It’s easy to see why so many people believe the world is getting worse. Media headlines are flooded with daily reporting of negative events. But if we consult sources other than mass media, there are many reasons to believe the opposite as well. A strong case for optimism with regards to where our world is heading can be put together based on an increasing number of evidence based claims. Two very strong arguments are prominent in our minds when building this case:
- Drawing on a massive body of evidence from societies containing 85 percent of the world’s population, Ronald Inglehart (professor of political science and program director of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan as well as president of the of the World Values Survey Association) and Christian Welzel (associate professor of political sciences and program coordinator at International University Bremen) present a compelling case for the fact that coherent changes are taking place throughout post-industrial societies that are moving values in a direction which places increased emphasis on autonomy, self-expression and free choice. These new self-expression values are transforming modernisation into a process of human development, giving rise to a new type of humanistic society that is increasingly people-centered. Supported by a remarkable body of evidence, Inglehart and Welzel build their compelling argument in their book titled Modernisation, Cultural change and Democracy – The Human Development Sequence.
- In his monumental book The Better Angels of our Nature – A History of Violence and Humanity Steven Pinker (Psychology Professor at Harvard University) builds up the case that the world is becoming more peaceful. He presents a compelling argument backed by awe-inspiring statistics highlighting that a long view, looking over decades and centuries, shows a steady decrease of all forms of violence. Global rates of murder, violent crimes, violence against children and domestic violence are decreasing while democratisation and human rights are increasing. As Pinker puts it “Violent crime has fallen by half since 1992, and fiftyfold since the Middle Ages. Over the last 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”.
While many tragedies befall too many people on a daily basis, there is also a lot to be hopeful about. The difficulty with believing that our world is slowly going down the drain is that it can foster a paralysing sense of hopelessness. Understanding that what we have achieved so far has had an impact and that there is sense in striving for better is both empowering and rewarding.
In light of daily reporting of pessimism, the arguments raised by Inglehart and Welzel on the one hand, and Pinker on the other, offer a wonderfully positive tonic; there is indeed reason to be optimistic.