The world is coming undone. The world is prospering like never before.
We are living in troubled times. We are living in times of great progress.
A radio conversation on the perception of the world’s perils piqued my interest recently, and further research led me down a rabbit hole of discovery.
My findings were enlightening and promising.
War in Ukraine. Climate change. The lingering pandemic. Inflation.
These are some of the daily concerns that fuel a sense of dread, that help amplify our anxiety.
But what if the overall outlook is optimistic and continues to be hopeful?
This was the thought at the heart of my research after listening to a chat that focused on the positives.
There are certainly reasons for foreboding, but the world also offers examples of promise.
- Extreme poverty worldwide has declined in the past few decades (falling by more than 1 billion people during a 25-year period) and literacy is on the rise (the global rate increased from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2015), according to data at ourworldindata.org.
- Child mortality has significantly dropped. In 1990, 12.6 million children under 5 years old died, compared to 5.4 million in 2017.
- The Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs said life expectancy globally increased from 64 years in 1990 to 72.8 in 2019. Despite a dip of almost two years in 2021, mostly because of the impact of COVID, the expectancy is projected to rise to 77.2 years by 2050.
- More than 91% of people in the United States have health coverage, up roughly 6% from 20 years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports violent crime in America has trended down for years, noting that between 1993 and 2019 the percentage of Americans aged 12 or older who were victims of violent crime fell 74%. From 2019 to 2020 it declined 15%.
The numbers are encouraging.
Incessant news consumption can lead us toward relentless despair. With so many 24-7 outlets broadcasting images of tragedies and constantly reporting the latest unnerving content, our sense of alarm is heightened.
Being informed is important, but “doom scrolling” only adds to our angst.
Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, in his book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” promotes the idea of us living in a time of great advancement.
A few highlights: The global average IQ score has risen at a rate of about three IQ points per decade; since the 1930s, thanks to safety measures such as window bars, railings and inspections, the chance that Americans will fall to their deaths has declined by 72 percent. The average American retires at 62, whereas 100 years ago the average American died at age 51; and in 1900 women could vote in one country. Today women can vote in each country in which men can vote, except Vatican City.
And Pinker notes this Wikipedia entry, a favorite of his: “Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor.”
Pinker’s focus is on the word “was.” A disease that killed more than 300 million people in the 20th century no longer exists.
Yes, there are always events that require legitimate concern — “progress is not utopia” Pinker writes — and this isn’t to suggest we live in the most tranquil of times. But sometimes it’s best to change the channel, silence the panicked news alerts and appreciate the good stuff.
ANTHONY GARZILLI: editor