To desire that the world be a better place isn’t a noble aspiration

In an excellent article on what Sweden is really like (and is not what the likes of Owen Jones imagine it to be like), Tim Worstall says this:

To desire that the world be a better place is a noble aspiration, to campaign for it a righteous occupation.

Most people, whatever their political views would surely give assent to the first part of that statement: To desire that the world be a better place is a noble aspiration.

I don’t.

Why not?

Well, for one thing, pretty much everyone has that desire: “I wish the world were better”. Even the most selfish person has that desire. “The world would be better if I was rich and feted”. Hitler had that desire: “The world would be better if we gassed all the Jews”. But even the most banal person has that desire: “The world would be better if we all drank more tea and chatted”. People who are fanatics about their sport: “The world would be better if netball was a bigger sport”. Or pervs: “The world would be better if there was more sexual freedom and I could have sex with animals.”

People who actually think “I wish the world were a worse place” are in a minority. They do exist, but there’s not many of them. So wishing the world was a better place hardly puts you on a pedastal.

And from that list you’ll notice something else: what counts as “a better place” can vary enormously from person to person. So you can hardly just assert that all these visions are automatically worthy. Was Pol Pot’s idea that everyone should go back to being a peasant automatically a noble aspiration (even if we ignore the forced element in it)? The specifics count. The specifics always count.

We need to forget this idea that we just reflex praise anyone who engages in wafty talk like “I want the world to be a better place”. That’s so vague as to be almost content-free. Especially don’t pat young people on the head for saying that. Challenge them instead. What are the specifics of your claim? In what way do you wish things to be different? And if the answer to that is “I want everyone to be better off, doing what they want”, you have to ask how that is to be achieved. Always, always drill down to the specifics. Never praise empty loftiness: challenge it.

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