Fragments of books: The Rational Optimist

The Rational OptimistI don’t want to give you the impression that I only read books with “optimist” in the title, but this was another great one that I wanted to share.

For me, the appeal of books that take an optimistic stance on humanity’s current conditions and future prospects is in the suggestions of positive directions to take. The benefit of learning about the promising options available – rather than the ways in which we are messing things up – is encapsulated in this statement from The Rational Optimist: “If you teach children that things can only get worse, they will do less to make it untrue.”

In The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley presents a compelling argument for the role of specialization and trade in enabling the evolution of technology and the remarkable increases in human prosperity. He demonstrates how vast improvements in living standards over the ages and across the globe can only be expected to continue, as long as commerce and innovation remain unrestricted.

Presenting the reader with a historical overview – from the Stone Age to the 21st century – of the state of technology, prosperity, morals, health, and the environment, The Rational Optimist shows how in every age innovation and technological progress resulted in finding solutions to problems that previous generations thought insurmountable, and in improving the quality of life of a great number of people along the way.

Remaining optimistic even about such tough issues as the future economic prosperity of African nations and the potential outcomes of climate change, Matt Ridley argues that slowing economic progress today in order to mitigate probable future harm would be detrimental to humanity’s prospects, and that letting innovation and economic growth take their course is the only means to ensure continuing decreases in human misery, famine and ecological degradation.

The Rational Optimist‘s narrative style is slightly more academic than is typical of many popular science books today, and dry rather than humorous. Matt Ridley presents his arguments persuasively, forcefully, often sternly. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating, stunningly insightful read, vitally relevant to an understanding of the dynamics of technological evolution and human prosperity, and I highly recommend it.

A new policy of charitable donations from the Fragmentalist Etsy shop

Etsy, where my mosaics are available for sale, is a great handmade marketplace and a fantastic way for small artisans to be found by customers from all over the world. It may not be the ideal place to sell large, heavy, one-of-a-kind mirrors and coffee tables – small, inexpensive items that can be easily shipped anywhere in the world do much better there – but it is still one of the best options for selling one’s art online.

Since I’ve set out to make mosaics full time last May, I’ve been told by many artists that the recession has been hard on the arts market. While customers are still making small impulse buys, such as handmade jewellery, those artists who make larger works of art requiring more of a financial investment have seen a big decline in their sales in the last few years.

I know that my mosaics are luxury items. I feel fortunate to be able to afford – both in terms of materials cost and time – to do something I really enjoy. Those who still buy art and handcrafted objects despite the tough economic times are supporting artists and makers in doing what they love, and for that I am very thankful to them.

All this is to say that I have decided to donate a percentage of all sales made through my Etsy shop to charitable organizations in appreciation of the fact that a market in art exists at all, that it enables me to do what I love, that global e-commerce makes it easy and that all of us who participate in it are really very fortunate.

These are the three charities I’ve listed as the options for where the donation can go: EFF for protecting the frontiers of our digital freedom, WWF for protecting endangered species and wildlife habitats and United Way Canada for protecting our local communities.

Thanks and please spread the word!