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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Contrary To Our Pervasive Pessimism

Harvard University professor of Psychology Steven Pinker, author of the book – The Better Angels Of Our Nature – disagrees with the popularly held notion that the world is falling apart or getting more violent. In an interview with National Public Radio’s Michel Martin in 2016 he states the following in regard to this hypothesis:
The only way you can really answer the question – has violence gone up or down? – is to count how many violent incidents have there been as a proportion of the number of opportunities, and has that gone up or down over the course of history? And that’s what I tried to do in the book. I looked at homicide, looked at war, looked at genocide, looked at terrorism. And in all cases, the long-term historical trend, though there are ups and downs and wiggles and spikes, is absolutely downward. The rate of violent crime in United States has fallen by more than half in just a decade. The rate of death in war fell by a factor of 100 over a span of 25 years.”
Asked whether or not this was a worldwide phenomenon he says:
Well, it’s highly uneven. If you certainly choose the most violent parts of the world at any given time, they’re going to be pretty violent. But if you count the number of parts of the world that are violent versus those that aren’t, then you see that the world is becoming more peaceful. The impression that some kinds of violence have gone up over the last five years has some truth to it. Because of the Syrian civil war, the rate of death in warfare has drifted upward a little bit in the last five years. There has been a small increase in homicide in the United States in the last three years. But both of those figures are at a fraction of what they were in the ’60s, ’70S and ’80s.”
Admittedly the foregoing is small comfort to many who, try as they may, cannot escape the overwhelming sense of gloom and insecurity in the face of tragedies that are ever present around us. But contrary to the pessimism bolstered by a mass media focused on the reporting of bad news, there are reasons for optimism in our world. In addition to the perspectives researched and presented by Steven Pinker and others, we can state the following with certainty…
Despite recent downturns, economies around the world are growing at significant rates, with seven out of ten of the fastest growing in Africa. Global poverty, according to United Nations estimates, has been reduced more in the last 50 years than in the previous 500 years. Educational access has vastly improved, with a fourfold increase in the number male college graduates and a sevenfold increase in the number of female graduates.

In a world culture now fueled by the work of researchers developing and advancing new technologies that are revolutionizing the way we live, these are significant facts that we must not allow ourselves to overlook despite the retrogressive rubber-necking to which we are frequently drawn.