Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times.
I've repeatedly revisited the theme in my blogging that the world is getting better in so many important ways. That is routinely met with skepticism, even outrage. How can I be so insensitive as to say the world is getting better while millions are suffering and dying? Of course, the short answer is that I didn't say that the world has achieved perfection but only that it has gotten better.
I love these five paragraphs in the intro to this lengthy article:
... How can we get a less hyperbolic assessment of the state of the world? Certainly not from daily journalism. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a reporter saying to the camera, “Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as violence has not vanished from the world, there will always be enough incidents to fill the evening news. And since the human mind estimates probability by the ease with which it can recall examples, newsreaders will always perceive that they live in dangerous times. All the more so when billions of smartphones turn a fifth of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents.
We also have to avoid being fooled by randomness. Cohen laments the “annexations, beheadings, [and] pestilence” of the past year, but surely this collection of calamities is a mere coincidence. Entropy, pathogens, and human folly are a backdrop to life, and it is statistically certain that the lurking disasters will not space themselves evenly in time but will frequently overlap. To read significance into these clusters is to succumb to primitive thinking, a world of evil eyes and cosmic conspiracies.
Human beings are natural pattern seekers. Psychological studies show we often identify patterns where none exist.
Finally, we need to be mindful of orders of magnitude. Some categories of violence, like rampage shootings and terrorist attacks, are riveting dramas but (outside war zones) kill relatively small numbers of people. Every day ordinary homicides claim one and a half times as many Americans as the number who died in the Sandy Hook massacre. And as the political scientist John Mueller points out, in most years bee stings, deer collisions, ignition of nightwear, and other mundane accidents kill more Americans than terrorist attacks.
The only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count. How many violent acts has the world seen compared with the number of opportunities? And is that number going up or down? As Bill Clinton likes to say, “Follow the trend lines, not the headlines.” We will see that the trend lines are more encouraging than a news junkie would guess.
I love the distinction between trend lines and headlines! Consider that adage stolen.
To be sure, adding up corpses and comparing the tallies across different times and places can seem callous, as if it minimized the tragedy of the victims in less violent decades and regions. But a quantitative mindset is in fact the morally enlightened one. It treats every human life as having equal value, rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of violence and thereby implement the measures that are most likely to reduce it. Let’s examine the major categories in turn. ...
The quantitative mindset is indeed the most morally enlightened. It compensates for the human tendency to privilege information on what is happening to those geographically and culturally nearest to us. But it also counters a "parochialism of the present," where we discount the often greater suffering of those in the past relative to those who suffer in the present because the present is our context.
Be sure to read the whole thing. Here are just a few charts: