Most of you think that the world, in general, is getting worse. You are wrong. Citing uncontroversial data on major global trends, I will prove to you that this dark view of humanity's prospects is, in large part, badly mistaken.
First, though: How do I know most of you believe that things are bad and getting worse? Because that's what you tell pollsters. A 2016 survey by the public opinion firm YouGov asked folks in 17 countries, "All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better or worse?" Fifty-eight percent answered worse, and 30 percent chose neither. Only 11 percent thought things are getting better. In the United States, 65 percent thought that the world is getting worse and 23 percent said neither. Only 6 percent responded that the world is getting better.
A 2015 study in the journal Futures polled residents of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia; it reported that a majority (54 percent) rated the risk of our way of life ending within the next 100 years at 50 percent or greater, and a quarter (24 percent) rated the risk of humans being wiped out in the next 100 years at 50 percent or greater. Younger respondents were more pessimistic than their elders.
So why are so many smart people like you wrong about the improving state of the world? For starters, almost all of us have a couple of psychological glitches that cause us to focus relentlessly on negative news.
Way back in 1965, Johan Galtung and Mari Holmboe Ruge of the Peace Research Institute Oslo observed "a basic asymmetry in life between the positive, which is difficult and takes time, and the negative, which is much easier and takes less time." They illustrated this by comparing "the amount of time needed to bring up and socialize an adult person and the amount of time needed to kill him in an accident; the amount of time needed to build a house and to destroy it in a fire, to make an airplane and to crash it, and so on." News is bad news; steady, sustained progress is not news.
Take a lift with Pinker, Rowling, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Words are beautiful, capable of transporting you to other worlds, and opening your mind to new ideas. But video images, when used properly, can actually magnify the impact of those words. Perhaps the best evidence against Bradbury’s dystopian vision is the TED talk, in which you can hear the eloquent words of a great writer while getting an up-close view of the author's emotional expressions and personal style. And if the talk is by a scientist, you can watch the data unfold one understandable bit at a time, alongside a live explanation of what those data mean.