Social Question

ninjacolin's avatar

"Despite everything, the world is getting better" - What do you think?

Asked by ninjacolin (13848 points ) December 21st, 2011

True or false?
How might you justify your opinion?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

39 Answers

chyna's avatar

I seem to think it is getting worse. There are more crimes against children, more corruption in government, more cheating, more unemployment, need I go on?

Blackberry's avatar

It is, I’ll try to find the article, but statistically, there is less crime overall. Not to mention we’re simply becoming more rational in relation to our past due to progress.

I’m having a hard time finding the data, but it essentially said, compared to our grisly past, things are much better. There were many wars, crime waves etc. But they also went back pretty far. If we’re talking about some random time from that is still modern, like from the 50s to now, I don’t know, but I would still say it is better.

ShadesOfWhite's avatar

Yes, and no. There’s always been problems in the world if you think about it. It’s just that we have more media, more news, more social sites such as ‘facebook’ so everything is out in the open and more people talk about the issues. But I think it is, but there’s a downfall to everything I guess. I really don’t know though. That’s kind of a hard question to answer being that nobody is in every part of the world at all times.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@chyna I don’t think there’s more crimes against children. I think we’re exposing it more, which is the first step to dealing with it. The economy sucks, drugs are a major concern. I think things are holding their own. Improving in some ways, worsening in others.

JLeslie's avatar

True.

Overall I believe we are more civilized, have better health, and live easier lives than in history. I believe we will continue on the projection of these things getting better and better, but I also think it is not a perfectly straight line. Picture a graph with an x axis representing the calendar year, and the y axis is life getting better. The line goes upwards from left to right in a slow climb, but it has some up and down bobbles.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Unadulterated bullshit.

Qingu's avatar

Absolutely. Anyone who says different needs a serious dose of perspective.

Consider the broad strokes. 150 years ago, most people thought slavery was perfectly okay. 100 years ago, women could not vote. 50 years ago, blacks were widely treated as subhuman and denied civil rights. 10 years ago, homosexuals were considered a safe target to politically marginilize and villify.

Perhaps more importantly, less people are dying violently today than ever before. Warfare is much less common.

Consider economics. Just a few decades ago, half of the world had communist command economies. Today we squabble about whether trying to insure poor people is “socialist.” It’s true that the developed world is not doing too well, but compare the suffering of the unemployed today to the suffering of the unemployed during the Great Depression, when millions of people starved to death—or even during the savings and loan crisis of the 80’s, where many inner cities experienced epidemics of crime.

And that’s just the developed world, a minority of the world’s population. China and India, which have a third of the world’s population, have gone great lengths to lifting most of them out of poverty. Much of Africa is in much better shape today than even a decade ago thanks to things like malaria-proof insect nets, which save millions of lives. Cell phones allow African farmers to actually manage their crops scientifically.

And the world’s quality of life has improved dramatically with technology and medical advances. If you were living in 1980 and someone told you that one day you would be able to have a face-to-face conversation with someone across the world for free, you would be in a state of disbelief. The Internet is a depository for culture, knowledge, and communication accessible to billions of people. Almost anyone can contribute, and almost anyone can use the Internet to distribute eyewitness accounts of violence or corruption. Not a decade ago, what happened in the Arab world would have required trained and staffed journalist crews to document. Medically, I’ll just share an anecdote: my dad just underwent eye surgery for a diabetic complication which left him blind in one eye. The surgery lasted an hour and had no complications, and after a few days he was fine. That treatment would have been dangerous a decade ago and impossible two decades ago.

I guess things could get a lot worse, very fast. The recession could turn into another depression and, like the one before, completely destabilize politics everywhere and lead to another world war. With nuclear weapons, that war might even be worse than WW2. On the other hand, with nuclear weapons, large-scale war is universally dicentivized except for death cultists like al-Qaeda, and even if they manage to get a nuke off in a major city, that would only kill a fraction of as many people as died in WW2 (that would be around 70 million, an absolutely staggering number).

SavoirFaire's avatar

At first glance, the statement is too broad. Overall, however, I’d say that it is true. I’d rather be living now than 100 years ago. Would I rather be living now than 15 years ago? Well, that seems like a poor comparison. If I went back 15 years ago, I’d just end up here again. If I went back 100 years, though, I’d never make it to 15 years ago (let alone to the present).

