I live about 12 miles from the Birmingham airport, so I don’t normally pay much attention to planes coming in to land. But I was in my car Monday evening when a descending plane caught my attention. And it suddenly struck me how strange it is that hundreds of people at a time can go hurtling through the air in giant machines — thousands of times each day around the world — and it’s so routine that we don’t even notice.
We pay attention to the things that go wrong. Those are the things we consider to be “news.” But the really amazing thing is how many things go right every single day and we don’t even notice.
It’s not just airplanes. We live in a complicated world. We don’t grow our own food or have it shipped to us, but when we’re hungry, there’s almost anything we want just down the street at grocery stores and restaurants. There’s gasoline for our cars when we need it. There are new cars to buy when we want new ones. There’s new clothing before we realize we need it. And all of this happens without any bureaucrat planning it and without us even knowing ahead of time what we want.
See the huge trucks going down the road around you every day? And the trains and cargo planes you see? Those are carrying the goods we need to live a modern life. We don’t know how the logistics of all that works. We just know that what we want is there when we want it.
We complain when things go wrong. We notice when things aren’t perfect. If my Internet service is down for a few minutes, I fume. When a phone call — to anywhere in the world — doesn’t connect immediately, I’m irritated. When a store is out of something I want, I’m outraged. And when some narcissistic lunatic stabs and shoots people, we collectively wail, “Why didn’t someone stop that?!”
We expect our world to work because we’re spoiled. That’s not a bad thing in this case. We don’t notice all the things that go right because the world is so relatively advanced and relatively safe that things which would have astounded our grandparents are now completely unremarkable and routine.
Two years ago, I had surgery for breast surgery, and someone mentioned in a comment on another story here that she just had surgery. Many surgeries have become pretty routine. It wasn’t that long ago when anesthesia didn’t exist. Even when doctors knew what to do, they had to simply strap down fully conscious people and cut on them — with those people feeling everything. Infections were routine. Surgery was frequently a death sentence. Today, we operate on hearts and brains and other important organs that were closed even to the most skilled surgeons of a hundred years ago.
There’s a lot to complain about in the world. I’ve made the case many times that our basic human rights are violated by the existence of the state. I’m outraged by the habit of politicians of attacking other countries and creating enemies for us around the world. Other people rail against the injustices that they see, whether I agree with them or not.
There’s plenty that’s wrong, but there’s so much right that we have the luxury of worrying about things that would have seemed trivial to people a century or two ago — because they were busy just trying to survive. Even our poor live better today than the typical prosperous person back then. The world has improved so much that we have very little conception of just how good we have it.
There are terrible things in this world and I’ll keep making that point at times. There are serious structural problems. I think we’re heading for social and economic collapse, but the knowhow and talent will still be there later to rebuild. I expect a terrible time to come, but it’s still going to be a better life than those experienced by people a couple hundred years ago.
Yes, the world is terrible — but it’s a wonderful world as well.