Book: “The Moral Arc” – We are becoming better people

The Moral Arc

The Moral Arc

“Same-sex marriage remains a topic of heated debate and opposition [for some people]. There were fierce protests in the streets of Paris, and large regions of the United States still resist the introduction of gay marriage [some places in Africa, prison or even worse is the penalty for being homosexual]. That will not be the case for very much longer, according to Michael Shermer. He even claims that in 25 years’ time it will be fully accepted. Why? Because moral progress is undeniable, and it is happening so fast that [most] conservatives today are more progressive–in the way they talk and think about women, homosexuals, Jews and minorities–than progressives were half a century ago.

Against a backdrop of grim news reports–about everything from the increase of race riots to Islamic terror–Shermer has written an impressive book. In The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom, Shermer cheerfully argues that the world has made tremendous progress over the past few centuries.  And the end of this moral arc — the title is a reference to a famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. — is nowhere in sight.

Shermer perceives the progress in the way people treat one another as an ‘improvement in the survival and flourishing of sentient beings.’ Armed with graphs and figures, as well as a rich arsenal of colorful examples, he delivers proof of the continuous extension of our circle of empathy.  For instance, democracy and human rights have meant that freedom and justice are now quite common for an increasing number of people.  Our moral sphere has expanded.  In the past, our group was limited to our own family, clan or village.  These days, there is a worldwide community we can feel empathy toward.  By now even animals are benefiting from that expansion, something that a hundred years ago would have been absolutely inconceivable. [Fran & Roy, Rosita, Pam, Chris . . . are people I know, for instance, who are animal advocates].

According to Shermer, all of this can be attributed to scientific, rational thinking” – review from Marco Visscher in The Optimist, Summer 2015, p. 95.

I ordered my copy from Alibris Books: for $6.99  plus shipping for a hardcover in very good condition.

When it is so easy to get discouraged by all the bad behavior in the world, this books reminds us that most people are acting in more compassionate ways–and we will continue to grow.

Loving grandfather with his granddaughter in Hongzhou ???  China.  Fifty years ago, would this scene have happened?

Loving grandfather with his granddaughter in Hangzhou, China. Fifty years ago, would this scene have happened?

Old City, Dalh xx, China.  When this little girl is my age, where will she be on the moral arc?  I feel very hopeful for the world.

Old City Dali, China. When this little girl is my age, her circle of empathy is likely to be much wider than mine.  🙂 

On Maui.  I feel hopeful for the world.

On Maui 

I feel hopeful for the world.

Okay, let’s get back to work; there is much to be done.




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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

5 responses to “Book: “The Moral Arc” – We are becoming better people”

  1. Rosita says :

    My family always teaches me to be tolerant and I am, so, I think that if the world would be more tolerant, we could give a big pass to live in an earthly paradise 🙂 and I’m replying you about the last post: about life in Brasil, it can be very great for ones, specially for those who’re rich, and we have a big social difference, like an invisible caste system, with some persons living in big apartments or luxurious beachfront mansions, and other persons living at the streets, like animals, being ignored by the politicians and even population in general, who make me sad 😦 and our jail is replete of criminals, because the education isn’t good and the public health is also bad, with a frustrated, but hopeful population, but live in Brazil, as well for me, is relatively good, and I’m a dreamer. I dream with a better Brazil and I hope that I can move me to a city who have sea. The sea isn’t essential on my life, but it can relive my idyllic childhood memories 🙂 and my city don’t have a sea, but we have a river that looks like a sea and so much islands, so, I also call it as “Brazilian Bali”, because we have so much similarities with the Indonesian island of Bali. And I think it’s great 😀 but living here can be a paradise for ones, and a hell for others. It can depend of the form that you see all the thing and if you have money, because Brazil is passing by an economic crisis, but we have so much natural beauties, as Maragogi in Alagoas, who look like a mix between Caribe and French Polynesia, Marajó islands, here on Pará and so much other beauties who can make you inebriated. And Brazilian culture is also unique and beautiful, with so much happiness 🙂

