Manifest Meliorism

Meliorism: the belief that the world can be made better by human effort.

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Meliorism, once defined, seems to be self-evident. We can make the world better. We can certainly imagine the ways in which this might be true; history shows us its possibility, its realization, and its utter failures in scores of exemplars from individuals and nations. And in some small regard, we see its work everyday.

But what is meant by ‘the world’? For the world of men and civilization and the culture of today’s humanity, of course it is made better by human effort, just as it is also made worse by the same. But what of the world outside of humanity, the world from before, from nature and its constituents not just impeded but sometimes extinct from our efforts? What of the betterment of that world? What of the betterment of all future worlds and peoples upon this planet? It is reasonable to assume that the world could be made more populous, more beautiful and ample unto its innate live-giving boons, by the ways of Men within and then expanding from out of its jungles, given certain kinds of decisions. Collectively, these decisions might never be made with enough humane and selfless unity to affect the desired net amplification into the natural world. They can be made, however, and therefore, meliorism holds true. Even if we never see it, the concept is tenable.

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Suzaku from Code Geass

I am more concerned, as any rational person should be, in the reality of meliorism’s effects onto our world, and in the long-term. Can we do better, and on the whole, are we? Liberal democracy touts meliorism in its promises to the peoples of the nations tightly holding its banner. Every sincerely idealistic politician or not-for-profit vocationalist bears the standard just the same. The movement of humanism and all its devotees fly under the flag of meliorism’s embrace for human-led betterment. The purportedly ‘god’-given rights and freedoms afforded to the modern Man seem to imply for the innate possibility of good things arriving from out of such a grand promise at every birth.

And yet, the chaos of the world around us falls upon us. Everywhere we look, at all times, we see war, corruption, waste, deception, murder, the irreversible acceleration of entropy upon the planet’s verdant balance for the sake of a man-made engine driven by the meaningless minutia of transient incentives (read: money, “endless economic growth”, shareholder value). Then, there is the everyday moral struggles, both personal and systemic, that devalue and destroy the lives of countless people we find it harder and harder to see as more than just statistics. All this may refute the promise that sentience serves the world more than it severs us further from it. The desensitization of a person becomes existential when craven conformity to the latest ideologue becomes perforce fashion, and all human energies are submitted for the sake of the faction’s self-serving mission, man against man across that all-important line in the sand. Wasteful, transient, and ignorant to consequences, our tireless battles against one another may leave us simply no more time or space to “make the world a better place.” Or worse, man is driven to apathy in the face of it all. Avarice endlessly corrupts and hopelessness consumes.

How can one better the world when we can’t even figure our own shit out? How can any one person make a difference at all? With so much misunderstanding, so much purposeless conflict, rampant apathy, and even pathological evil out there amongst the rabble of our existence here, what is the point of even trying? And whether one is an atheist or firm believer in the providence of a divine being, however one interprets the reasons and aftermath of the chaos of this existence, they must reckon themselves to the objective state of the world and our role within it right now.

Given how big the ‘all’ of our problems truly is, apathy becomes quite rational. After all, apathy is still preferable to despair. Despair is the last card in hand, before the library is spent and the all ends with its whimpering draw.

Now, consider the philosophy of one Fox Mulder. {A pleasant non-sequitur!} The “spooky,” and esoterically zealous, 1990’s fictional FBI agent adopts an open-mind to the strangest possibilities of our world. He so desperately wants to believe in everything that may be out there. To a fault, Mulder seeks the truth behind the truths in he and Scully’s misadventures investigating myths, monsters and the shadowy backrooms of their own government’s misdeeds and coverups. In a moral sense, he wants to uncover the truths for the world to see; in a spiritual sense, in his own existential mania from a life laden with mysteries he cannot crack, Mulder’s pursuit is for actionable peace. A belief in the supernatural and in the organization of enemy forces trying to keep him from it for their own nefarious reasons provides real comfort to him. Everything might make sense if certain things were true {like the existence of extraterrestrial activity upon our planet}. And over time, he has personally gathered enough evidence, taken in enough sidelong glances at the light to know he is on the right track. His dogged pursuit of ‘the truth out there’ will end only with victory or death.

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To a certain extent, my belief in meliorism is similar to Mulder’s quest — I want to believe. And I want to believe because we are better off believing that the world, our world, my world, a single existence — can be made better by human effort. Oddly enough, much like some people’s rationale for a belief in God, my advocacy for something like meliorism and humanism can be seen as such: We are better off, and the world would be a better place, if we operated under the belief that meliorism is true and possible and actionable. Simply enough, it is better to think we can change the world for the better, even if something lesser is true, individually or collectively; it is better, even if we are inevitably doomed.

I want to believe. More importantly, I want – I need – this belief to influence my actions. Why give in to apathy or antipathy or despair, when you can devote yourself wholly to the pursuit of helping people and trying to build a future world worth having? While we are alive, this kind of idealism is the only path forward. Easier said than done, I know. Sometimes every moment may feel a struggle unto defiance. Even so – even if it’s all meaningless in the end – fight while you can. Who knows, we might even ameliorate entropy’s effects for a time, for a single person, for a single day. And that may make all the difference. I will certainly try to. As any modestly spiritual person may tell you, uncertainty is inherent to the act of believing. ~

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