Certain specific things might be getting worse, of course, and I imagine that’s what is behind @CaptainHarley‘s response. If one thinks that the important things are getting worse—even if everything else is improving—then one will also think that the world is overall getting worse. Still, I think the statement is true when understood with a wide scope.

filmfann's avatar

I think things are getting better.
Sure, there are more reported crimes against children, but I believe this has always been happening, but only has recently begun being largely reported.
Sometimes things get worse, but that is history fighting back, and the pendelum swings back.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Good: blue collar crime is down.

Neutral: still lots of white collar crime, but maybe reducing. We tend to call these things economic activity, tradition, etc. So moving towards good there.

Bad: Ecological collapse is a possibility. More sea ice is melting than was predicted. 120+ extinctions a day. Planting zones changing, increased desertification, agricultural failure. Less than 2% remaining of our original old growth forest on this continent. Oceans are acidifying, coral reefs are dying, and over 90% of the large fish are gone from the oceans. Last I heard, at least 60% reduction in phytoplankton in the oceans. Massive pollinator die offs. I can go on for a long time.

Mixed bag.

lillycoyote's avatar

Throughout human history the world has always been getting better and getting worse. Better in some ways, worse in others. And it depends on what window you’re looking out of, what part of the world you happen to be sitting in. We sometimes have a very narrow view of “the world” when we contemplate these things. It’s a big place. The world is getting better in many ways, for some people and some creatures, maybe not so much for others, it maybe getting worse for some people. And it can can get better then worse then get better again. It’s complicated.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@incendiary_dan

You and I seem to see the world in very similar ways. I would have added impending economic disaster, and the massive size of government which ( together with out of control corporations and mega-billionaires ) increasingly encroches on individual freedom.

ninjacolin's avatar

For me, I think just living in a time of radically enhanced communication, where warnings and “better”-ideas can be spread and popularized so easily is a major bonus.

Bad things still happen, but now we get informed and things can be done to better them.
Wars are all shorter. HIV has a vaccine on it’s way to human trials. Major meteor strikes can be detected and dealt with. Solutions for pollution and other major world problems are actively being discussed, thought out and actions are being taken by millions and millions of people every second.

With technology at the point that it is, it feels like a different world where humanity is empowered not only to create problems but also to solve them with greater and greater ease.

To me, it seems we’re limited only by our imagination for solutions and our imagination about how to convey urgency to our peers.

augustlan's avatar

Overall, true.

Blackberry's avatar

And then, there’s also this, lol.

Qingu's avatar

Massive size of government compared to when, Captain Harley?

CWOTUS's avatar

The world is the same as it has ever been. It’s only our understanding, appreciation and knowledge of it (which happens on an individual basis) that changes. Mine’s improving nearly every day.

Blackberry's avatar

@CWOTUS Very nice. That should be a quote :D

ShadesOfWhite's avatar

what @Blackberry said..Very nice and it should be a quote! @CWOTUS

SavoirFaire's avatar

Isn’t it already a quote? @CWOTUS said it, right?

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, despite everything, the world is getting better. That’s one of the most overlooked facts to be sure. Because evolution created a human mind that gives priority to the negative. It helped us survive. But cognitive illusions are still illusions. Here’s a great book

http://www.amazon.com/Rational-Optimist-Prosperity-Evolves-P-S/dp/0061452068/

This doesn’t mean we should ignore the huge challenges such as climate change or the debt crisis.

CWOTUS's avatar

I saw that coming, @lillycoyote.

ninjacolin's avatar

“This doesn’t mean we should ignore the huge challenges such as climate change or the debt crisis”

cool yea, far from it. The world’s getting better as a result of our ability to detect and react to negatives in our environment. Gotta keep that up.

mattbrowne's avatar

Absolutely, @ninjacolin – the other day I had a discussion and a friend claimed that Africa was in much better shape in the past before the West ruined their farming and local production. While it’s true that we should promote fair trade principles, it’s simply not true that Africa is not getting better every decade. Albert Schweitzer had the ability to detect and react to negatives in Africa. In Spring 1913 he and his wife set off to establish a hospital. These are the conditions he was facing:

“In addition to injuries he was often treating severe sandflea and crawcraw sores (washing with mercuric chloride), framboesia (using arseno-benzol injections), tropical eating sores (cleaning and potassium permanganate), heart disease (treated with digitalin), tropical dysentery (emetine, syrup of ipecac and arseno-benzol), tropical malaria (quinine and arrhenal arsenic), sleeping sickness, treated at that time with atoxyl, leprosy (chaulmoogra oil), fevers, strangulated hernias (surgery), necrosis, abdominal tumours and chronic constipation and nicotine poisoning, while also attempting to deal with deliberate poisonings, fetishism and fear of cannibalism.”

