For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind's greatest achievements have come by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn't have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.
The discouraging results of Philip Tetlock's (2006) inquiry into "expert political judgment," showing how poor in predictions the experts have been, leaves us hesitant to make bold predictions, especially, as Yogi Berra once said, about the future. Yet, though prudence counsels preparation, the end is probably not nigh. Back up your hard drive, yes. Set up a Foundation (Asimov 1951) to hasten the galaxy's recovery from a chaotic interregnum, no.
Readers of Deirdre McCloskey's just-completed trilogy on the "Bourgeois Era" (McCloskey 2006, 2010, 2016) will know that people are by historical standards astonishingly rich today because northwestern Europeans in early-modern times slowly adopted what she calls "the Bourgeois Deal." "Let me get rich with a trade-tested betterment in the first act, and in the third I will make you rich." People got richer not because of empire or investment or exploitation or institutional change, but because they changed their ethics and how they talked about betterment and competition and cooperation in trade-tested betterment. If people welcome betterment and competition and the amiable cooperation that both require, it turns out that they live longer and mightily prosper in body and soul. This deal worked wonders in Europe and its overseas extensions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, surviving the clerisy's rebellion against bourgeois life after 1848 and even Europe's seventy-five-year suicide attempt from 1914 to 1989. It turned even places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore from economic backwaters into some of the richest places on earth. The outcome was the Great Enrichment--disdained on both the socialist left and the conservative right: a thirty- to one-hundred-fold increase in the real incomes of the poorest among us since 1800. The Great Enrichment is nowadays causing in India and...