Despite the sensational headlines, there has never been a better time to be alive. Almost every day, cable news networks, clinging to their outdated relevance, tell a story of a world sentenced to a future of doom and gloom. In fact, 2016 was dubbed by many as “the worst year ever.” And while much of this comes from those who saw Trump’s election as the beginning of the rapture, there are legitimate reasons for people to fear the future.
But this rhetoric seems hyperbolic, especially considering how lucky we are to live during this period of time. Our digital world has increased the speed of information, and with this blessing comes the curse of exposure. When instances of police brutality or a school shooting occur, we are updated on the situation in real time. This might make us think that violence is becoming worse, but in many regards, we are just finally able to document each horrific display of human weakness, bringing more attention to them.
And while the rise of terrorism has given the world a justifiable reason to fear our present day, there are just too many good things happening to rationalize having a negative outlook on the world.
Things are Pretty Great
Steven Pinker has earned himself a reputation as being “too” optimistic about the state of our civilization. In fact, so Pinker’s most recent book, Enlightenment Now has been attacked by a broad spectrum of critics, each accusing him of having too rosy of a perspective about our modern day.
In fact, the critics themselves almost seem content to live in perpetual negativity, especially when you look at the data behind what Pinker is saying. It is almost absurd to view what is happening in the world today as anything short of progress.
In a recent TED Talk, Pinker gave a presentation called, Is the World Getting Better or Worse? A Look at the Numbers. And in his talk, he quotes Franklin Pierce Adams who brilliantly said, “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.” It would seem that those who are quick to condemn the modern world either have insufficient knowledge of history or are suffering from memory loss. Otherwise, the advancements made overtime would be nothing short of miraculous.
Speaking to this point, Pinker says:
“You can always fool yourself into seeing a decline if you compare bleeding headlines of the present with rose-tinted images of the past. What does the trajectory of the world look like when we measure well-being over time using a constant yardstick?”
When we compare 2018 to the last 30 years of history, we actually see that the number of murders has gone down in addition to the poverty rate. Thirty years ago, the poverty rate stood at 12 percent. Last year, in 2017, the poverty rate was seven percent. Additionally, last year, Americans murdered at a rate of 5.3 per hundred thousand. Three decades ago, the murder rate was 8.5 per hundred thousand. These numbers objectively show a world that is getting better, not worse.
Even when we look at global conflicts and oppressive regimes we see the world moving in an upward trend, as Pinker also points out. He says:
“What about the world as a whole? Last year, the world had 12 ongoing wars, 60 autocracies, 10 percent of the world population in extreme poverty and more than 10,000 nuclear weapons. But 30 years ago, there were 23 wars, 85 autocracies, 37 percent of the world population in extreme poverty and more than 60,000 nuclear weapons. True, last year was a terrible year for terrorism in Western Europe, with 238 deaths, but 1988 was worse with 440 deaths.”
Why All The Negativity?
It would appear that those who think the world is doomed have focused only on what is right in front of them, they have forgotten to step back and ask, “compared to what?” Death and destruction of any degree matters. But when we look strictly at the numbers we see that things could be so much worse, because history shows us that they already have been.
So instead of complaining about the modern world, let’s celebrate it. Today we can expect to live for more than 70 years. For the majority of human civilization, that number was only set at 30. If this is not the most blatant proof of progress, I do not know what is. The world is getting better and it is allowing us to not only live longer but to live better more prosperous lives.