What are the Best Things in Life?
Life has its major hardships, such as loneliness, stress, lack of meaning, and long work hours. But these hardships pale beside the advantages of modern existence. The princes of the past would give their right arm to be Everyman today.
What is it about modern life that makes it so wonderful? Or, more specifically, what would a hunter-gatherer, if somehow informed about modern life, pick as the greatest achievements since agriculture was invented around 10,000 years ago?
Top Tier Benefits
- Far lower risk of being killed. Headlines about homicides and wars notwithstanding, the risks of being murdered at the hands of others is far less than ever before. Jaws notwithstanding, our chances of being killed by a predator are vanishingly small. And the elderly, less able to contribute to the survival of the group, are unlikely to be starved, killed, or obliged to commit suicide.
- No fear of death by starvation. Since around 1800 in developed economies, people don’t die from lack of food. No-one knows anyone who is starving. You even have to make exceptional efforts to find someone who knows someone who ever experienced starvation, let alone someone who actually died from starvation.
- Freedom from pain. It used to be said that we enter life crying, and exit it crying. But now, thanks to medicine, we can manage pain.
- Healthcare in general. A host of what we see as minor healthcare problems were major threats that could easily disable or bring about death. For example, cuts, fly bites, broken bones, and diseases such as malaria and Dengue fever.
- Longer life expectancy. Many of us can even live on to the point at which we no longer cling tenaciously to life.
- Food diversity. I suspect that hunter-gatherers found their diet monotonous from time to time. Since diversity of nutrition is important for our health, I assume we have an deep yearning for food variety.
Second Tier Benefits
Here are some other candidates that that didn’t make the absolutely-most-important list, along with their reasons for exclusion:
- A fairer world. Eg, rights for women, and the treatment of idiots and the deformed. Largely post-agricultural evils such as slavery and discrimination against homosexuals also come to mind. Humans tend to adjust to their current environment and accept it as the hand dealt to them. If everyone we know is a slave or a master, and we’re in the slave class, most of us will adjust to that. We even find solace if others suffer more than we do.
- Sex for fun. We can have sex for pleasure and not have to worry about having children. Until recent times, I don’t think most people worried about this, children were seen as a natural occurrence. True, the dangers of an agonizing death are nowadays far reduced for women, and this wonderful development is recognized above in greater life expectancy and less pain.
- Choice. Smith’s son is no longer a smith. We have choices about what we do in life, our lives are no longer prescribed for us. One of the reasons the Communist experiment failed was that young people didn’t want their work and many elements of their private lives dictated to them. Not however in the top list because if the world we know has few choices, we accept that as the way of the world.
- Knowledge. We understand why we can’t predict the weather, we understand why mountains exist, we understand why the sun rises in the morning, we understand how human beings came into existence, we understand natural selection. We understand the very secret of life. We even understand the infinite, thanks to people like Euclid, medieval mathematicians in Kerala, and Cantor. Over the next hundred years, we may have a deep understanding of how the brain works and the nature of perception. It is utterly amazing, and breathtaking.