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Rosita: Thanks for your information about Brazil – a place of beauty and happiness for many (but not all). Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between those who have money and those that do not. Many in the world suffer: the Syrian refugees seeking a safe place to live, victims of gun violence (particularly bad in the U.S.), the on-going drug wars in Mexico . . .; the list is very long and I’m sure, much longer than I know. Pope Francis, who visited the U.S. this week, said: “To change the world we must be good to those who cannot repay us.” What is our duty to take care of others? Christians and Catholics are supposed to tithe 10%-15% of their income, good Jews, 20%. But that money goes to the religious institutions, so how are others reached? Recently, I read an article in “The Guardian” titled, “Extreme Altruism” by Larissa MacFarquhar. I know I could be giving more. What do you as a young person who is aware of the inequalities think? I’m looking forward to your reply. Aloha, Renee

  2. Rosita says :

    I made a poem about tolerance.

    If all of us would have tolerance
    If the would don’t have petulance
    If all of us be gentle and kind
    If all of us feel at the face the gentle wind

    We need to be loyal like a dog
    And no to flog
    The dreams of these future generations
    And the hope of the past generations
    We need to be more tolerant
    And don’t need to be petulant

    What do you think about my poem? It’s simple, I know, but what’s your oppinion? 😉

  3. reneeriley says :

    Hi Rosita: Your ideas are good – and influenced by all those good dog qualities of tolerance, gentleness, kindness. If all of us were tolerant, the world would be a better place. Thanks for your poem. Aloha, Renee

  4. Rosita says :

    Terima Kasih! I learn much more with my dogs than in one day at the classroom 🙂 I’m Christian, but I have influence of other religions, because I believe in karma and I believe that dogs can guide good persons to the Heaven (this’s Yudhisthira story, an ancient Balinese legend), so, I respect other religions, I learned tolerance and compassion much more with my dogs than persons, because people can (and will) judge you by your acts and sometimes no give you a second chance. My life is crazy, very crazy, since I was a baby. I survived two lethals hospitalar bacterias, so, I had to take a medication who caused my auditive deficiency, I had meningitis when I was one-years-old, but I DON’T had sequelae, I also had chikungunya last year, and it let me lame, I had to walk bent, like an old woman, but, now, I’m cured. I also had dengue twice this year, but it wasn’t a big matter for me. I survived so many things, life is harsh with me, and sometimes I can be very harsh and commit wrong things, as I made it in a recent past, but, in general, I’m a good person. And my childhood wasn’t not all a nightmare, if you’re thinking it. I had so much good moments, specially with Blackie, my beloved pug 🙂 I was a feminine version of Mowgli’s story hahaha and I used to climb mango trees and run to the beach, where it had lots of mangy, probably rabid dogs, all of them begging for food. I have a funny story about one of these dogs 🙂 I adopted (temporarily) one white puppy, until the owner appeared, and I was crying so much for don’t take my puppy. I also gave a name for it, but I don’t remember now what was. But the owner took it 😦 because it wasn’t an abandoned puppy, it was only a “communitarian dog”, a dog who belongs to a place, but still free-roaming an area, like dogs in Bali. I also loved (and still love!) the jasmine smell, because it remember me of my idyllic childhood at a small seaside city. It wasn’t glamour or richness, but it was my city. I would never return to that city because it changed so much in these years 😦 it’s sad, but… Now, it is being more and more violent, and when I was a child, it was a paradise (for me, at least), without violence, only tranquility – I remember that I used to sleep in a hammock (I don’t like bed and the sea breeze was too gentle, so, I preferred to sleep in a hammock) with open doors, because violence was minimal. I remember that I used to wear a sarong (it’s a specie of skirt) and t-shirt and go to the beach, without fears, without traumas, free like all child in the world have to be. Oh, that idyllic childhood… ☺️ So, I conclude that life can be very harsh with me, but she can be very sweet and proportionate unforgettable moments – in the good side. And how was your childhood?

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