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Fun Facts From What We Owe The Future
In which I miss the point spectacularly
If you lived through the lives of every person who ever lived, 10% of your lives would be lived as a hunter gatherer and 60% as a farmer. You would spend 20% of your time farming, 20% of your time raising children, and 2% of your time performing religious rituals. For 1% of your time, you would have malaria or smallpox. For 10% of your time, you’re enslaved; for 10% of your time, you own slaves. You spend 1.5 billion years having sex and 250 million years giving birth. You spend 150 years in space and one week walking on the moon. 15% of your experience is of people alive today.
If humanity lasts as long as the average mammalian species and the world population stabilizes at one-tenth of its current size, 99.5% of your life would be ahead of you. In terms of a single human life, you would be about five months old.
The Mohists, a school of thought in Warring-States-era China, were early consequentialists. They were pacifists who put their pacifism into practice by forming paramilitary groups which defended weaker cities. (This in fact did not help.)
9% of Americans and 6% of Indians would prefer never to have been born. 16% of Americans and 11% of Indians believe their lives contain more suffering than happiness. (Be cautious in interpreting these results—for various reasons, the sample included disproportionately many poor Americans and rich Indians, so they don’t necessarily generalize well to their respective countries.)
In 1927, Imperial Japan decided to pursue a bioweapons program on the grounds that bioweapons must be good or the League of Nations wouldn't have banned them.
In 2020, Indian and Chinese soldiers fought in the Galwan Valley; because both sides had agreed not to use firearms along the disputed border, they fought with stones, clubs, and batons wrapped in barbed wire. More than twenty people died.
Because of the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, a city was cut off from the national power grid and lost most of its infrastructure. So people jury-rigged hydroelectric generators from car engines.
A 8500-person experience sampling study offered people the ability to "skip" their experiences-- that is, if they were making a cup of tea, they'd blink and their next experience would be drinking the tea. The intuition is that people who want to “skip” an experience are judging the experience to be worse than nothing/nonexistence. In general, people would skip about 40% of their day if they could. People skip 69% of time spent working and 2% of time spent having sex. Note that this is a relatively privileged sample—Americans with iPhones—so we would probably expect less privileged people to want to skip more experiences.
In 1971, in the USSR, there was a lab leak of a strain of smallpox genetically engineered to be highly virulent and vaccine-resistant, a fact which if fully internalized will give you nightmares.
When interviewed for a qualitative research study about life satisfaction, one person gave themself a 10/10 for life satisfaction in spite of having had an aortic aneurysm, having no relationship with their father since his return from prison, having had to take care of their mother until her death, and having been in a horrible marriage for seventeen years.
One of the first anti-slavery advocates was Benjamin Lay, a Quaker. He was a little person. He called himself “little Benjamin,” similar to the “little David” who killed Goliath. In addition to his opposition to slavery, Lay opposed the death penalty and consumerism and was a vegetarian who never wore leather or wool.
Lay began to be opposed to slavery after he whipped several slaves who, hungry, had stolen food from his shop. Struck with guilt, Lay made friends with several slaves. The master of one of his slaves whipped the people he owned every Monday morning “to keep them in awe." One Sunday, to avoid the next day’s whipping, Lay’s friend committed suicide.
Perhaps due to these experiences, for the rest of his life thereafter Lay made a strong showing for the position of “most extra person who has ever lived.”
He lived in a cave outside Philadelphia. In order to boycott products made by slaves, he made all his own clothes, wore undyed fabric, and never drank tea or ate sugar. He once stood outside a Quaker meeting with bare feet and no coat; when passerby expressed concern, he explained that slaves were made to work all winter dressed as he was. As soon as any slaveowner tried to talk in Quaker meetings, he would yell “there’s another Negro-master!” When kicked out of a meeting for making trouble, he lay in the mud outside the entrance so that every member of the congregation had to step over his body as he left. When he discovered a local family kept a young girl as a slave, he invited their six-year-old son to his cave without telling the parents so that the parents would briefly know the grief of losing a child.
In Lay’s most famous stunt, he went to a Quaker Yearly Meeting dressed in a military uniform under a large cloak, carrying a hollow book filled with blood. During the meeting, he rose to his feet, tossed off his coat, and exclaimed, “Oh all you Negro masters who are contentedly holding your fellow creatures in a state of slavery... you might as well throw off the plain coat as I do. It would be as justifiable in the sight of the Almighty, who beholds and respects all nations and colours of men with an equal regard, if you should thrust a sword through their hearts as I do through this book!” He then stabbed the book and splattered blood on the congregation.
For perhaps obvious reasons, Lay was disowned four times by various Quaker meetings.
However, Lay’s activism was very influential on the Quakers. From 1681 to 1705, 70% of the leaders of the Quaker Yearly Meeting owned people; from 1754 to 1780, only 10% did. In 1758, it was agreed that Quakers who bought or sold people would be disciplined and then disowned; by 1772 the same policy was applied to any Quaker who owned people. Many Quakers attributed these changes to Lay’s influence, and many influential anti-slavery advocates were Lay’s friends.
After the 1758 ruling, Lay said "thanksgiving and praise be rendered unto the Lord God... I can now die in peace." He died one year later.
The Quakers wound up founding the first movement for the abolition of slavery in history.