by Edwin A. Schwisow

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think

Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler
Free Press, 2012
Hardback $26.99 (amazon.com $15.53)
400 Pages

Submitted by Rob York
June 28, 2012

“Quite simply, good news doesn’t catch our attention,” write Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. “Bad news sells because the amygdala (an almond-shaped structure in the brain’s frontal lobe) is always looking for something to fear.”

It’s an article of faith for many that things are getting worse. No matter where you lie on the political spectrum, it is widely assumed that things were good, or at least sustainable, before a certain ill, be it secular liberalism, corporate personhood, or Islamic fundamentalism became a threat to us all.

Even the nonpartisan who still watches the news regularly has been bombarded for decades about threats to come, be it from AIDS, plutonium smuggling, or bath salts. That politicians use fear to get elected and the big broadcasters use it to keep viewers glued to their sets should not be news to any of us, but Diamandis and Kotler’s amygdala diagnosis explains why they keep getting away with it. The world has been trending toward less disease, poverty, and conflict globally while living standards have generally improved, yet we are wired to always expect worse to come.

Seventh-day Adventists are especially good at expecting the worst; that we will one day be eternally rescued from a world in torment is our 25th fundamental belief. Even though trends have generally moved us in positive directions, there’s always the possibility that things could get worse in a hurry (see Brothers, Lehman). Still, many SDAs rush to judgment, showing intimate familiarity with the writings of Ellen White but very little insight into the wider world.

I’m unsure how many times I’ve heard of a coming National Sunday Law is in the U.S. Congress, or how the Pope has called for Europe to make the first day of week the official day of worship. I roll my eyes at these proclamations, as such a law would immediately face opposition in the U.S. Congress, where some of the influential donors to congressional and presidential candidates are Jewish; certainly a Sunday law would be a total non-starter in secularized Europe.

It would be best if we took Matthew 25:13 to heart, but barring that, reading a book like Diamandis and Kotler’s Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think could make one’s predictions more credible. It’s not a matter of believing everything they say: Their thesis—that in the next generation a population of 9 billion people will have all of its needs met—is aimed extraordinarily high. Diamandis, head of the X PRIZE foundation which rewards innovative ideas, has a particular incentive to be optimistic.

Still, it’s hard to come away from a book like Abundance without feeling that things aren’t as bad as we’ve been told. This book, coupled with Matt Ridley’ 2010 tome The Rational Optimist, cause the reader to question a lot of the doom-saying in church, in the press, and on bookshelves. Abundance tells of new technology that will make more people aware of their health needs, of how the spread of information and communication technology is making life much harder for dictators, and how alternative fuel sources from solar to wind to algae (seriously) may make fossil fuels unnecessary.

And lest it all sound starry-eyed, they include discussion of serious threats that may arise from new technology, from bioterrorism to mass unemployment caused by the spread of robotics to the possibility of mankind losing control of its own nanotech. They counsel interest and engagement in technology to prevent harm from these threats, stating that bans on certain kinds of technological innovation will only drive them underground.

“People have a fundamental desire to have a better life for themselves and their families; technology is often how they make that happen,” they write.

A long time ago, another widely quoted author was told of a time when “many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.” It does appear inevitable, but is it necessarily a bad thing? Maybe one day our technology will bring on the end of this world, but in the meantime it has the potential to do a lot of good. Proclamations against progress, and insisting that technological growth in and of itself shows the end is near, miss the mark. In the words of another expert, “Occupy till I come.”