Capitas Vs. Per Capita

From a recent Science:

Agriculture and cities made human life better, right? Wrong, say archaeologists who presented stunning new evidence at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting. They pooled data on standardized indicators of health from skeletal remains, including stature, dental health, degenerative joint disease, anemia, trauma, and the isotopic signatures of what they ate, and gathered data on settlement size, latitude, and socioeconomic and subsistence patterns. They found that the health of many Europeans began to worsen markedly about 3000 years ago, after agriculture became widely adopted in Europe and during the rise of the Greek and Roman civilizations. …

The team presented the first analysis of data on 11,000 individuals who lived from 3000 years ago until 200 years ago through Europe and the Mediterranean … The project has taken 8 years and $1.2 million to organize so far.

The longest term trends we can see clearly forecast growth in the total capacity and power of humanity and its descendants. But this does not imply growth in the quality of individual lives.  While individual lives may have improved on average over the last two hundred years, over longer timescales we have seen sustained and substantial declines. 

Looking to the future, we can have far more confidence in a continued growth in total capacity than in improved quality of individual lives.  If, like me, you count the vast increase in the number of lives worth living as a grand and glorious thing, you'll think the future a better place even if individual lives get somewhat worse.  If, like many others, you care little about creatures who do not yet exist, you can reasonably think the future will be a worse place. 

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