Blog Posts

14
Jul

Steven Pinker’s Two-Minute Case for Optimism

When we profiled Steven Pinker earlier this season, he challenged us to re-think the popular notion that humans are simply screwing things up.

Now, he’s taking his passionate plee for optimism to a Chipotle bag near you.

Check out his essay below, and revisit our profile of Pinker here.


A Two-Minute Case for Optimism

By: Steven Pinker

It’s easy to get discouraged by the ceaseless news of violence, poverty, and disease. But the news presents a distorted view of the world. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. You never see a TV crew reporting that a country isn’t at war, or that a city hasn’t had a mass shooting that day, or that millions of 80-year-olds are alive and well.

The only way to appreciate that state of the world is to count. How many incidents of violence, or starvation, or disease are there as a proportion of the number of people in the world? And the only way to know whether things are getting better or worse is to compare those numbers at different times: over the centuries and decades, do the trend lines go up or down?

As it happens, the numbers tell a surprisingly happy story. Violent crime has fallen by half since 1992, and fiftyfold since the Middle Ages. Over the past 60 years the number of wars and number of people killed in wars have plummeted. Worldwide, fewer babies die, more children go to school, more people live in democracies, more can afford simple luxuries, fewer get sick, and more live to old age.

“Better” does not mean “perfect.” Too many people still live in misery and die prematurely, and new challenges, such as climate change, confront us. But measuring the progress we’ve made in the past emboldens us to strive for more in the future. Problems that look hopeless may not be; human ingenuity can chip away at them. We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naïve to work toward a better one.

Via Cultivating Thought.

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SeanSLOS

Seandor Szeles

    Seandor Szeles is the co-editor of the Secret Life Blog. He is most interested in the human side of science and providing take-away for educators.

    • http://www.soulfullsteps.com Deborah Chelette-Wilson

      Bless you.