Pick just about any metric for the shape our world is in and chances are it’s IMPROVING.
Take violent crime. The rates of violent crime in America are at an all-time low, about half what is was when I was a kid. Total crimes are up, but as a percentage of the population it’s down. I’m safer now than I was 50 years ago. And other countries are also showing downward trends.
Take war. Worldwide, the number of people killed in wars each year, as a percentage of the population, has been going down for the last couple of centuries. Your probability of being killed in a war is lower now than just about any time in history. It’s true that the percentage of casualties which are civilians is up, but that’s mostly because the number of soldiers killed in war has dropped dramatically while the number of civilians hasn’t dropped as fast.
Take diseases. Despite hearing about outbreaks by Ebola and Zika, the fraction of people who actually die from such things is tiny compared to past outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, polio, measles, the plague, etc. We’ve made amazing progress against so many killers of the past, and we’re even making headway against Malaria now.
Take education. Even when you hear people complain that their schools aren’t as good as other schools, the fact that’s overlooked is that more people around the world are going to school than ever before in the history of the world. The global literacy rate is at an all-time high and it’s still going up.
Even when it comes to population growth, there’s good news. Our population is still going up but the number of babies being born has finally stopped growing exponentially and has stabilized. As one statistician put it, we have reached “Peak Child”. And soon we will reach “Peak Adult” too, and the population will stop growing, right around 11 billion is the prediction.
Take corruption in politics. We complain that our politicians don’t live up to our expectations but the truth is that’s because our expectations are much higher than they ever were in the past. The truth is that the average politician today is less corrupt and more responsible than the average politician of 100 years ago, let alone 1,000 years ago.
Take religious zealots and cult leaders. Even though you hear more about such things now because it makes for interesting news, the fraction of the population who fall prey to cult leaders is smaller now than it was in the past. And there are fewer and fewer people dying in holy wars started by religious leaders. The fraction of the population who say they don’t belong to any particular religion is higher today than ever.
Take transportation. Cars are safer now than ever. The number of fatalities per million passenger miles is about half now what it was 30 years ago, largely due to reductions in drunk driving and improvements in airbags and crumple zones. Airplane travel is amazingly safe now. in 2013, there were 31,000,000 commercial airplane flights, and there were only 6 fatal crashes. People say “one in a million” meaning something extremely rare, but that’s one in five million.
Take food and nutrition. The average human today is less likely to suffer from malnutrition or a vitamin deficiency than the average human did 100 years ago, or at almost any time in history. The percentage of children who develop blindness from malnutrition is lower than ever. The number of people who face starvation may be large, but it’s still a smaller fraction than during most of history.
You really have to look long and hard to find examples where things are actually worse now than in the past. One example I can think of is that fifty years ago it took fewer working days to earn enough money to buy a house. But even that one is a good-news-bad-news kinda thing. Housing is more expensive now but it’s also better. Our houses are more energy efficient than ever. They stand up better to natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes than ever. They catch fire much less frequently than they did in the past, and when they do catch fire we are much much less likely to be trapped in them.
There are a small handful of other trends that actually are getting worse, like global warming for example. But I don’t want to get into those today. I just want to focus on the fact that such things are a small minority.
We have the illusion that the world is falling apart because bad news spreads fast and far. But, in almost every way, the world is better now than it ever has been, and things are continuing to improve.