Now is the greatest time in human history to be alive.
I often hear people lament at how bad the world is getting; that every year it’s worse. They are sad that we can’t go back to the morals of yesteryear. I wonder if they mean the morals of warring tribes, or of civilized dueling. Perhaps it’s the mass-slaughter of millions in holocaust that represents the morality that is missed in our current world. I don’t believe the world is getting worse, and further, I think it is a dangerous lie that is perpetuated. I think it is dangerous because it undermines real progress. It gives us a reason to not try but to simply wait for some cataclysmic event to end our problems. This is unfortunate because we, humans, are the hope for a better future.
I believe in human progress. I believe that people can and do make a difference for good. I believe that we, as a species, are learning and progressing. This gives me hope.
Here are 30 reasons (a month’s worth) that I continue to have hope:
1: Global violence is steadily and dramatically decreasing. Humans are killing and hurting each other less than ever before.1
2: Global poverty is declining.2
3: Women can vote in every country… Except 2.3 By comparison, 200 years ago, none could in any country. 100 years ago, some women could, in some circumstances, in about 15 countries.
4: US Divorce rates are decreasing steadily and have been for decades.4*
5: Global life expectancy has increased from 31 to 67.2 in the last 100 years.5
6: Slavery is illegal. Everywhere.**
7: Global literacy rates have been increasing for decades (and centuries, and millennia)6***
8: Child Abuse is declining in the US.7****
9: I can communicate with the majority of the world’s population in minutes. I can even choose my mode of communication from a buffet: phone, email, social media, Skype, etc.8†
10: Remember Small-Pox? Polio? Yeah, me neither.9††
11: Most people have access to very cheap transportation intra-city, cheap transportation intra-state and intra-nation, and to all but the impoverished and the most rural, international travel is economically feasible. This creates opportunities for social/economic mobility, much like access to communication. It also creates more intercultural understanding and flattens the earth.
12: 92% of the world’s population should have access to safe drinking water this year.
In 2010, it was 89%.
In 2000, 82%.
13: Attitudes in favor of female genital mutilation/circumcision have been steadily declining. Most evidence suggests its prevalence and practice is decreasing as a result of education efforts.12
14: Remember ritualistic human sacrifice? Ritualistic cannibalism? Me neither.†††
15: Humans are getting smarter over the last century (or, at least scoring better on IQ tests and very likely improving in abstract thinking ability.)13
16: Only 170 years ago, washing your hands was considered ridiculous and laughable by the medical community.14
17: Despite exponential population growth, global per capita food production has steadily increased over the last 50 years.15
18: Sexual assault and rape have been declining in the US for decades.
Globally we don’t see the same trend mirrored everywhere. However, women’s rights and protections are becoming more talked about issues in many countries and there is evidence that attitudes are changing. 16
19: In 1204, the papacy legally required Jews to segregate themselves from, and dress distinctively to, the Christians. This had lasted in many forms until this last century.
In 1336, Irish law forbade intermarriage with English.
In the 1300s, people of Slavic descent couldn’t join many German guilds.
In the 1900s, Germans forbade Aryan/non-Aryan marriage… then they started to lock up Jews, blacks, homosexuals, Romanis, Slavs, Ukrainians, Poles, etc. and killed them.
In the 700s, Han Chinese forbade Uighurs from intermarrying and required them to maintain their ethnic dress.
In the 1900s, Italy had a series of restrictions on Jews limiting education, business, career, and marriage.
In the 1900s, USA had a series of racial segregation laws, referred to as Jim Crow laws limiting marriage, residential boundaries, public facility use, and protected discrimination in the private sector.
In the 1900s, South Africa had a series of racial segregation laws, referred to as Apartheid, limiting residential boundaries, public facility use, and mobility.
Racial segregation is legally upheld in only a tiny minority of countries today.
Racism and racial segregation still exist, and are all too common, but again, like many things I’ve noted, the legal abolition is a first step with plenty of work left to do.
20: Global teenage pregnancy rates are declining.17
US teen pregnancy rates have been declining for decades. As a consequence, abortion rates have dramatically dropped as well.18
And, as a really interesting kicker, the number of sexually active teens in the US has been declining for decades. In fact, they are now the minority! (~42.5% now versus ~56% in 1988)19
21: The maternal mortality ratio decreased from 1000 to 10 per 100,000 childbirths in the last century.20††††
22: US charitable giving has been increasing steadily for decades, even after adjusting for inflation.21‡
23: US intimate partner violence (domestic violence/spousal abuse) has decreased 64% over the last two decades.22
24: Child employment, child labor, and child hazardous labor rates are all three trending significantly down in terms of raw number as well as percentage over the last decade and a half.23
25: Remember when the politically elite had hundreds of men (and women and children) fight each other and wild beasts in bloody combat, often to the death, in the coliseum as tribute to their dead fathers and for show, entertainment, and political gain? Me neither.24‡‡
26: Antibiotics. Only around for the last 60 or so years, they help with pneumonia, whooping cough, meningitis, syphilis, UTIs, and skin infections. They have saved millions of lives and made life better for millions more.25
27: Big Data, a creation of our current decade, is already being used to improve farming techniques and reduce irrigation needs, fight terrorism, map the genome and change medical approaches, reduce traffic, and generally understand the universe (or multiverse) on a quantum and astro level. These developments in understanding will very possibly mean improvements made over the last couple centuries will continue into the future. And areas where we haven’t seen improvement might become better understood.26
28: Global gender inequality is declining in nearly every category (education, economics, lifespan, representation).27
29: The global child mortality rate (deaths under age 5) has dropped 43% in the last two decades.28
30: Somehow, beyond all logic, the world continues to become a better place in spite of the fact that every single generation for millennia has been worse than the previous. Without a doubt, my generation is the worst that has entered the workforce, and my son’s will certainly be much worse than mine ;) 29
* Sometime in the coming year, someone will say ‘divorce rates are skyrocketing’ and will say ‘50% of marriages end in divorce.’ Even though it will hurt the violence statistics, I give you permission to punch that person in the nose.
** Slavery has been abolished globally since 1981. Unfortunately, abolition is only step one (but an incredibly important step). We are a very long way from elimination. This is probably the area that deserves the greatest focus, concern, and effort to improve global morality.30
*** This Is Huge! I believe there is a chain of effect and a strong causation of literacy increasing understanding, exposing morality, decreasing violence, decreasing poverty, improving health practices, and extending life times.
**** I think there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that not only rates of abuse are decreasing, but what is considered abuse is expanding. Adrian Peterson’s case created a real outcry; I honestly don’t think it would have raised many eyebrows 30 years ago, and my gut tells me it wouldn’t have caused any interest 60 years ago.
Many parents today don’t even spank their kids.
In fact I’m one of them.
Many people see this act as abuse and that idea is spreading.
† This is pretty important in terms of mobility. If I’m impoverished and want to pursue work in a city (or a different country), I don’t need to say goodbye to my rural family forever. I can communicate with them quickly and cheaply. This is vastly different than 100 years ago where moving any distance may mean going years or forever without communicating with family. Mobility was an action which could completely sever you from your heritage.
†† In the course of my life, I saw a plague begin, grow to fear-inducing levels, and then dissipate. AIDS is now considered by many to be a chronic illness, not the death sentence it was in the 80s and early 90s. This is absolutely unprecedented control and maintenance of a deadly disease without parallel in history.31
††† Seriously, human history is riddled with atrocious acts done in the name of religion or superstition which today we, collectively, see as indefensible, and have completely outlawed and shunned.
I also realize that both of these still occur in recent history, but they are incredibly infrequent and rather remarkable due to their rarity.
†††† A century ago, have ten kids? 9.5% chance they’ll grow up without a mother.
(How did we survive as a species?)
‡ The last decade has been relatively flat, given the recession, but the trend is definitely upward.
‡‡ Or how we decapitated Peyton Manning last year after the Broncos lost?32
I mean, we still like to watch our burliest men savagely throw themselves at each other in sport, often to their long term mental, physical, and psychological detriment…. But, we’ve still come a long ways from actually encouraging mass-scale murder for entertainment.