Is the state of the world really as bad as we think?

I’m currently reading a fascinating book titled “Enlightenment Now” written by the American professor of psychology Steven Pinker. The theme of the work is that, if you follow the trend lines rather than the headlines, you will see that we are making spectacular progress on every measure of human well-being. But most people don’t know this or don’t believe it. Why?

Much of the misunderstanding is because of something called the availability heuristic. This is the phenomenon whereby people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind.

In this respect, we are massively influenced by the news on the media. But news is about things that happen, not about things that don’t happen. And, among things that do happen, the positive and negative ones unfold on different time lines.

So, for instance, people vastly overrate the chance of a terrorist attack, because most such attacks are reported, compared to the chance of a car accident, because most such accidents – even those involving deaths – are not reported.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the state of the world, but Pinker provides compelling data for why humankind is so much better off in terms of everything from longevity to health to peace than at any time in human history.


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