Let’s talk about the bull market in pessimism.
We humans are wired to love bad news. It’s part of our survival instinct — and if properly understood, it can help prolong our lives.
As psychologist Daniel Kahneman has written, “By shaving a few hundredths of a second from the time needed to detect a predator, this circuit improves the animal’s odds of living long enough to reproduce.”
There’s no denying that the news is full of evidence which suggests we’re witnessing the unraveling of this human experiment.
Terrorism abounds. Mass shooters proliferate. Civil authority seemingly targets certain classes of citizens. We argue about whose lives matter. “Protestors” riot and burn their own cities. A major party presidential candidate “jokes” about the assassination of his rival.
We’re off to a rough start in the 21st century – an era so far marked by the deadliest and most destructive attack on American soil in our history and a destabilizing, once-every-hundred-years financial crisis and economic downturn.
The former unleashed the worst tendencies of our national security state, reflected domestically in the sacrifice of basic civil rights such as privacy, and internationally in the form of the endless global War on Terror.
The latter exposed the craven incompetence of fiscal and monetary authorities, whose responses were and are shaped by a neoliberal Washington Consensus, serving American Empire, enriching the rich, leaving Main Street to suffer.
It’s real, this dystopian siege.
Equally real, however, is the fact that over the last several centuries of human history, violence has steadily declined.
That, as another psychologist, Steven Pinker, writes in The Better Angels of Our Nature, “may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species.”
We are, according to Pinker, living in a more peaceful period than any other.
“News,” Pinker recently told Julia Belluz of Vox, “is a misleading way to understand the world. It’s always about events that happened and not about things that didn’t happen.”
Pinker also notes that after the 2011 publication of The Better Angels of Our Nature, rates of violence continue to decline.
News is a drug, and the mainstream media are your dealers.
They know we’re wired to pay attention to negative news. They use this knowledge to draw our attention to their advertisers.
They’re not necessarily lying about the world. All that bad stuff is actually happening.
It’s just that there’s no context. The picture is incomplete, unbalanced.
But now we know. And your mindset is critical.
So let’s talk about some data in support of the conclusion that humanity is headed in a positive direction, thanks in many parts to innovation and advances in exponential technologies.
In a June 27, 2016, piece for Singularity Hub, engineer, physician and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis explained “Why the World Is Better Than You Think in 10 Powerful Charts.”
Here are the 10 conclusions supported by the data that Diamandis cites:
- “Over the last 30 years, the share of the global population living in absolute poverty has declined from 53% to under 17%.”
- In the last 16 years, the number of children in hazardous work conditions and performing child labor is down by more than 50%.
- “Over the last 50 years, the percentage of our disposable income spent on food has dropped by more than 50%, from 14% to less than 6%.”
- “In the last 25 years, under-5 mortality rates have fallen by 50%. Infant mortality rates and neonatal mortality rates have also dropped significantly.”
- “Guinea worm… used to affect over 3.5 million people only 30 years ago. Today, thanks to advances in medical technologies, research and therapeutics, the parasite has almost been eradicated. In 2008, there were just 4,647 cases.”
- There’s been a “dramatic decline in the number of teen (15–19 years old) birth rates in the United States since 1950. At its peak, 89.1 out of 1,000 teenage women were giving birth. Today, it’s dropped under 29 out of 1,000.”
- “Western Europe used to be a very dangerous place to live. Over the last 700-plus years, the number of homicides per 100,000 people has decreased to almost zero.”
- “As recently as the early ’80s and mid-’90s, there were over 50 violent crime victims per 1,000 individuals” in the United States. This number has dropped threefold, to 15 victims per 1,000 people.”
- “In the last 200 years, the average number of ‘years of education’ received by people worldwide has increased dramatically. In the United States in 1820, the average person received less than two years of education. These days, it’s closer to 21 years of education, a 10 times improvement.”
- “Global literacy rates have increased from around 10% to close to 100% in the last 500 years.”
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Exponential technologies are sciences where the power and/or speed is doubling and/or the cost is dropping in half.
You can get a piece of the action via the iShares Exponential Technologies ETF (XT).
We’re witnessing – and living – their impact in terms of advances in robotics, which is already changing the way we work, and artificial intelligence, which could potentially aid in the development and distribution of high-quality education (and education is the key to all of this) for free.
But we’re also seeing better food production technology and distribution processes.
We’re also living longer, due to humanity’s ever-improving ability to cure diseases. And think about what’s on the horizon: Genomic technologies could eventually eliminate all known plagues.
“If at first the idea is not absurd,” said Albert Einstein, “then there is no hope for it.”
Diamandis’ chart on homicide rates in Western Europe is critical. It goes back to 1300 — more than 700 years.
“It’s important to look back this far,” Diamandis writes, “because we humans lose perspective and tend to romanticize the past, but forget how violent life truly was in, say, the Middle Ages, or even just a couple of hundred years ago.”
We’ve made a lot of progress. And there’s a lot more where that came from, because we’re still capable of really big things.
That’s yet another of expression of what Wall Street Daily’s all about.
Old Things New
Steven Pinker borrowed the title of his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address.
Lincoln spoke amid a crisis that threatened the very existence of the United States of America:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
The address and its construction form a significant part of the first volume of Carl Sandburg’s four-volume work, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, which is the companion to Sandburg’s two-volume set, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years.
As Sandburg noted, “The finished address, which Lincoln gave the world that early afternoon of March 4, 1861, went to a wide realm of readers who searched and dug into every line and phrase of it. Reason and emotion wove through it — and hopes, fears, resolves.”
Sandburg also observed, “Following the inaugural, prices of stocks fell in Wall Street.” The initial reaction was that war to save the Union was inevitable.
And yet “resolves.”
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily