Seeing the Forest and the Trees
Why does everyone suddenly think the world is so terrible?
Are we really living in the modern day dark ages? Or is our perception of reality being skewed for ratings? It may seem like the world is being consumed in a giant dumpster fire, but the reality is far less bleak.
We just seem to like bad news so much better. Call it the law of unintended consequences, call it free market capitalism, call it morbid fascination.
The natural human tendency to focus more on what is wrong versus what is right in our immediate environments doesn’t help much, either.
There are all sorts of theories about that particular foible of the human imagination, some are even pretty good. The one about our earliest ancestors needing to pay strictest attention to every rustle in the bushes is one example:
The cost of erring on the side of caution was running away from nothing; the cost of assuming that rustle wasn’t a tiger and being wrong was not becoming one of our earliest ancestors due to sudden death.
A skillful observation about human negativity, and our tendency to focus so much more attention on problems rather than on things that are working well, is illustrated by the difference between how long it takes to raise and socialize an adult human, versus how long it takes for an accident to kill him.
Between how long it takes to build a house, and how long it takes to reduce one to ashes.
It is clear why the latter two stand out so much in a human mind, far more so than the vast stretches of time in which everything went according to plan.
Combine the fact that we are psychologically or physiologically conditioned, and probably both, to be fascinated by the worst, with ad-revenue fueled journalism in a free market system and…well.
Let’s just say that bad news is all we seem to hear about. But that doesn’t mean bad news is all the news that is fit to print. The old journalistic adage, “If it bleeds, it ledes” has foisted a sort of national pessimism.
It has become a kind of Frankenstein’s monster of the human consciousness. A general feeling that everything is bad, and getting worse by the moment. Someone paying too much attention to the news alone, never looking out their front door, might expect to find in the world a smoldering ruin.
It’s not, actually.
Here are a few pieces of genuinely wonderful news you might have missed during the latest barrage of outrage and atrocity.
World Poverty is Down
The 2019 global Multidimensional Poverty Index was released in July. In it, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) concluded that over the past decade, from 2006–2016 to be exact, India has lifted 271 million people out of poverty.
Even measuring poverty using multiple factors including access to clean water, sanitation, threat of violence, work quality, assets, and nutrition, paints a picture that is remarkably better than the one of 2006.
“This progress was largely driven by South Asia. In India, there were 271 million fewer people in poverty in 2016 than in 2006, while in Bangladesh the number dropped by 19 million between 2004 and 2014.” — UN Report
Nor is South Asia the only place where life is improving for the global poor, or for the rest of us either.
World Literacy Rates Are Up
Many countries are approaching 100% literacy rates; and there are fewer and fewer countries where less than half of the population are able to read and write.
Universal Women’s Suffrage
In 2017, when the very last holdout, Saudi Arabia, reversed its policy, the world achieved universal women’s suffrage.
Though there are still places in which no one can vote, and places in which votes are merely symbolic like North Korea, in 2019, women can vote everywhere men are allowed to vote.
World Hunger is Down
We’re getting better and better at predicting which combinations of environmental factors are likely to result in a famine. With this newfound knowledge, we are better able to prevent massive losses of life.
The yearly global food emergency fund has grown from $50 million, to $500 million in 2016, to over $1 billion a year today. It isn’t just wealthy countries helping poorer countries, either; it is a fund “for all, by all”. Countries receiving aid reciprocate, becoming donors themselves in their turn.
Environmental Good News
Renewables are quickly approaching the point of being self-sustaining.
It is now much cheaper to recycle some materials like cardboard and aluminum than to produce them from scratch. (Though the same is not true for plastic and glass, unfortunately.)
Fewer People Dying in War and Natural Disasters
Fewer people are dying from natural disasters as more accurate forecasts and early detection methods are making it easier for people to get to safety. Building codes have improved, saving even more lives.
Fewer people are dying in war as well.
One of the silver linings of the Cold War Era, and of World War II, has been the diminished inclination of the worlds superpowers to fight each other. The threat of mutually assured destruction, it would seem, is as scary to world leaders today as it was in the post-apocalyptic days after World War II ushered in the nuclear age.
And speaking of nuclear proliferation; while those of us in the Northern Hemisphere must live under threat of nuclear winter, almost the entire Southern Hemisphere is a nuke free zone.
So cheer up. Everything isn’t all bad.
You probably won’t be killed in an asteroid strike, or from an accurate doomsday prediction. No one has gotten it right so far, and even the IPCC admits we might have a little longer than 12-years to save the planet.
I’d keep saving for retirement if I was you.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)