You may often see people, or yourself, complaining online about “losing their faith in humanity,” or exclaiming “what is happening to this world?” or even saying they wish to go back to better times. I often find myself thinking similar thoughts. However, I think we are all overly pessimistic and cynical. You should not be too upset about the trajectory the world is heading in. By nearly every conceivable measure, the world is the best it has ever been and it will get better. First, let’s figure out how we got to where we are and then we will see where we’re going.
When you turn on the news, you are often reminded horrors that persist in our world. You see footage of war, stories of murder and whatever scary thing the news is talking about that day. It makes it easy to think that the world is crumbling. Looking into the data, you see a different story.
According to Steven Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” humanity has been on a consistent decline of violence since its inception. When examining prehistoric human remains, it was found that 15 percent of people died a violent death. Today roughly 0.03 percent do.
There are many reasons why this occurred. The rise of human civilization brought governments that had to maintain order and commerce that made it so people grew wealthy and were able to attain higher standards of living. This decreased the necessity for fighting over resources and eliminated many reasons for war. The increased wealth over time gives people less incentive to commit crimes of desperation, leading to less violence. Progress in commerce spread over the world and has made a more peaceful planet.
Another reason is reason itself. The Enlightenment brought forward the concepts of civil liberties, social progress, reason and scientific methodology. These ideals shaped the world that we know today. People have learned to reason themselves from violence. The expansion of civil liberties has made the world better for previously marginalized groups. Scientific discoveries have shaped the world and generated some of the greatest innovations in human history. Where does this take us?
The world is becoming more democratic, tolerant and technologically advanced. We can see the forces that have shaped the world, but where is it going? Humanity is heading down the right path. What will cause the world to become better? Technology.
Evidence of this is everywhere. For example, the phone in your pocket. Yes, the same device your parents, grandparents and oddly cynical friends say is destroying human interaction is also one of the greatest things to have ever blessed the planet.
The smartphone did not come out too long ago and it is shaping the world we know. Nowadays, phones have more knowledge than any physical library could hold. Access to the entire intellectual wealth of humanity sits in your pocket. Computers and phones have created a vastly more interconnected world. You can talk with a friend in another country, video call your parents, watch a protest on the other side of the world or communicate with nearly anyone you want at any time.
Phones are part of the evolution of computing. They are a byproduct of a trend of technological innovation that is unseen in history. Just like computing technology, other forms of technology are making the world great. For example, there is medical technology. At the beginning of the 1900s, the life expectancy of Americans was 50 — now it’s almost 80. Technology is only going to get better. Soon, it will be common for people to live to be over 100. The benefits of modern technological innovation are too many to name.
We do not live in a utopia. But there is evidence to not live in despair. The world is at the best it’s ever been. Trends point us toward a hopeful future. If you or others you know are thinking the world is in a bad place, just realize this. We live in the most peaceful, wealthiest and healthiest time in human history. There are problems in the world. It is important to recognize that. The status quo should never be accepted as perfect. However, there is a case for optimism in a world that is often too scared, cynical and pessimistic to realize it.