room. It always has and always will. I am the biggest threat of all men, for I alone know of the oppression that It brings to the world. I threaten Its way of being.”

“And how are you going to make anything any better from the inside of that cell?”

“I don’t know. I’m not. I’m going to sit here and think until I die.”

“And what good will that do you? What good will it do anyone else?”

“What does it matter what good it does me or anyone else?”  He grew angry once more.

“Well it would sure do me a lot of good, and you too, if we went and were happy together.”

“Until I die and leave you miserable and single.”

Identifying his true fear, Lucinda knew exactly what to say to soothe it. “So, Jake, if I am right, we get to live a wonderful life together. Perhaps we may finally marry, and raise a family, and move to the country. I have plenty of money so that we can invest it and never work a day in our lives. We can devote all of our time to each other. But suppose you are right, and every man in the world wants to kill you. I’m no man, as you should know by now. We can run away together, and if one finds you one day, we will have spent the remainder of your life together. That is all I could ever desire.”

Jake quivered, but this time, with a joy he had not felt in a decade. “You mean that Luce, don’t you?”

Lucinda grinned and replied, “You know the answer to that already, sweetie.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out a pair of beautifully-baked muffins, handing one to her fiancé. “Before I go and let the guards know you’ve decided, I thought I’d give you a taste of real food again! I spent all night baking them, knowing you’d want something special for the first edible thing you’ve had in some time.”

As he took the first bite, tears streamed down Jake’s face. After all of this time, he was finally going to make it out. Of course, the Former still lurked around every corner, but it was no matter. Even one day spent in peace with Lucinda was worth the suffering that may follow it. A small part of him even clung to the desperate hope that, by some miracle, she may be right, and the Former was all in his head.

After scarfing down the muffin, he looked at Lucinda with pure love as she moved for the door.

“I’m going to get the guards now, sweetie.” She smiled once more at Jake. “But I suppose I don’t have to even leave the room for that! I can just slide into their minds next.”

The grin suddenly turned shrewd. “I really thought this would be more difficult. You really couldn’t fathom the notion that I could get into a woman’s mind, too? Well, I’ll be on my way now; these guards have a body to dispose of! Don’t bother trying to resist, sweetie. The poison in that muffin will take effect long before anything you do has any prayer of working.”

As if on cue, Jake started gagging violently, as his insides erupted with pain. Choking, he was unable to form a clear response.

“You really thought that I would let my men and women let you out of this place? What, so you go could go about, trying to take the world back, stealing from me? I fight a battle stronger and more powerful than anything your puny brain can imagine. Your attempts to derail me are pitiful. But, you can at least die with the knowledge that you were right about Me.” Lucinda slowly walked out of the room, the door closing behind her with a resounding thud.

Convulsing on the floor, Jake looked up, fury in his gaze. But in less than a minute, the fury, along with his life, had completely subsided.


To support 71 Republic, please donate to our Patreon, which you can find here.

Featured Image Source

Grandma’s Painting

By Craig Axford | Canada

In spite of the fact I had been planning on returning with nothing more than a small backpack, the framed oil painting wasn’t a burden. Hidden behind the bubble wrap and the plastic bag protecting it from the vicissitudes of airline travel was the likeness of a deer that had already made a far more mysterious journey from my grandmother’s mind onto the canvass.

My grandmother — or grammy as I called her from about 18 months or so onward — has been gone for more than two decades. The painting will, hopefully, survive for far longer than either of us put together. Regardless, the deer browsing autumn leaves in the depths of some dark New England wood is destined to be a part of the scenery wherever I go. Friends that visit our home will perhaps notice and admire the work. Some subset of these might even comment on it, giving me a chance to say something about the painter.

Though I can’t say for sure, I don’t think my grandmother ever took any art classes. I remember seeing her easel set up in the living room from time to time during some of my visits as a small child, but I never actually saw her paint. If anyone else in the family saw her at work they have kept it to themselves. In my mind grammy as an artist remains a solitary figure engrossed in the act of creation next to the front windows of the home that my grandfather had constructed for them in the woods of Manomet, Massachusetts.

