In a perfect world, journalists would always present the news in a completely accurate way, and they’d give plenty of relevant context to make it even more impactful. But, unfortunately, we live in the real world, where journalists are in the business of attracting readers, and readers love things to be both super simple and full of drama. As a result, our worldview has become skewed, a poor representation of what the world is really like.
The assumption that people all across the world are in worse shape than they were before is at the heart of our messed up worldview. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In truth, poverty is at an all-time low, people are living longer, and sexist and oppressive patriarchies are ruling less and less of the world.
All of this progress is due to a global economy that continues to raise people out of poverty and boost their income. Indeed, we account for 91 percent of humanity when we combine middle- and high-income countries. Given that 85 percent of the globe was impoverished just 200 years ago, this is quite remarkable.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling, explains how far we’ve gone and how we can all learn to overcome the negatives in order to perceive the world in a positive, truthful perspective.
Here’s a question for you: What has occurred to the global level of extreme poverty in the last 20 years? Is it close to doubling? Hasn’t it remained the same? Or have you been virtually halved? You’re one of the few people who properly answered the question if you thought it’s been practically half.
Only 5% of people in the United States got it correctly; only 9% of people in the United Kingdom got it right, and those who got it wrong include some of the smartest professionals working today. Our inherent impulses and what the author refers to as megamisconceptions play a big role in why so few people have a correct view of the universe.
Some misconceptions are mega because of how deeply they mess up our understanding of the world. One of the big ones is Westerners’ “us-versus-them” mentality – that is, the idea that West and the East are fundamentally different and somehow at odds with each other. This is also referred to as the outdated concept of the “developed world” versus the “developing world.”
When the author presented lectures, he saw that many students still believed the East was full of countries with out-of-control birth rates and where religion and culture prevent the development of a modern or “Western” society. “They can never live like us,” one of Rosling’s students said.
But who are “they,” “the East,” or “the developing world,” and are Japan and Mexico City still considered part of the East? Are China and India still thought to be unfit to host modern cities?
In 1965, if we merely looked at the global child mortality rate, which is a good indicator of a country’s overall health, education, and economic systems, 125 countries would be classified as “developing,” with over 5% of their children dying before their fifth birthday. There are just 13 countries in the group now. In other words, there is no longer a distinction between the “West and the rest.”
Here’s something else to ponder: How many females complete primary school in all of the world’s low-income countries? What percentage would you choose: 20%, 40%, or 60%? Are you beginning to suspect that the response will most likely be positive?
In fact, 60 percent of females in low-income countries complete high school. Furthermore, all 30-year-old women have spent an average of nine years in education. Only one year younger than the global average for 30-year-old men.
These are only a few examples of the incredible progress that has been done, progress that few people are even aware of. So, why do these advantages go unnoticed? One explanation is that we have a natural tendency to be pessimistic, which leads to the second megamisconception: that the world is growing worse.
The truth is that the world has become better in almost every single measurable statistic, from life expectancy to (lack of) poverty. However, as humans, we have a proclivity to dwell on the negative.
In 1800, 85 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; now, only nine percent do! This is very incredible, but you won’t hear about it in the news. Natural disasters, crimes, and other terrible aberrations from the world’s otherwise wonderful direction are significantly more likely to be covered by news outlets.
There was significantly less news to consume in the 1980s, and entire ecosystems might be destroyed without even one story in your local paper. Now that you have access to the entire world’s newspapers, you and practically everyone else on the planet are exposed to more negative news than ever before. This overabundance of information provides the appearance that things have gotten much worse in the last two decades.
But keep in mind that for every death reported as a result of a flood or earthquake, there are many more who were unaffected. Low-income neighborhoods are now safer than they have ever been, thanks to advances in affordable building materials. Natural disaster-related deaths are now barely a quarter of what they were 100 years ago.
If you look at a chart with a straight line going up, your brain will most likely tell you that this line will continue to move up indefinitely. Straight lines, on the other hand, are uncommon in charts. Consider your own childhood development rate: it was certainly possible to measure your height in a straight line for a while, but then you reached a peak height, and it leveled out.
We have the same mindset when it comes to population: our third megamisconception is that the world’s population will continue to rise, rise, rise, whereas the reality is that we are nearing our peak.
The world population will flatten out between 2060 and 2100, according to UN forecasts who research population increase. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most important is that when poverty declines, people have fewer children.
Due to the high mortality rate and the necessity for children who could help with farming or factory work hundreds of years ago, the average mother gave birth to roughly six children. This is no longer the case; today, the average mother has 2.5 children as a result of education, birth control, and reduced poverty. By 2060, the children who have already been born will have grown up and had their children, and the population will have stabilized at roughly 11 billion people.
So we shouldn’t be concerned about population growth or overpopulation indefinitely. Nonetheless, we are concerned. Our fear and size instincts play a role in this.
The rationale for our fear response is self-explanatory: being terrified can protect you from danger. In more hazardous periods, when humans were threatened by saber-toothed tigers and competing tribes, our forefathers developed this inclination. Because there are fewer immediate hazards, we are more likely to misplace our fear, worrying about threats that do not exist.
Furthermore, our size instinct causes us to exaggerate the risks that our fear instinct creates for us. Take, for example, our dread of violence. Because we are exposed to more news reports about violence than ever before, we believe there is more of it. The true data, on the other hand, suggest that crime is on the decline. In 1990, 14.5 million crimes were reported in the United States. In 2016, the figure had dropped to 9.5 million.
Collecting the proper data and placing it in the right context is one of the most effective strategies to overcome many of our worst inclinations. If you read that 4 million newborns died last year, the sheer magnitude of the figure may lead you to conclude that we live in dark times. When you look up the number of newborns that died in 1950 and find that it was 14.4 million, you get a lot better sense of the times we live in.
Yes, no babies would die in an ideal world, but in ours, it’s critical to frame misfortune in order to see progress. It is an incredible achievement to have reduced the number of annual newborn fatalities by ten million in less than 70 years, and we must applaud such progress. In addition, we must refrain from drawing harmful generalizations.
Some broad generalizations are correct. Although Japanese cuisine differs from that of England, many other differences, particularly those concerning race and gender, act as hurdles to an authentic worldview.
Check out my related post: How can we fight against fake news?