In Candide, Voltaire explores the idea that the status quo represents the best of all possible worlds. Candide’s adventures suggest that the status quo may be anything but good. In his column Saturday, March 1, in the Elmira Star-Gazette (“As society changes, codgers freak out”), John Stossel goes further. He suggest that whatever has happened or may happen can only be for the best.
(In his column, Stossel attacks his fellow right-wing pundit, Bill O’Reilly, as an old codger freaking out over what’s new–that’s hillarious.)
Let’s consider Stossel’s argument; Stossel asserts:
- Kids today play violent video games, but youth violence is down.
- Kids can’t communicate in traditional ways, but cell phones are the modern, advanced form of communication.
- People want to take “recreational” drugs; so what?
- Kids can’t avoid exposure to pornography, but teen pregnancy is down (not in Chemung County).
Some of the above confuse correlation with causation. if pornography is up while teen pregnancy is down, that doesn’t suggest that easy access to pornography helps reduce teen pregnancy.
“The danger is that the outrage undermines perspective. It creates a false impression of how risky the present is, and it fuels unnecessary, freedom-killing regulations.”
Stossel is telling us that whatever comes to pass, however bad it may seem, must be for the best. If we intervene, it can only make things worse.
Some of what Stossel says is true. Many things are better today than they were in the past, the “good old days.” We would expect this; human activity ought to result in progress. Kids, for generation after generation, have heard that they are in the worst kids ever and that can’t be true. But it isn’t true that, left alone, things must get better–that’s a very pessimistic view of human potential.
© William Hungerford – March 2014