When she had finished a painting grammy would leave it on her easel with strict instructions not to touch it because the oil paint was still drying. It was her way of saying she had only just finished it and of showing it off. There was, after all, a room behind the kitchen where the painting could have dried without danger of being molested by an overly curious and underly cautious young boy.

Once, I arrived to find she had painted a pond we passed each Sunday on the way to church. She drew my attention to the rock in the middle of the pond. She had crowned it with a turtle. She told me it was the very same turtle that once caught my eye during one of those Sunday drives and which was the source of perpetual disappointment each Sunday thereafter when I failed to see it again. At last that elusive turtle wouldn’t be going anywhere. More than two decades after her death, I’m not sure where that painting currently hangs.

That she had thought to add that small creature to the rock made me feel loved. I don’t think I ever really appreciated her brushwork so much as I did at that moment. She had succeeded at doing what grandparents the world over aspire to do: confirm their grandchild’s belief that they rest at the center of the universe.

The story of the deer may be similar to that of the turtle. I can easily imagine us seeing it on one of our many walks through the woods on our way to Manomet Beach. Whether that was the case or not, a memory that fits the mold of that narrative has already begun to form without my having to will it into existence. Since the tale that explains my grammy’s inspiration has passed from knowable to unknowable, what really happened seems of little consequence at this point.

The Stone Age residents around Lascaux, France would have been a tighter knit community than our own modern counterparts. Then there were no jet airplanes or cars to move people across the country or around the world far from their birthplaces. There were no means of developing a friendship, let alone a romance, with someone on the other side of the planet using the camera on your laptop for a virtual get-together. The art adorning the cave walls of southern France wasn’t something a small child just happened to see during a short visit with grandma. It was the product of generations of education and effort; a vehicle for initiation as well as a work of art.

17,000-year-old cave drawing in Lascaux, France. Source: http://www.ancient-wisdom.com/caveart.htm

Seventeen thousand years ago in places such as southern France, the narratives like the one that I can’t resist building around my grandmother’s painting would have developed into the stuff of legend and myth. In such communities, the storytellers and artists would have been as essential as the hunters, gatherers, and warriors whose tales they embellished or manufactured. Art was not a passive presence to be glanced at casually now and then while hanging on the wall of a home or museum, but an active force in the lives of every individual. Meaning and memory would have been inseparable in such a setting.

Millennia ago, before writing, there weren’t any means of comparing notes to confirm the stories that both inspired and were inspired by the magical images dancing on the walls of torchlit caves were the same ones your parents and grandparents had heard. There were no fact checkers to ensure accuracy and consistency. Reality would have been embedded in the experience as opposed to something to be objectively observed from outside of it. The encyclopedic knowledge of the shaman, the hunter, and the healer that everyone so admired and counted on was all contained between the ears; the stories built around the curative powers of a particular plant or the habits of prey were the scaffolding that supported an important truth rather than the truth itself.

Now, in an age of words that survive on the page for centuries and of recordings that digitally record every verbal or bodily tic with fidelity it is consistency that we prize. Our societies are too complex and the decisions we must make too important for it to be otherwise.

Still, there is something to be said for having works of art in our life that enable us to reflect, imagine, and allow our memory to evolve without fear of contradiction. These are objects meant for interpretation and the exploration of meaning, not uncovering scientific or historic truths. Having something that empowers us to occasionally suspend disbelief is still an essential means of maintaining sanity in a world that, for the most part, requires us to remain grounded in reality.

Now that I’m older I regret not having the chance to talk to grammy about why she painted, where she found her inspiration, or what it was like to lose herself in the effort. Then again, perhaps her greatest gift to me is allowing her work to speak for itself so that a mystery at least as old as Lascaux could live on in some small measure. That’s the gift all artists strive to impart.

