Antibiotics, Condoms and Agriculture

Nov 2014


“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.”

– Mother Teresa


“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


We live in the best time there has ever been to be alive. The starkest example of this is the internet. For the first time in the history of the human species, nearly everything anybody has ever written down or known – all knowledge that has ever been is accessible for free from one place for everyone. It truly is remarkable. But two of the lesser breakthrough innovations that make living now so wonderful go frequently uncommented.

Penicillin was first discovered and synthesised in 1920 by Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and Alexander Flemming. Also in 1920 was the first invention and manufacturing of latex condoms. It took about 30 years, to the 1950s for both to really catch on and go mainstream. Today they are easy to acquire and use.

Also in the 1950s, began the green revolution which produced disease resistant and high yielding crops, led by Carl Bosch and invented by Norman Borlaug. For the first time we made more food than we could consume and people didn’t have to starve anymore. Starvation today is more caused by governments and politics than it is by production.

It means my parents generation and my generations are the first humans in history to have been able to cure serious infections trivially, to have sex safely en masse and had enough food to eat. These three innovations have contributed greatly to the explosion in population and life expectancy.

We’re the first humans that don’t just die when we get sick. And the first to be able to have sex safely whenever we want. And the first to be able to find out anything we want, anytime we want to. And the first to have an abundance of food. In the entire 7 million year history of humans on Earth. We’re the first. We reside at the tipping point from having to struggle to survive to being able to comfortably live.

Isn’t that incredible?