Arnold Kling, one of my favorite economists, doesn’t quite say that in this TCS piece — but he comes close. Kling rightly observes an improvement in the material and moral condition of the human race over the last century, something that, while true, would seem astounding to any casual reader of headlines.
The material improvement is undeniable. I’m not sure whether, as Kling suggests, we are becoming larger (my memory is that human size cycles in history — our Cro-Magnon ancestors were probably no smaller than we, and the Norsemen who marauded Europe’s shorelines were probably taller and larger).
But there’s little doubt that we live longer, are healthier and more educated, eat better, produce and consume more knowledge and wealth, travel farther and more often, and enjoy more varied entertainment than at any time in the history of the species. We are not particularly grateful for it, but that’s human nature.
How about moral improvement? Kling is more tentative here, as well he should be. His argument is that cognitive enhancements will produce moral improvement:
My guess is that the line between cognitive enhancement and moral enhancement will be blurry. As we treat mental disorders, we will be altering people’s emotions and behavior patterns as well as their thought processes. It seems possible, indeed likely, that we will increase the ability of humans to interact with one another peacefully and constructively.
I am, and have always been, skeptical of technological solutions to the human condition. But who knows? Maybe a biotech lab will develop the little yellow pill that induces the imitation of Christ. Next question: would that be a good thing?