Like so many before her, my grandmother must have lost herself in the flow that comes naturally to those who regularly immerse themselves in a physical or creative activity. Time and the sense of self melt away and before we know it whole hours have gone as if they had been a blink of an eye. There is something mystical about these experiences that will forever remain ineffable. Athletes and nature lovers are also familiar with them. In these moments we become so much a part of the scene that only in retrospect do we even realize there was a scene at all. Art might only provide a glimpse of these transcendent spells, but in so doing it prepares us for the more direct encounters with them to come.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on 71Republic.com

Other stories that you may enjoy:

Measuring The True Quality Of Human Life

By Craig Axford | Canada

By now, most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Physical needs necessarily come first, followed by the need to feel safe, loved, esteem, and finally self-actualization. These needs are typically visually described as a pyramid, with the most fundamental physical requirements of existence forming the base.

Our physical requirements also happen to be the ones that can be both most easily defined and objectively measured. The availability of food and water, for example, can readily be assessed by scientists and governments. The same goes for the availability of adequate shelter. Things like adequate educational opportunities and access to healthcare are only slightly more subjective and difficult to quantify.

But as we move into the psychological realm of life, things quickly start to get fuzzy. While everyone may be said to have intellectual and emotional needs, or even spiritual ones, everyone defines and satisfies them differently. There is no guarantee that satisfying the physical requirements of existence will lead to emotional or spiritual well-being.

However, we can assert that failing to meet the physical requirements of life will make it extremely difficult, some would even argue impossible, to meet the needs Maslow placed at or near the top of his famous pyramid. As Gandhi once famously said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

Steven Pinker and others have recently spilled more than a little ink describing the objective conditions in which we currently find ourselves. Pinker, in particular, has made a name for himself laying out the facts about contemporary existence which, when compared to life not so long ago, is quite good by just about every measure.

But however real our progress as a species may be, as a felt force in our daily lives it’s a slippery fish that often gets away. Pinker puts it this way in Enlightenment Now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress:

But it’s the nature of progress that it erases its tracks, and its champions fixate on the remaining injustices and forget how far we have come. An axiom of progressive opinion, especially in universities, is that we continue to live in a deeply racist, sexist, and homophobic society — which would imply that progressivism is a waste of time, having accomplished nothing after decades of struggle.

This statement can be seen as somewhat problematic in so far as it’s possible for systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., to remain even within a culture that has made incredible headway in these areas. Indeed, Pinker nowhere disputes the continued presence of these problems. However, talking about systemic problems generation after generation without also drawing attention to the progress society has made risks causing older individuals, in particular, to become somewhat numb. Without a grounding in a broader historical context, there’s a very real danger progressives might be seen as crying wolf because there’s too little regard for how the nature of our systemic problems has changed in response to various policy solutions or public attitudes over time.

In addition, progress is a cursed concept precisely because we live in the present, not the past, and the better things get the more our expectations build. Greater social and technological development too often lead to the emotional equivalent of tail chasing. However, this curse is also a blessing. A few pages later in Enlightenment Now Pinker writes:

The global momentum toward abolition of the death penalty, despite its perennial popular appeal, offers a lesson in the messy ways of progress. As indefensible or unworkable ideas fall by the wayside, they are removed from the pool of thinkable options, even among those who like to think that they think the unthinkable, and the political fringe is dragged forward despite itself. That’s why even in the most regressive political movement in recent American history there were no calls for reinstating Jim Crow laws, ending women’s suffrage, or recriminalizing homosexuality.

Having hopefully forever removed ideas like slavery and denying women the vote from our bin of “thinkable” options, acquired devices we can hold in the palm of our hands that provide access to the equivalent of many millions of Libraries of Alexandria worth of information, and enjoying many more years of health and vigor than ever previously experienced in human history, you would think we would be much happier than we are. But, alas, subjective things like happiness and fulfillment don’t have simple linear relationships with improvements in human life, rights, technology, education, and healthcare.

Even historians and anthropologists that make their living considering the experiences and difficulties faced by our ancestors find it practically impossible to take the long view. That’s because life in 2018 is fundamentally different from life in 1900, 1500, or during the reign of the Caesars. Changing life conditions means changing context.

