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Are Humans Actually Making Progress in the World?

We rarely hear that “peace has broken out” or “people are not suffering and dying.” It’s the nature of “news” to report about things that DO happen, not things that don’t happen. This bias, combined with what cognitive psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman call “the availability heuristic” (that people estimate the probability of an event by the ease with which instances come to mind) leads many to think that the world is constantly in crisis and getting worse, rather than better.

However, as noted in previous blog posts, the world has actually made progress on many fronts. The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being as set out by the eight Millennium Development Goals for the year 2015, but almost no one knows about it.

People all over the world are living longer, healthier, and happier lives, so why do so many think things are getting worse? Psychologist Steven Pinker calles it “progressophobia” – a bias that has been summarized in the slogan “bad is stronger than good.”

Bill Gates sat down with author Steven Pinker to discuss the topic on Gates’ blog. Pinker, in his new book Enlightenment Now says that, “better informed, heavy newswatchers can become miscalibrated. They worry more about crime, even when rates are falling, and sometimes they part company with reality altogether… consumers of negative news, not surprisingly, become glum: a recent literature review cited ‘misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, desensitization, and in some cases, complete avoidance of the news. And they become fatalistic, saying things like ‘Why should I vote?’ ‘It’s not gonna help,’ or ‘I could donate money, but there’s just gonna be another kid who’s starving next week.'”

So here’s a list of books on progress and positive growth you might find of interest:

Watch this brief YouTube video as Bill Gates sits down with author Steven Pinker to discuss his most recent book Enlightenment Now, which provides a holistic picture of how and why the world is getting better.

With so much bad news about the political state of our Nation it is easy to lose perspective on progress humans are making as a species.