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The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves Hardcover – May 18, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Ideas have sex, in Ridley's schema; they follow a process of natural selection of their own, and as long as they continue to do so, there is reason to retire apocalyptic pessimism about the future of our species. Erstwhile zoologist, conservationist, and journalist, Ridley (The Red Queen) posits that as long as civilization engages in exchange and specialization, we will be able to reinvent ourselves and responsibly use earthly resources ad infinitum. Humanity's collective intelligence will save the day, just as it has over the centuries. Ridley puts current perceptions about violence, wealth, and the environment into historical perspective, reaching back thousands of years to advocate global free trade, smaller government, and the use of fossil fuels. He confidently takes on the experts, from modern sociologists who fret over the current level of violence in the world to environmentalists who disdain genetically modified crops. An ambitious and sunny paean to human ingenuity, this is an argument for why ambitious optimism is morally mandatory. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Science journalist Ridley believes there is a reason to be optimistic about the human race, and he defies the unprecedented economic pessimism he observes. His book is about the rapid and continuous change that human society experiences, unlike any other animal group. Ideas needed to meet and mate for culture to turn cumulative, and “there was a point in human pre-history when big-brained, cultural, learning people for the first time began to exchange things with each other and that once they started doing so, culture suddenly became cumulative, and the great headlong experiment of human economic ‘progress’ began.” Participants in the exchanges improved their lives by trading food and tools. Ridley believes it is probable that humanity will be better off in the next century than it is today, and so will the ecology of our planet. He dares the human race to embrace change, be rationally optimistic, and strive for an improved life for all people. --Mary Whaley
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This book by Matt Ridley is indeed a fresh breath of air that gives people of the world a beacon of truth. Ridley asserts on the grounds of rational evidence and explanation that the progress of the human race within the historical times ranging from the ancient Greek/Roman times to the modern time has been made possible by collective human intelligence by which we exchange our ideas, skills, and knowledge in the form of specialized division of labor. This social collectivism, whether tacitly or unconsciously realized by doers, apperatins to synchronicity, a kind of inter-brain entrainment in which information based on experience is exchanged between individuals, which is also known as collective phenomenon. This collective intelligence is a vital essence of cultural evolution which results from selection by imitation of successful institutions and habits. It is this element of cumulative culture that makes us singularly different from beasts. Since this social trait is innately preprogrammed in mankind, there is no inevitable end to specialization of efforts and talents that keeps this collective phenomenon going. In fact, more jobs will be produced in more specialized areas contrary to brooding premonition that technology will push out manpower from work.
In sum, Ridley aims to enlighten readers about the necessities of changes as part of cultural evolution for the betterment of mankind and the world itself. In the human history, no other time period has produced the better living conditions and cultural developments than those we have now due to a continued cumulative cultural evolution, which links to the evolution of the origins by natural selection. This book renders me a feeling that how wasteful it would be fretting about the uncertain and dark future that looks darker by popular theories of dysopic economic and social future. Just as Ridley will remain a steadfast rational optimist, I will continue to perform demands imposed upon daily tasks of life as a contribution to the orderliness and constancy of the world as m ancestors did because I know the world will not fall in calamity. as long as we as a collective body of the human race exist.
Educated at Eton and Oxford, Matt achieved a first class honours degree and a DPhil in zoology then worked for The Economist for nine years as a science writer, Washington correspondent and American editor. Nowadays, he writes regular columns for the Wall Street Journal and The Times.
Matt Ridley has written six books: The Red Queen, about the evolution of sexual reproduction; The Origins of Virtue, which examines human trust and virtue, and how our instinct for social exchange enables us to reap the benefits of co-operation; Genome: the autobiography of a Species in 23 chapters; Nature via Nurture, how humans are free-willed yet motivated by instinct and culture; a biography of Francis Crick, the discoverer of the genetic code; and The Rational Optimist, about how prosperity evolves. In all, his books have sold over a million copies.
In The Rational Optimist, Ridley argues that our prosperity is due to our willingness to trade with strangers. This enables the division of labour; it permits us to specialize, to work on things we are good at. That encourages us to innovate, to make tools and machines and processes that make our production more efficient. We trade ideas too; we learn skills from experts; we build on what has gone before; a communal intelligence develops. Prosperity increases exponentially.
Trading relationships depend on trust and building reputations. If you can be trusted then more people will deal with you. Where trade flourishes, so do other virtues. Creativity and compassion were most evident in the great commercial cities of the past; it is the same today. Ridley contrasts the retreat of civil virtues under totalitarian regimes. There is increasing urbanization as people move to the cities where they can trade and be prosperous. Cities also provide more opportunity for interactions; innovators can meet and share ideas.
Ridley is scathing about the pessimists such as Paul Ehrlich who are forever forecasting doom and gloom and never apologize when their predictions do not eventuate. He says that the pessimists always assume lineal continuation of current trends; they fail to take human innovation into account.
Ridley’s intellect enables him to present challenging ideas in readily accessible language. His journalistic training shows, too. His text is replete with interesting and relevant statistics, stories and anecdotes.
The average South Korean lives 26 more years and earns 15 times what he did in 1955.
It cost 4700 hours of work to buy a Model T Ford in 1908; a much superior car can be purchased today for 1000 hours work.
In USA, in 1915, one-third of agricultural land was used to feed 21 million horses; tractors have freed this land for productive use.
China’s highly coerced (one-child) birth rate decline since 1955 (from 5.59 to 1.73) is almost exactly mirrored by Sri Lanka’s largely voluntary one over the same period (5.70 to 1.88).
Ridley describes our current situation as follows:
Human beings are not only wealthier, but healthier, happier, cleaner, cleverer, kinder, freer, more peaceful and more equal than they have ever been. This is because the source of human innovation is, and has been for 100,000 years, not the individual inspiration through reason but collective intelligence evolving by trial and error resulting from the sharing of ideas through exchange and specialization. The secret of human prosperity is that everyone is working for everybody else.
The prologue to the Rational Optimist , When Ideas Have Sex became a 16-minute TED conference talk and is available on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 2 million times.
The Rational Optimist won the Hayek Prize 2011 and the Julian Simon award in 2012. It is a significant contribution to our understanding of life and prosperity.
Each chapter he explains why and how humanity have passed those challenges that for the people that have lived in each aeon the challenges seemed hard or even impossible.
What is the importance of the ideas and exchange in society ?
Let Matt explain that to you. He’s really good at it.
Most recent customer reviews
I happen to be extremely knowledgeable in one small area he's talking about in this book, and he's an exceptionally dishonest...Read more