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IEET > Rights > Disability > FreeThought > Economic > ReproRights > Life > Access > Health > Vision > Technoprogressivism > Staff > Mike Treder

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The playing field is tilted—in our favor!


Mike Treder
By Mike Treder
Ethical Technology

Posted: May 18, 2009

If we take a long view of human civilization and history, it is hard not to be impressed by how far we have come. Sure, we could always do more, and yes, I’m as impatient as you for the next steps forward. But it doesn’t hurt once in a while to pat ourselves on our collective backs for what we’ve accomplished over the last few thousand years.

When I was in high school, way back in the late 1960s, the pleasant little prose poem titled Desiderata, composed by Max Ehrmann in 1927, became popular among the love generation.

I won’t reprint the entire thing here, but if you’re one of the few people who’ve never heard or read it, you should. Let me just offer these stanzas to begin today’s sermon:

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

The universe as a whole may or not be unfolding as it should (I rather think it is unfolding as it must), but if we take a long view of human civilization and history, it is hard not to be impressed by how far we have come.

Sure, we could always do more, and yes, I’m as impatient as you for the next steps forward. But it doesn’t hurt once in a while to pat ourselves on our collective backs for what we’ve accomplished over the last few thousand years.

  • We invented philosophy and used it to make logical sense of our place in the universe.
  • We invented the scientific method and used it to begin understanding the natural world.
  • We invented technology and applied science to improve human lives and human communities.
  • We dramatically decreased infant mortality and increased human life expectancy in many places around the world.
  • Poverty once was the lot of all but a tiny percentage of humans; today the large majority of people in the developed world live far better than the kings and queens of the past.
  • Education, literacy, and rationality have been on the rise for centuries (even if it’s easy to forget that sometimes).
  • Many, many fewer people die today as a result of war, crime, and other conflicts than in the past.
  • More people are living lives of (relative) freedom than at any time in history.

To what can we attribute all this success? What are we doing right? Can we expect it to continue?

Although the challenges we’ll encounter in the 21st century are daunting, to say the least, we clearly have reason to be optimistic, assuming the past can be taken as any indicator of future potential. As I like to say, the playing field is tilted in our favor.



Throughout the history of human civilization—and especially since the invention of modern democracy—those who favor making the fruits of progress available to everyone and proactively expanding the protection of human rights have had a nearly unbroken string of successes. Of course, there have been setbacks, and far too many people have suffered during the struggle, but overall, the engine of progressiveness keeps puffing away and pulling the mass of sluggish inertia along behind it.

Conservatives (nearly all of whom are genuinely and understandably motivated to avoid sudden jolts that might cause more harm than help) never cease trying to slow or prevent the gains of progressivism. They often succeed in keeping the center from moving as quickly as many of us would like, but with the playing field tilted away from them, they must inevitably continue losing ground.

For this we should be grateful, but never complacent.


Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.
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COMMENTS


I liked that poem. I, too, have a comment on it, and am curious about your comment:

“The universe as a whole may or not be unfolding as it should (I rather think it is unfolding as it must)”

That was a thought-provoking comment. I’m curious what the difference is between ‘should’ and ‘must’ in this context.

“You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;”

That sounds a little unusual to me. It’s like saying, “A Rolls Royce is a car no less than a Matchbox car.”





Oh, I see, thanks. I guess I was confused why the universe “must” yield stars and trees and people. I was connecting that line of the poem with the verse before it, but you were apparently treating it independently. OK, got it.


“We invented philosophy and used it to make logical sense of our place in the universe. “

Perhaps you mean to say we TRIED to use it.
It seems to me that the vast majority of the world’s philosophies would make ILLogical sense of our (ie. humans’) place in the universe. Very, very few people go with Carl Sagan’s quote, “Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. “





Maybe the playing field isn’t level because a fair percentage of Conservatives are actually PRO- progressivism and human rights.





“For this we should be grateful, but never complacent.”

You probably meant this statement to apply to Conservatives, who “must inevitably continue losing ground. ” However, one could also apply it to the efforts of Conservatives “nearly all of whom are genuinely and understandably motivated to avoid sudden jolts that might cause more harm than help.”





While I believe a lot of what you’ve said is accurate, and I too am amazed at how far we’ve come, working in a leading telecommunication organization namely AT&T as a fiber network planner, however given the vastness of the “known Universe” and the complexity of ballance in support of life as we know it here on planet Earth and the varity of life forms we see around us I see it as a finger being pointed to something far greater and far more creative than ourselves.  I expect we’d be foolish and quite blind if we ignored that fact while merely patting our collective selves on the back, and wallowing in the greatness of our creativity, exciting as it is.  Ever feel like you’ve been born into a play or movie that is half over, and want to know how the story began and how it will end? Intrested?  Let’s discuss it further.





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