Cowen’s First Law, as stated by Economist Tyler Cowen says the following:
“There is something wrong with everything (by which I mean there are few decisive or knockdown articles or arguments, and furthermore until you have found the major flaws in an argument, you do not understand it)”
We already know what’s wrong with 2020. We know it so well we’re trapped in a loop of the inverse of Cowen’s Law in which we’ve lost track a bit of the argument for 2020. It’s actually quite compelling. It’s the same argument for any year. Existence can only happen in the present. And existence is good.
When better than today to spend some time on why that might be the case?
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of what I’m grateful for in 2020.
Highspeed WIFI: There’s a provocation that asks the following question: For any period of time in history, how much relative wealth would you require to live in that period as your current self. The idea is that the further back you go, the more relative wealth would be required to buy your way out of the hardships of each period. The question for me doesn’t really create much discussion though. Because there’s no world I want to live in without access to the world that near infinite, instant information brings me. I’m not going back before highspeed WIFI for any amount of wealth. I live in a world where that instant, near infinite access to information exists. And it will get better every day of my life. And I’m thankful for that.
Smartphones: I can’t believe how good the cameras is on the iPhone 11. And I can’t believe how easy it is to give a visual representation of my life to other people who will get some joy from seeing it. This includes my future self. Science fiction never really came up with the smart phone. We could imagine the info streaming, but we couldn’t imagine the resolution of the screen and all that came with it. The world is with us in the palm of our hands. Of course there are problems that come with that. But my God what it allows us to do is incredible. And I’m grateful for it.
Streaming Television: One summer when I was a kid, I watched the Incredible Shrinking Woman two dozen times because it was one of the five movies HBO had on loop when it first started. Now, the greatest cinema and documentaries ever made are pouring into my living room for a low cost that seems mismatched to the value I get. I’ve still got four seasons of the The Expanse to catch up on. And I’m grateful for it.
Healthcare Workers: We actually have humans whose function in society is to heal, care for or ease the suffering of those of us who fall ill or get injured. In all of nature, perhaps the universe, this is unique to and even definitive of humans. Man am I grateful for them in 2020.
Elon Musk: There’s probably no better example to Cowen’s First Law than Musk. But Jesus Christ he made electric cars a thing and put American back into space travel…at the same time. People will know his name 200 years from now and it won’t because of a war he started or a government he ran or the people he persecuted. And that’s not easy to do. I’m grateful to see it.
Biomedicine: In response to the 2014 to 2016 Ebola outbreak researchers at Oxford University took a cold virus from a chimpanzee and created what can best be described as a template for a vaccine to engage with a broad range of diseases. The idea was to be ready for “disease X”. All that needed to be done was to engineer the biology of the vaccine based on the particulars of the virus. When disease X came, and it was a coronavirus, a type of virus whose protein “spike” that gives its name was already something we know a lot about, we were off and running orders of magnitude faster than we would be in almost any other circumstance. And we should all be grateful for that.
Books: There’s millions of them. And we’re still writing them. In fact we’re writing more than we ever have. It’s a prospering market. Against the backdrop of immense information technological development, books are still thriving. This core human need to express ourselves in words that can be scaled in books is healthy as ever. And they cost almost nothing. A week of entertainment for between nine and twenty bucks today is something to be grateful for.
Democracy: It still appears to work. The word fascism has had a bit of a resurgence in America over the last four years. If it actually were a real threat (highly debatable) it appears to have been no match for American Democracy which defeated it soundly at the polls in its first chance. I’m grateful to not have to have the debate.
That’s a start. Feel free to come up with your own. You might find the exercise of optimism and gratitude quite healing.