Sometimes people ask me why I get so excited about the kind of stuff that I talk about here. It seems that most people simply accept the hardship, inequity, and unfairness of the world as if it were a law of nature.
“Your life is pretty good, why do you get so worked up about this stuff?”
A simple question, but one which probes surprisingly deep into my beliefs about the world and its future.
Yes, I am lucky enough to have been born into a society which can deliver the opportunity for someone of a rather peculiar and bookish demeanor to embrace their academic proclivity and even to (hopefully) make that into a productive career. But, the fact that I have been visited with such luck and opportunity in my life serves only to deepen my to conviction that the world can be improved more still.
Opportunity is a great power, and with great power comes great responsibility.
While I speak of the luck that I have such opportunity in my life, it is also important to keep in mind that the society which delivered this opportunity was not built by luck alone. The world was built by the perseverance and hard work of generations who believed that the world could be bettered through their efforts. The world of today was not built by pessimism, and neither will the world of tomorrow.
We must improve the world, because it was improved for us.
Another important thing about opportunity, is that my being lucky enough to enjoy it does nothing to lessen the indignation that others do not. In fact, my own luck served only to solidify my conviction that I should leverage my opportunity to strive for a world where everyone is offered such opportunity.
I reject any notion of zero sum ideology.
Those who think they can only win when somebody else loses are lacking imagination. I do not accept that the world must be ruled by only luck, with winners and losers at all scales. Those who pit the interests of one group against another in short-term economic and political games are completely missing the larger picture. Science and technology offers us the means to afford a world where every person can have a plentiful and fair life. The fundamental limits of reality do not hold us back from creating a better world, but rather the it is our collective inability to imagine such a world.
All of the above provide great reasons to endeavor to better our societies, but they are all but preamble to this most important reason. We must create a world which respects the dignity of each and every human being, because they are becoming gods.
Already any average person with a smartphone has access to the entirety of human knowledge, can capture high definition audio and video, publish and distribute ideas, and share in modern discourse. These are powers nobody had even 20 years ago. Technology will continue to deliver more magical abilities into the hands of individuals everywhere. If we fail to inspire these technologically enabled individuals to use their power for good, then all will surely be lost.
So often it is the disenfranchised few who do the deepest damage to societies. The lone gunman, the embittered conman, the unscrupulous corporation, or the mad dictator; all variations on a theme of individuals willing to sacrifice any common good for personal gain. While I am not so optimistic to think that we can scrub the world of such individuals, nor do I unrealistically to suggest that we should remove all inequality in the world. I simply believe that we can create societies which embody better values.
We teach children the value of sharing and kindness, yet we create societies which enshrine greed. If we allow the politics of short-term gain to rule our societies, where we continually reward those unscrupulous actors willing to sacrifice collective good for personal gain, if we allow individuals to ignore and pervert scientific truth in service to their own ends, then we ensure our own destruction. A tech-empowered world of completely self-interested people is sure to implode. It is in our self-interest to be a little less self-interested.
In the end, we must build a better world for many good reasons: because we were given a good one to begin with, because it is the right thing to do, and because we can. But the most important reason is because we are surely doomed if we do not.
We cannot afford to create a world of disenfranchised gods.