Compare this to the Africa of 2012. Just the effect of vaccines is saving the lives tens of millions of Africans every year. Still plenty to do. Just think of AIDS. But HIV patients today are better off than they were 10 years ago.

So don’t let the negativity of the media fool you.

cookieman's avatar

So don’t let the negativity of the media fool you.

@mattbrowne: I would so love to hear a newscast that at least gave equal time to the positive advancements in the world (your country, your neighborhood…) as well as the catastrophes and horrific stories.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@mattbrowne How about the resource wars in Africa fueled by Western industry, the death tolls and slavery rates of which exceed WW II? The increasing famine and resultant fighting due to climate change effects in areas like the border between Ethiopia and Kenya?

Denial is a pretty strong defense mechanism, huh? If you want to know what’s actually happening in Africa, make friends with some radical Pan-Africanists.

mattbrowne's avatar

@cprevite – There’s plenty of niche news channels such as http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org or http://www.greatnewsnetwork.org

To be able to compete with the mainstream bad news media it’s important to use a somewhat sensationalist language as well, e.g.

2012 Doomsday Predictions Debunked by NASA
On Dec. 21, 2012, many doomsday believers fear the apocalypse — anything from a rogue planet smashing into us to our world spinning end over end. However, the world should expect nothing more next year than the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, NASA says.
“Some also claim that gravitational effects from planets lining up with each other will somehow affect Earth. However, there is no planetary alignment due on Dec. 21, 2012, “and if there were, it wouldn’t cause any problems.” – Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object program office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif

mattbrowne's avatar

@incendiary_dan – I was talking about the comparison of Africa in 2010 vs 2000 vs 1990 vs 1980 and so forth. Denying progress is also a form of denial. And I’m not denying that the situation in Africa today is worse than on other continents. I’m not denying that climate change is hitting Africa much harder than many other regions around the globe. What’s happening in Africa today is well-known to radical Pan-Africanists and everyone else who wants to know. This doesn’t mean the situation in the past was a lot better. Take famines as an example and do compare percentages of victims today and in the past. Even in terms of absolute numbers some very severe famines of the past can be compared to what’s happening in Somalia and surrounding countries right now. And almost nobody even attempted to help on a large scale. The United Nations didn’t exist in the 19th century. People in Africa died and almost no one learned of this. Albert Schweitzer was appalled by the conditions he found.

Here’s an example that can inspire people to do something. A great example of good news:

“In October 1984, television reports around the world carried footage of starving Ethiopians whose plight was centered around a feeding station near the town of Korem. BBC newsreader Michael Buerk gave moving commentary of the tragedy on 23 October 1984, which he described as a “biblical famine”. This prompted the Band Aid single, which was organized by Bob Geldof and featured more than 20 other pop stars. The Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia raised further funds for the cause. An estimated 900,000 people die within one year as a result of the famine, but the tens of millions of pounds raised by Band Aid and Live Aid are widely believed to have saved the lives of around 6,000,000 more Ethiopians who were in danger of death. Essentially if Band Aid and Live Aid had never happened the death toll of the Ethiopian famine could have been as high as 7,000,000 or nearly a quarter of the population at the time.”

Why would anyone donate money if Africa is doomed anyway? Focusing on negative news only leads to resignation. We should tell people what can be done. We need positive news like ” if Band Aid and Live Aid had never happened the death toll of the Ethiopian famine could have been as high as 7,000,000.”

That’s all I’m saying. We need balanced news. Not doomsday only news. We don’t need denial of progress. The Live Aid concerts are progress. We care about Africa.

cookieman's avatar

@mattbrowne: Thanks for the links. I will definitely check them out.

Qingu's avatar

@incendiary_dan, to add to what Matt has said, you seem to imply that resource wars didn’t exist in Africa prior to European colonialism. While I agree that nobody should minimize or deny the negative effects of colonialism in Africa, this is absurd. The truth is that Africans prior (and during) to colonialism were pretty much the same as Arabs, Chinese, Europeans, and or any other human culture on the planet. They engaged in almost constant warfare, often over resources, often along tribal lines, often taking slaves… and often mismanaged their resources resulting in famine.

