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May 19, 2007

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Nato

"Yes, I think this is the best time in human history to be alive"

With *that* I will unreservedly agree.

Val Larsen

Great job of pointing up an extremely important and far too often neglected truth.

Nato

All, have you seen Pinker's essay on the decline of violence?

Also, I thought at some point Nathan and I argued about the morality of today compared to that of the past, in which I took the "Today is better than ever" view. I think better morality also becomes more accessible with greater income in a manner reminiscent of the interaction between health and income.

Val Larsen

The one clear moral advance has been in race relations domestically and internationally. And especially, if things like spankings are included, domestic violence has diminished. (One can see the change in attitudes just by watching the Lucy show, which is cringe inducing in its occassional semijoking hints that Ricky might hit Lucy and that doing so is to be expected.) But otherwise, at the micro level, I don't think morality has improved. Do you think people are more honest today than they were 50 or 75 years ago when a man's word was his bond? Are people today more responsible in their sexual practices--e.g., more prepared to take on the responsibility of paternity if they impregnate a woman. More things are governed by law today, fewer things by cultural norms and stigma. To some extent, this has been a function of increased mobility and consequent anonymity--even in cities. The old urban neighborhoods had a lot of the villiage in them. And in rural communities, the reputation you built for yourself was something you had to live with throughout your life. Greater accountability led to greater moral circumspection. The one bright hope for the future is that we have the technical capability to make the world a global villiage in the sense that everyone loses privacy (which is a good thing). Privacy/anonymity basically opens up space for fraud. When everything we do is known, moral accountability and moral circumspection inevitably increase.

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