Last year I read Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker which explains how much better the world has been getting, is continuing to get and why. I have met a lot of folk that really dislike this book and Pinker because he is seen as an optimist who is ignoring the real problems in the world.
I am currently reading Factfulness by Hans Rosling, which covers a very similar story. There is one section though that I think perfectly describes the conflict I have seen over Enlightenment Now:
... What are people really thinking when they say the world is getting worse? My guess is that they are not thinking. They are feeling....
... My guess is that you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that everything is fine, or that you should look away from these problems and pretend they don't exist and that feels ridiculous....
...Everything is not fine... As long as there are plane crashes, preventable child deaths, endangered species, climate change deniers, male chauvinists, crazy dictators, toxic waste, journalists in prison, and girls not getting an education because of their gender, as long as any such terrible things exist, we cannot relax.
But it is just as ridiculous... to look away from the progress that has been made.
Hans points out that things can both be better than they were, but still bad. We still have work to do, but we have already come a long way. If we just focus on the idea that things are still bad, we could conclude that it is all pointless or give up on methods that are actually working. We may try something drastic which may be counterproductive.
It is important to keep in mind the two thoughts at the same time. There are bad things in the world that we should be trying to improve and that we have already done a lot to improve things.
I am currently about a third of the way into the book but am really enjoying it so far. It is the sort of thing that should be required reading for those in positions of power, either politicians or civil servants. If we are going to improve the world, we need to be working with facts not our biases.
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