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Toastmasters talk 2

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. Dickens in his opening of a tale of two cities makes us reflect upon our times and try to figure it out our position as society. And this is precisely what I want to talk about today. But to go to the present and future first we have to look at the past. The tale I’m gonna tell is an adaptation of the words of Carl Sagan in his original series cosmos. I can’t do justice to his amazing work, but I’ll try my best.

Let’s travels back to two thousand years ago to the crown of classical civilization in Egypt. And it’s crown jewel Alexandria Library. Where the knowledge of mankind was preserved. If you just arrived Alexandria city you would have your belongings inspected. Not for contraband, but for books. They were copied added to the library and returned to it’s owners. In it’s zenith the library contained more than one million books.

It was also a research institute were the finest minds of the time worked together trying to unveil the secrets of the cosmos. To give a sense of what was there, there was a book by Aristacus of Samos arguing that the earth was but another planet going around the sun, which was simply another star.

The nature of the skies was challenged, but the righteousness of slavery was not. Science was for the amusement of kings and the building of weapons, not for the saving of labor or betterment of human life in general. And when the mob full of ignorance and fear came to destroy it 700 years after it’s creation there was no one to stop it.

The loss was incalculable. Most treasures of the old were destroyed. We had to wait for almost 2000 of years to rediscover the heavenly motions. We know that the library contained around 130 works of Sophocles. Which only 7 survived until our times. One of them Oedipus Rex.

It’s somehow as if the only surviving works of a man named Shakespeare where, Corionalus and a winter’s tale, although we knew he had written some other things which were highly praised in his time plays called Hamlet, Macbeth, a mid summers dream, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.

We plunged ourselves into the dark, and we forgot for millennia what had elevated us. There was something missing in the progress made by the old. They had the science, they missed humanism. In the Enlightenment we auspiciously completed the formula. With science and humanism we changed everything.

In the spirit of being data-driven let’s look at some numbers:

  • Every day 137K people get of of extreme poverty

  • Child mortality was around 30% in the early Enlightenment, is now less than 6%.

  • We eradicated smallpox, polio and malaria are almost gone

  • Wars of all kind have become fewer and less deadly. Slavery is universally unacceptable. Violence is declining.

  • People live more, are more educated, do less work and report to be happier.

In the words of Barack Obama:

If you had to choose one moment in history in which to be born, and you didn’t know in advance whether you were going to be male or female, which country you were going to be from, you’d choose right now.

But still there are great challenges ahead. Climate-change, nuclear war. And perhaps the greatest of all: our cynicism, our pessimism around the present and future. Our willing to go to a better past. The denial of progress. The rejection of our values.

The labeling of progress advocates as cheerleaders for vulgar American “candoism”. With the raw spirit of boredom ideology, silicon valey, and the chamber of commerce.Steven Pinker

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory. We live in the best of times. And to move forward towards even more progress we have to understand how we get here and why it’s better. We will never reach a perfect world, and probably is dangerous to seek one. But we can always make progress, and there’s no limit to the betterment of our well being if we are wise to know when we find it. We are the children of the Enlightenment, the resistance against the mobs of darkness. Let’s not let history repeat itself again. Let’s stand strong for the values that brought us here and cherish the amazing gift which is the civilization we inherited.