SIX WAYS WE'RE LIVING BETTER, LONGER
In Enlightenment Now, Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker makes "the case for reason, science, humanism, and progress." That's a big case for a little list, so let's stick with progress.
Pinker is an optimist armed with data. In chart after chart he shows that "the good old days" were filled with violence, disease, and early death, yet science, reason and progress have made life better in so many ways.
1. HUNGER/POVERTY ARE BECOMING RARE: Poverty was once "the default state of mankind," and hunger haunted humanity. But since 1970 the world's diet, even in India and China, has improved dramatically. The average African now gets 2,600 calories per day, more than the average European only a century ago. The headline you'll never read, amidst all the dire news, is "NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 YESTERDAY." Yet that news has been true, day after day, for 25 years.
2. WAR IS MOSTLY, WELL, HISTORY: "Today, skirmishes between national armies kill dozens of people rather than the hundreds of thousands or millions who died in the all-out wars that nation-states have fought throughout history."
3. DEMOCRACY IS SPREADING: The world had 31 democracies in 1971, 52 in 1989, 87 in 2009, and 103 today.
4. PEOPLE -- ESPECIALLY CHILDREN -- ARE DEFYING DEATH: One in four children used to die in infancy. That was true in America a century ago and in Africa until the 1970s. Now the rate is one in ten, at worst, and one in 25 worldwide. Population? When parents know their children will live, they have far fewer. Life expectancy, only recently in the 40s in the poorest countries, is now 60 and up – almost everywhere.
5. ACCIDENTS ARE FEWER: In 1937, 15,000 pedestrians were mowed down by cars in the US alone. (Last year, 6,000.). When I was a kid, planes crashed weekly. Car accidents claimed tens of thousands each year. Yet despite far more flights, far more miles driven, accident rates have plummeted. So, BTW, have rates of crime, especially murder.
6. WE ARE BETTER EDUCATED: Wiser? Not necessarily. Smarter? Meh. But worldwide literacy rates, just 40 percent in 1960, have doubled, and basic education rates have followed suit.
Enlightenment Now, which the New York Times called "a terrific book," goes on citing progress in equal rights, knowledge, quality of life, even (gasp!) happiness.
Feel better now? If not, you know which plug to pull.