|A former member||
I attend Cafe Philo most Saturday's and the convenor of the group has just sent out this post.(In summer, the discussions are in English. From September, they revert to the normal programme of one week in English, one week in French....ALL are welcome).......
The following thoughts are not necessarily my own, especially given the implicit assumption that Capitalism will remain unchallenged....
Am I the only one baffled by statistics? I am not claiming as boldly as Disraeli that stats are über lies, but they certainly produce intriguing contradictions. For instance, 90% of drivers consider they drive better than average. Or consider this: Measuring Gross National Happiness is all the rage among economists at present. Swedes Danes and Dutch feel they live on a silver cloud, Brits are a bit below, ahead of Americans, with the French following; as you would expect, Belarusians, Moldovans and most Africans are the ones not enjoying the show – indeed if being healthy, wealthy and wise are the three requirements for feeling good, they certainly got the wrong governments over there.
OK. So how do you square these results with others that tell us the same people who are optimistic about their own prospects massively believe the collective future of their country or the world is troubled, if not doomed? Are they confident they will all finesse their way out of a general quagmire? Of course, part of being happy is to feel you are smarter than others. It’s not enough to succeed; others have to fail. It is why the spectacular GNP increase in our part of the world over the last century hasn’t made us happier than our grandparents; the tide has lifted all ships, so everyone’s relative situation remains the same. We are social animals. We grade success and failures according to others’, not to our past.
Another source of our collective concern is that huge swathes of humanity we could look down on to reassure ourselves that we, Westerners, were still top dogs, are catching up. Fast. The argument against the poor knocking on the door of prosperity is always the same: Das Boot is voll. There won’t be enough bread for everybody. If every Chinese household uses a washing machine, the well-off doomsayers claim, all the rivers in the world won’t suffice for the rinsing. This is of course assuming implausibly that our clothes fabrics and washing process will not change. The durable Rev. Malthus would have calculated that to keep ten million Londoners in clean garments one million laundresses would have to kneel every day along 500kms of riverbanks.
The benefits of human creativity are unpredictable, by nature. We can say this, though. As affluence spreads so does education. Amazingly, there are only 6 million scientists and engineers in the entire world, and just consider the fabulous products they conceive. Poverty means that millions of potentially world-class scientists eke out a meagre living in menial jobs, rather than mentoring humanity’s journey into the future. But if the world as a whole were as wealthy as us, five times as many scientists and engineers would be imagining and delivering more potent medicines, bio-friendly chemicals and clean engines.
Let’s not fear global prosperity. When it comes to being wealthy, the more the merrier.
THE LOGISTICAL DETAILS:
Saturday 1 August 2009
Museum-philo at the V&A
Arrive at 10:20am for a prompt start at 10:30
Victoria & Albert Museum
London SW7 2RL
From the Cromwell Rd main entrance walk straight ahead through the shop and then through the Madejki Garden, a