Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? Or is it becoming safer and more prosperous?
If you were to take recent news events you would think it’s the former. I’m going to prove this isn’t the case.
In fact, the world is getting much better and provided there’s no catastrophic event like a meteor hurtling down from space and hitting us or a world leader pressing the nuclear button it will continue to improve.
Most people in the Western world believe the world is not getting better.
Only four percent of Brits think so. Even Americans, known for their optimism and positivity, aren’t much better at six percent.
Knowing the world is getting better is not only good for your own sanity but will allow you to make better life decisions. If you think the world is going to shit you’re less likely to have hope and may take a more nihilistic view of life.
Why do people feel this way? A couple of reasons. But first, a story.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, I was making my way to Ibiza Airport as the Manchester terrorist attacks began to unfold.
My friend who I drove from the UK to Ibiza with took me to the airport. He’s a Mancunian and works in the city centre which made the attacks all the more real. These types of events don’t sink at the time and it wasn’t until the following day that both of us realised how catastrophic it was.
I have other friends in Manchester and being a northerner myself an event of this size impacts the entire North of England on a deep level. Northerners have a collective pride of their roots and homelands.
Of course, it’s not only Northerners who have mourned this tragedy but the whole U.K. and beyond are in shock as to why someone would aim to kill mainly young people having fun at a pop concert. There is no explanation, neither rational nor irrational.
People are either angry, scared and confused or a combination of all three. And rightfully so.
On Saturday in the late afternoon, I was walking through London’s busy Oxford Street when I heard a row behind me. I turned around and saw what I thought was a lover’s tiff.
When I looked closer I saw the man with a pair of scissors to a woman’s neck. She was at the ATM drawing money out and he was begging on the floor below.
Long story short, I managed to get the scissors off him and thirty of the forty quid he’d taken from her. The police eventually came but by which time the would-be mugger had scarpered. We gave statements and our contact details then went our separate ways.
Just had a ruckus with a homeless man robbing a girl at an ATM with a pair of scissors. Took them off him & sent him packing. Police on way. pic.twitter.com/j9DlJATlEY
— Stephen Davies (@stedavies) May 27, 2017
Would he have stabbed her? I doubt he would. He was homeless, likely an addict of some kind and he started crying during our wrestle. He was confused and desperate more than anything.
Walking home I had a feeling of slight euphoria. I’m not going to lie, I felt a little heroic.
Ladies, a tip: The best thing you can ever do for your man is make him feel like a hero. Men want to be heroes. I get it, you might not need a hero but he wants to be one.
Once I got home I had a moment. I thought about the Manchester attack and what had happened in Oxford Street one hour earlier. I logged into Facebook and my feed was full of article and video shares of bombings in far away countries.
I had that ‘the world is going to shit’ feeling but I’m an optimist by nature and I’ve seen the data before. Despite the week’s events, I know on a macro level the world is better and is safer than it’s ever been.
The world is not getting worse but our access to information is getting better.
We are more connected than ever before. When something happens around the world we hear about it immediately and often in graphic detail. Organisations of all kind, including the media, use imagery to make us have an emotional response to an event to sway public opinion on an event.
Social sharing has changed the way people are informed. Sometimes people share ill-informed, inaccurate and indecent links. Sometimes they do it just for the likes. It’s front and centre each time you log into your social media accounts (which we do a lot each day).
You can find all kinds of gruesome videos online if you were so inclined. ISIS beheadings? No problem. Saddam Hussein execution? Just go to YouTube. Gaddafi capture and subsequent killing? It’s there.
The point I’m trying to make is that before the internet getting access to this type of content was difficult if not impossible. Now it’s available within a few clicks and it’s giving us a distorted view of the world.
It’s also worth mentioning that everybody has an interest in politics these days. People who barely had a passing interest in politics are now suddenly political pundits. A good thing, I suppose.
The world is getting better in pretty much every way.
The chart below from Our World in Data illustrates global living conditions on every variable continues to improve greatly since 1820. It’s getting better. All of it. Sure, there have been challenges along the way (looking at you, WWI and WWII) but on a long enough line, the world continues to be a better place to live.
The problem is most people don’t believe it is and with the media and social media ramming negative news down our throats confirmation bias kicks in. Negative news sells and we are psychologically drawn to it.
- 56 out of 100 people live in a democracy. In 1820 it was 1 in every 100
- 10 in every 100 live in extreme poverty. In 1820 it was 94 in every 100
- 15 of every 100 cannot read. In 1820 it was 88 in every 100
- 4 of every 100 children die before the age of 5. In 1820 it was 43 in every 100
- 86 of every 100 people have received basic vaccines. In 1820 it was 0
- 86 of ever 100 people have received basic education. In 1820 it was 17 in every 100
Our living standards are better than a king’s from a hundred years ago. We have access to foods from countries all around the world and can even visit these places if we so wish. We live longer, have better healthcare, access to the world’s information, more wealth, more freedom and more opportunities to be who we want to be.
I’ve said it before on this blog but there has never been a better time to be alive. “Trying saying that to someone living in war-torn Syria” you might say and I agree. On a global level, however, we are getting better.
The decline of war.
Even war is on the decline. The world has never seen less war. You wouldn’t think it if you follow the news but the data is there for all to see. As Future Crunch puts it;
“The world was a far more dangerous place when you were born. Death tolls from wars in the 1970s and 1980s were 4–5 times higher than they are today. We are, despite reports of religious and political insurgencies, despite high-profile terrorist killings and unrest in various corners of the globe, living in the most peaceful era of our species’ existence.
‘The world is getting less violent; we’re just more aware of the violence that happens, thanks to the mass availability of information. And unfortunately, the media and our politicians use that information to make it look as though we’re doing worse than we actually are.”
The culture is kinder and more tolerant.
This is anecdotal but I believe we’re kinder and more tolerant as individuals. Racism, homophobia and, in the UK, classism are all less prevalent than they once were. That’s not to say they’ve been eradicated completely but we’re of a kinder era than we were in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
We have a greater understanding of illness and particularly mental health which is making us more open and compassionate about dealing with it.
On the flipside, we’re less close as communities. We live in a society that promotes individualism over togetherness and encourages us to build our Résumé Virtues over our Eulogy Virtues.
It took centuries of hardship and sacrifice to get us to this point.
History is brutal. It is full of war, murder, torture, disease and catastrophe. History teaches us how difficult it was to get us to this point. Millions sacrificed their lives to bring us to this moment so we can enjoy the pleasures we have today.
“If you’re not fascinated and horrified by it beyond belief then you’re not studying history properly” said famous YouTube lecturer, Jordan B. Peterson.
We shouldn’t take what we have now for granted. We’re so lucky to have what we have. We shouldn’t believe the world is getting worse when in fact it’s never been better. Read about the horrors of Auschwitz to understand how bad it can get.
Of course, sometimes people live in terrible situations despite how good the rest of us have it. We live on one Earth but each of us are in our own world. No disputing that.
What is important to remember is that, on a macro level, we are freer, healthier, wealthier and safer than ever before.
We have to ensure that it continues.