The fact of the matter is that today, wars over resources, slavery, and famine are less common—both worldwide and in Africa—than at any other point in history.

And frankly, I don’t think you are in a position to talk about “denial,” in light of our last debate. You seem to believe what you want to believe regardless of facts.

ninjacolin's avatar

@cprevite I honestly feel like that’s exactly what ted.com is about. World progress reporting.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Qingu You seem to like to say people imply stuff that they didn’t to prove a point of yours (psst, that’s at best straw man argumetns).

The point I am making, precisely, is that in many areas of Africa today, the violence and privation is more extreme than it has in the past. In the future, leave your own inferences out of it or, if you’re confused, ask if I intended some perceived meaning.

@mattbrowne I was also comparing to those times, and earlier. The bulk of the violence today in Central Africa, for instance, is perpetuated by demand for coltan and other rare minerals. This increases with the increase in Western and other industrialism and particularly the use of things like cell phones. So let’s stop pretending We’re somehow helping when we bring Westernization to developing countries, rather than letting them figure things out themselves.

The imposition of “progress” onto history is, to put it frankly, extremely stupid and dogmatic.

At best, Africa has made a lateral move.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Further: It really bears saying that the ecological collapse I wrote of above is a true threat to many lives, human and non-human alike. Those examples I gave are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Recent release of methane from melting Arctic ice may now set in motion the feared global warming feedback loop. There are large areas of China that no longer have any flowering plants, the pollution and environmental despoiling wiping them all out. More than half of all rivers no longer support life, over 80% according to some. The physical reality of food shortages is catching up with the fictional market system. Corral reefs are dying because of the ocean acidity, which is occurring faster than scientists expected. A war is being committed in Mexico for minerals, and is ignored or excused for the sake of progress. And all that’s being given as a solution is more destruction in the form of “green” energy.

Qingu's avatar

Assuming we don’t mitigate global warming’s effects or the suffering they will cause.

The worst case scenario is bad. But just last century ago tens of millions of people starved to death around the world, largely because of agricultural mismanagement and politics. There is a threat on the horizon, yes, but that’s different from saying stuff is getting worse.

ninjacolin's avatar

@incendiary_dan What do you advise? Should I look for a good bridge to jump from or are you optimistic for our future despite everything?
And please don’t dodge the question. One or the other.

mattbrowne's avatar

Again, I’m not denying that demand for coltan and other rare minerals today increases violence in certain areas in Africa because of this compared to the demand for coltan and other rare minerals in the past with less violence in the past.

The flaw in your argument is that you seem to pick particular examples and draw the general conclusion that things in Africa are worse today than they were in the past. The Fluther question is: despite everything, the world is getting better, yes or no?

My answer is yes and I do acknowledge the “despite everything” part which includes violence in Africa today and which includes that climate change including the release of large amounts of methane is a very serious threat for humanity. I’ve been debating American climate change deniers for years. There’s a serious risk that the most powerful country in this world will be run by a science-denying lunatic like Rick Sanatorium. I’m advocating environmental sanity instead of environmental insanity. As @Qingu points out the worst case scenario is bad and there are threats on the horizon, but that’s different from saying stuff is getting worse.

Let me give you another example to make my point: the threat of AIDS in Africa. When you look at the history of life expectancy in Africa has steadily increased in the 20th century. Now with the appearance of AIDS is has dropped in several African countries, but now with better advertising and education campaigns the drop is slowing down and actually starting to increase again in some countries such as Uganda. The overall picture remains stable. Things are getting better for people. On average Africans are more literate and do enjoy a longer life than they did in the past. Progress is real and I see the need to challenge and to debate progress deniers.

dabbler's avatar

I think a way ‘the world’ is getting better for human beings is the massive amounts of communication among peoples. Nearly all of it is mundane, a lot of it is ‘useless’.

But an underlying effect is that we’re seeing more about the aspects of life that we share with others and can’t help but better understand each other.

I think that if there’s any hope for humanity to address climate and food and health issues on global scales, it will be in cooperative action.
We have to know what each other means first, and all this mish-mash of media is helping us to relate.

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