I encountered some deep pessimism wherein someone was really down about everything happening in the world, and made some version of the claim that everything is getting worse these days.
I was struck by this in two ways, both important to my mind:
- That’s not a correct view by almost any honest reading of the facts.
- This type of defeatist pessimism is, I think, pernicious and too easy to adopt uncritically, and more importantly has a huge negative impact in aggregate when many people start believing it.
The current state of affairs in the world (human and non-human) is complex. Just as with any time in the past after the year 2000 BC or so, there are multiple, often seemingly contradictory, truths that exist. They exist despite any one person’s feelings and in concurrence with our best wishes to change things.
Some of these truths are:
- The current generation’s human flourishing is unbelievably better than at any previous point in history, whether measured by life expectancy, poverty, democracy, wealth, or many other critical dimensions.
- There are major risks & problems facing humanity, some of which may be existential threats, and some of which look like they may require massive social coordination—across nations, cultures, and sets of values—to ameliorate or solve.
- More humans have access to more true information than at any previous point in history, again by a completely mind-boggling proportion—it’s not just a little better—it’s different and better in kind.
- Misinformation and exploitation of people through fear, threats, and viral memes are now happening at lightning-quick pace, to a population which while being more educated than at any point in history, too often falls prey to ideas & movements that end up contradicting their own interests.
- War & armed conflict in general are at a relative low point when compared to the last 600 years, especially when modern populations, weapons, transport, and money are taken into account.
- We are seeing political, statistical, and sentimental regressions from all-time peaks over the past 6–12 years, which is wrapped up in a few of the major problems above, as well as several not mentioned.
It’s difficult to maintain global and temporal perspectives when it comes to negative news about human suffering, but I think it’s important to maintain those perspectives while working earnestly together for a better world for all, instead of believing that everything is just getting worse all the time these days.
We should not embrace attitudes that shift us away from the hope and vision necessary to achieve a better future, while we should maintain a clear-eyed perspective on the real problems that face us and their potential solutions.