“Smiley Face” art by my daughter Lydia Daugherty
It’s easy to get bummed out about life; especially when your own isn’t going so smooth. But, there are legitimate reasons to be encouraged about things in general. As a human species, we are actually making real headway in some important areas.
From unintended pregnancies and absolute poverty, to overall violence and murder, statistics are improving. Since the numbers in these stats represent humans, the stats really mean something. The “macro view” of life today is a bit sunnier than it used to be.
I first took notice to some of these trends last year when exploring Dr. Steven Pinker’s work on violence and murder rates across the span of recorded human history. Not only have the rates of violence and murder gone down over the centuries as a whole, there have been some noticeable declines in the last half century. If you’d like to see a condensed presentation of his work in the area of violence, please view his TED Talk, “The Surprising Decline in Violence,” in the link at the bottom. He has also done other extensive talks and writing on the subject.
After seeing a very recent video on some other improvements in the world from John Green, “GOOD NEWS: 14 Reasons 2014 May Be the Best Year Ever,” I decided to share some of the good news with my readers. He briefly covers some good related data in the video below.
Is there still plenty of room for humanity to improve? Sure. Do many people still suffer preventable ills and injustices? Of course they do. Are there still areas of the world where tragedy is the present norm? Yes. So, we still have much room for progress and there are lots of opportunities to make a difference.
For some though, I know there is a resistance to such assertions of global improvement. I have gotten some ideological “push back” in personal conversations from people who actually believe and/or hope things are getting worse on the large scale. I’ve also run across the same thing on social networking in some cases. In relation to these anecdotal experiences, I’d like to offer two possible reasons for the denial of human progress.
First, we humans tend to have a very myopic view of “life” in general. We project our own experiences onto the masses, unable to see things from the perspective of others. Such a self-regulated scope can have negative implications in two distinct ways: 1. if we “have it good” and are very optimistic in general, we can forget that many others don’t get along so well and/or may be suffering in ways that we could help alleviate. 2. If our own life is rough, we can be depressed about life in general and not realize that things are better for many others and can get better for us as well. That pessimism can create an infinite loop of negativity and a feeling of situational impotence in life.
The second reason is something I’d like to introduce. I have not seen this formally referred to before, so I’ll name it myself. I’ll call it an, “Apocalyptic Bias.” I have seen this bias at work personally in the lives of others and my own life in years past. For those that embrace the fundamental “end times” doctrines of some major religions or some cults, there is a tacit need for things to be getting worse. A particular holy book, prophet, or god said things would be declining, so they are. Also, when there is a deep cognitive desire for a forthcoming “salvation” to rescue one from the mundaneness of life, things must get worse before they get better. Any data that does not jive with such a worldview must be retooled, ignored, or spun in a way that fits the apocalyptic paradigm.
To allow that the overall picture of humanity is improving is to admit you are wrong theologically or that you might not be in the “chosen generation” to experience the Apocalypse, Rapture, etc. Either scenario makes for a potentially long, boring life working and paying taxes for decades before a natural death whisks you away from the lively side of this terrestrial plane. Such a life is definitely not as exciting as parting skies, raining fire, demonic locusts, and angelic trumpets sounding.
All that said some important things are getting better. Why? There are multiple causes. Many people are helping others and improving their own selves as well. The world is getting smaller, so it’s easier for individuals and groups to have a global impact. Also, with the instantaneous dissemination of information via the internet, people around the world have access to positive ideas that they were not exposed to even a decade ago. Many who have only known backward and repressive dogmas in the past are being enlightened by the arts, superior ideologies, and science. More than ever, humans are empowered to write their own story or edit the one they were written into.
So my fellow homosapiens, turn those frowns upside down…