Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tom Harris MP: "Stop being Miserable!"

Journalist Michael Kinsley once said that "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth."

In the case of junior minister Tom Harris this is entirely correct: he suggested on his blog And Another Thing that the public should cheer up, considering that they've never had it so good:

In our own country today, despite the recent credit squeeze, our citizens have never been so wealthy. High-def TVs fly off the shelves at Tesco quicker than they can be imported. Whatever the latest technological innovation, most people can treat themselves to it. Eating out - a rare treat when I was a child in the ’70s - is as commonplace as going shopping. And when we do go shopping, whether for groceries or for clothes, we spend money in quantities that would have made our parents gasp.
This is a point I always raise when people suggest "this country is going to the dogs!" How exactly is it?

Although I believe that open debate is an essential component of democracy, why do we glorify in complaining so much? So petrol prices are high. The prices of clothes and electronics are down. And maybe if people walked rather than drove their cars they'd save money and be healthier.

Living Longer ... and Longer

The Daily Mail took exception to Harris' remarks (I'm not linking - I dislike the Mail's editorial stance on immigration, gay marriage, women's issues, abortion, foreign policy, education, crime - as such I don't want to contribute my Google-mana to their cause). His response is clear:

I know it’s only the Mail, but for the record, I absolutely was not telling people to cheer up. I was simply asking why people in the current generation - even those who aren’t suffering as much from the current economic slowdown - aren’t as happy as our parents’ generation. Am I being too optimistic in expecting a grown-up debate about this?
Apparently he is. I am incredibly fortunate to be living in the UK at this time in history. I'd say being middle-class in the UK is probably amongst the top five best possible states for a person to exist in all history.

Like. Things have never been better.

I think nostalgia and sentimentalism for the past are negative forces in debate. If something can be shown to have got worse, bring it up. Otherwise people should be suggesting how things can be improved, rather than complaining that they think things have got worse.

In a more general sense, polymath intellectual Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalog, The Well) comments that "good old stuff sucks" in The World Question Centre's What Have you Changed your Mind About?:

Remodeling an old farmhouse two years ago and replacing its sash windows, I discovered the current state of window technology. A standard Andersen window, factory-made exactly to the dimensions you want, has superb insulation qualities; superb hinges, crank, and lock; a flick-in, flick-out screen; and it looks great. The same goes for the new kinds of doors, kitchen cabinetry, and even furniture feet that are available — all drastically improved.

The message finally got through. Good old stuff sucks. Sticking with the fine old whatevers is like wearing 100% cotton in the mountains; it's just stupid.

Give me 100% not-cotton clothing, genetically modified food (from a farmers' market, preferably), this-year's laptop, cutting-edge dentistry and drugs.

The idea that things have become progressively worse over the last fifty years (at least in the world's Western liberal democracies) is ridiculous.

[ImageWorldGDP from here, Life Expectancy at 65 from here]

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