“Did you know,” the figure before me said, “that during World War Two, your military did a survey of something we might call ‘promotion satisfaction’ and got some amazing results?”
“Yes, the soldiers in the foxholes, the so so-called ‘grunts,’ faced very slow advancement in rank, hardly moving up the promotion ladder at all, except to fill the ranks of the fallen.”
“While,” the figure said, “those GIs in the newly forming Army Air Corp received the fastest rate of promotion. Zoom! Right up the ladder they went.”
“Want to guess which group found satisfaction with promotions?”
“I thought you would. Yep. The common foot soldier thought the promotion system was fair.”
“And the ‘flyboys’ thought it was horribly unfair.”
“Ain’t that something?”
“I knew you would find it interesting.”
“Did they ever figure out why?”
“Something about equity. Seems that no matter how fast someone in the Air Corp was promoted, he knew some else who had been promoted faster.”
“Oh.” The figure proposing this bit of knowledge was a new shape C.W. had devised of late: Happy Hornibrook. He was a thin, bespectacled fellow with a receding hairline. Looked much like a henpecked husband. But he was ever the optimistic soul, sort of a Falloonian Pangloss.
“Did you know,” he said, “that the number of people in your world in extreme poverty fell by 137,000 since yesterday?
“Every day for nearly 30 years.”
“But I still don’t have a Les Paul Standard guitar, and my rich nephew, who’s 30 years younger than I, does.”
“Did you know that the world is about 100 times wealthier than 200 years ago?”
“That the share of people killed annually in wars is less than a quarter of that in the 1980s and half a percent of the toll in the second world war?”
“That during the 20th century Americans became 96% less likely to die in a car crash, 92% less likely to perish in a fire and 95% less likely to expire on the job?”
“That in every part of the world IQ scores have been rising, by a whopping 30 points in 100 years, meaning that the average person today scores better than 98% of people a century ago?”
“Even the home-schooled and the so-called ‘young-earthers’ out there?”
“There are anomalies.”
“Are you purposefully trying to drive me crazy?”
“Don’t you find it interesting that children are far likelier to go to school than they were in 1900, while ‘outside the schoolhouse,’ analytic thinking is encouraged by a culture that trades in visual symbols (subway maps, digital displays), analytic tools (spreadsheets, stock reports) and academic concepts that trickle down into common parlance?”
“Whoop de do.” I left out one extra word that would have hurt his feelings.
“I can’t believe that you would be unmoved to know that, two centuries ago, only one percent of people lived in democracies and, even there, women and working-class men were denied the vote. Now two-thirds of people live in democracies, and even authoritarian states such as China, are freer than they once were.”
“But we still have no cure for nausea.”
“You can understand their interest.”
That got me. “Who’s interest?”
“The Falloonian Elders?”
“Yes, I sent them some facts like this, with documentation, and they wrote back.”
“What did they say?”
“That it sounded like the world, and your country in particular, is making progress.”
|Good news: The number of nuclear bombs|
in world has fallen by 85 percent since its peak.
Bad news: It only takes one.
“No, that’s bad.”
“They sent another message.” He pulled a paper from his pocket and unfolded it.
“What does it say.”
He read it and thought. I could hear his Galactic Universal Translator humming.
“Just tell me what your GUT is telling you.”
He took a breath, exhaled, and said, “This is a rough translation.” I nodded, and he read. “Then find out why in hell they are pissed off enough to elect a professional wrestling promoter to go and sexually intercourse things up.”