Weighing the Good and Bad at Christmastime : Krulwich Wonders... The founding editor of Wired talks about the calculus of good and evil.
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Weighing the Good and Bad at Christmastime

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Weighing the Good and Bad at Christmastime

Weighing the Good and Bad at Christmastime

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And if you get a moment to think on this holiday, you may ponder whether we live in a world that is basically good or basically not, and which way we're headed.

Those questions are on the mind of a man who spoke with NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich.

ROBERT KRULWICH: First off, you should know this about Kevin.

Mr. KEVIN KELLY (Founding Editor, Wired): I have always been temperamentally very happy and optimistic.

KRULWICH: The founding editor of Wired magazine, the former editor of the Whole Earth catalog, Kevin Kelly likes to sort things. So Santa sorts children into naughty and nice; Kevin sorts everything that he sees into what very roughly you might call good news and bad news.

Mr. KELLY: The way my cap(ph) list goes is that when you turn on the TV, which by the way I don't recommend doing, I see, we haven't had a TV.

KRULWICH: And you're one of those NPR I-don't-have-a-TV people.

Mr. KELLY: I don't. We haven't had one for 30 years. Our kids grew up without TV.

KRULWICH: But when he turns it on, he sees what all of us see.

(Soundbite of archived news)

Unidentified Woman #1: A deadly day in Beirut after a bombing attack killed…

Unidentified Woman #2: Panic in Algeria…

KRULWICH: Lots of horrible things happening in lots and lots of places.

(Soundbite of archived news)

Unidentified Woman #3: After bombs rocked the capital…

Unidentified Woman #4: The death toll is expected to rise.

Mr. KELLY: It seems as if the world is filled, if not overwhelmed by these.

KRULWICH: So many cruelties, big ones, small ones, so many acts of meanness and selfishness.

Mr. KELLY: My gosh, this is a living hell. But it's actually not.

KRULWICH: Because there is another side to this ledger. There are also - remember - acts of kindness, little moments where somebody makes someone else smile or invent some medicine or builds a hospital or writes a song or holds a hand. And if you add up those moments, the good moments and you stack them up against the bad moments?

Kevin Kelly has a notion or maybe it's a prayer.

Mr. KELLY: When I look at those two sides, I think, I think there is a very slight advantage to the good.

KRULWICH: Why? Why would you believe that?

Mr. KELLY: I believe it because of the transformation that I've seen in my own lifetime with my own eyes of what happened. You know, things like antibiotics and health advances, which definitely have increased how long people live, education. I believe it because of what I've seen in Asia.

KRULWICH: So many people now with more choices and more money and more food and more access to medicine and learning and travel, which creates more opportunities for among other things, for kindness. That's what he thinks.

Mr. KELLY: That we can do good, that the good of the world, is slightly greater than the bad of the world, but not by much. And it doesn't need to be very much, so that when we look at the world, it may look like it's sort of awashed(ph) that the problems overwhelmed the remedies.

But, in fact, you know, even if the good is only one-tenth of a percent better, I'm optimistic.

KRULWICH: Because this works, he thinks, like interest at the bank.

Mr. KELLY: So you know, the power of compound interest, is unbelievable, powerful, one of the most powerful forces in the universe. And that if you have only a tenth of a percent differential that you're compounding every day, that's unstoppable. That is beautiful. That is grand, and that will topple everything, and I think even one-tenth of a percent difference in the good of the world over the bad will, over centuries, mean that the good will prevail.

KRULWICH: Now people will still fall, ill of course, and have accidents and get cheated and get hurt.

Mr. KELLY: Yes, there's still 49 percent bad stuff happening.

KRULWICH: But deep down in the fabric of things, Kevin thinks there's a built-in prejudice atilt that over time will produce a little more joy and a little more happiness and a little more peace.

And if you don't believe it, well, Kevin does and, anyway, it's Christmas.

Robert Krulwich, NPR News, New York.

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