We’ve all heard someone make the argument that kids today don’t understand the life challenges previous generations had to face. If you’re over 40 like me, you’ve no doubt found yourself increasingly making some version of this argument yourself. While it’s certainly the case that Americans are, on average, largely ignorant of history, this ignorance isn’t the primary driver behind such complaints. Parents and grandparents in other countries where the citizens are often better informed of the past can be heard offering the same grievance.

That the vast majority of our children and grandchildren can no longer imagine a world where virtually everyone became infected with the measles and mumps sooner or later, let alone a cholera outbreak or the depopulating effects of the plague, isn’t an indication of their ignorance, but of their lived experience. While we want everyone to have a basic awareness of our shared history. But the fact is, no amount of education will truly enable someone raised in the modern developed world to understand what it was like to live in a society where illiteracy and disease rather than instant access to news and an abundance of clean water is the norm.

Pinker and others are right that the pessimism they bemoan is overblown. But it’s also an example of people reacting to their circumstances more or less the way they always have. It’s unrealistic to expect someone raised with a car in the garage that’s capable of crossing the continental United States in less than two days to compare themselves to people that had to do it in covered wagons. Even if they are familiar with the exploration and settlement of North America, covered wagons and vast expanses of unmapped, roadless wilderness are simply not part of their day-to-day lives.

The authors and scholars that remind us that our politicians and the news media are blowing things way out of proportion, if not outright lying to us in order to gin up fear in advance of an election or to get us to click on a story, aren’t wrong. Violent crime is way down, war isn’t nearly as common or deadly as it once was, and we’re living longer healthier lives than at any previous point in our history.

However, these scholars do tend to minimize the role human psychology plays in our perception of reality. Even if the press and public officials were more inclined to take the long view of history and prioritize stories of human triumph rather than tragedy or failure, people would still typically take a darker view than the evidence supports. That’s because the friend or family member with cancer is not only an exception to the story that human health has improved tremendously but a close case that touches our lives in ways that defy objective analysis. A sick loved one has far greater salience than the percentage of the population that experiences illness on any given day, let alone at any given point in history. In fact, that many illnesses have become so rare makes it more tragic rather than less when a rare misfortune befalls us or someone we care about.

Politicians, in particular, have a difficult time walking the fine line between what is objectively true and salience. Anyone who stands before an audience that hasn’t seen their wages rise recently, or only just keep up with inflation, is more likely to get votes by feeling their pain and calling the stagnation they’ve been enduring unjust than by pointing out that they are much wealthier than people doing similar work a century ago.

Donald Trump has proven himself a master of dramatizing current suffering at the expense of historical reality. He understands that a family that lost a loved one to a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant isn’t going to care that immigrants, documented or otherwise, are far less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. Likewise, he knows that a crime victim’s story is something voters can relate to far better than crime data. When confronting Trump supporters with the facts, one often receives a reply that reads something like ‘one American that’s the victim of a crime that could have been prevented is one too many.’

Pinker and other contemporary intellectuals do us a service by calling upon us to place things into a broader perspective. Their function is not so much to set the record straight as it is to offer history as a counterweight to the here and now. Even if we can’t truly relate to the world humanity once inhabited, recalling that we did inhabit such a place tempers the emotions modern living inevitably brings to the surface.

Wisdom resides at the intersection of knowledge, reflection, and emotion. When we stray too far down any of those roads alone, the perspective needed to appreciate nuance and accept a little bit of uncertainty into our lives is diminished. If we are presently at risk of losing many of the benefits we inherited from the Enlightenment, it’s because emotion is currently ascendant. Fear is increasingly untempered by reflection and knowledge is derided as elitism. Reflecting a little on contemporary society’s place in history is one sure way to find our way back to a more balanced perspective.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com

Other articles you may enjoy:

Driving Another Nail Into Dualism’s Coffin
Monism, Emergence, & Bridging The Is/Ought Divide


To support 71 Republic, please donate to our Patreon, which you can find here.