Albert Einstein said: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Adjacent questions arise: “How dangerous is the world?” and “Are people really doing everything they can to prevent evil from happening?” The question of whether the world is becoming safer or more dangerous appears to be topical nowadays. Average Internet users discuss it; the authors of newspapers devote their articles to it. While some argue that the world has never been safer due to the highest ever safety standards enacted, others parry by pointing at the war maps, pandemics and violence rates. Yet, a quick analysis provides enough empirical data to state that the modern world does get better, at least to an extent possible and if compared to the historical past.
The world is getting better, and it is a fact – even though yet to be proved to some persistent non-believers and pessimists. A great counterargument to Einstein’s pessimistic words can be found in the words of a journalist with The Huffington Post who said, “It’s no accident the world is becoming safer, wealthier and healthier: there are extraordinary people around the world who’re trying to make it better”. So, good people versus bad people, pessimists versus optimists – who is winning? The evidence of the world’s healing is everywhere. The first and foremost source to look for the proof is statistics.
Unlike subjective human perception of the world, statistics do not lie or distort reality. The statistics are as follows. According to the data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, real global GDP more than tripled in 1970-2010, and real global GDP per capita almost doubled. It means the world has taken a steady course towards prosperity, i.e. economic safeness. At the same time, the percentage of the global population living in “abject poverty” decreased from 36% in 1990 to 18% in 2010, which means nearly 900 million people escaped the dangerous condition of poverty. The results are good even though not absolute. Eliminating poverty completely is impossible. As long as the social hierarchy exists, there will be a division into the poor and the rich, with the few rich sharing the major part of the global wealth and the many poor sharing what is left. The only thing that can be done is making the gap between the classes smaller, thus, enlarging overall population happiness.
Another important fact in favor of an assumption that the world is becoming safer is the longevity of the global population. Modern people are living longer and better lives than their ancestors. According to the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the global life expectancy increased by 5.8 years (for men) and 6.6 years (for women) within the period of 1990-2013. The United Nations additionally report that children’s mortality rate decreased from 90 to 46 per 1,000 births, while the “clinically malnourished” world’s population decreased by 7%. A longer life is per se a testimony of a safe and favorable living environment, i.e. the world’s becoming safer.
Last but not the least, the world is getting more and more democratic with each year, with one of the peaks occurring in the 1960s – the decade of the human rights and equality rights movements – and with the modern world living right on the next and biggest peak ever. Democracy is the crown of any regime evolution with ultimate benefits for the people, such as rights and freedoms, as well as a safe social order.
Some may say that the news is as stained by reports on violence as never before, but in fact, such a perspective is as much biased as it is fragmental. The news reports do not – and physically cannot – depict the whole objective picture of what happens in the world. Most often, the news is made of sensational, tragic, alarming events, though not because they happen more often. The reporters are looking for them and intentionally selecting them from the fabric of the otherwise neutral life or life full of numerous positive yet less interesting events. “To really understand how the world is changing, you have to look at the big picture. You have to zoom out from the current events to understand in which direction the world is changing,” says Max Roser, an economist at the Oxford University’s Institute for New Economic Thinking. Rosen is also the author of the website called Our World In Data. The website provides diagrams that allow one to assess the general trend underlying the “singular” events that get to press.
People who see the world through the ‘danger’ glasses often point out that the ‘local’ wars are now engulfing countries and continents. As of 2015 alone, the war losses have been tremendous, with nearly 33,000 in Syria, over 20,000 in Afghanistan, 10,500 in Iraq. The total quantity of people killed in these conflicts in 2015 exceeds 100,000. Some may argue that despite their isolated nature, these conflicts can be collectively referred to as the Third World War that can soon transform into a full-fledged, global war of unprecedented magnitude. Yet, according to Rosen’s website, the situation is objectively not as dramatic as it may seem. Let alone the facts that wars are horrible crimes against humanity and that wars are raging all over the world, war deaths are actually on a decline and most definitely not higher than in the 1940s, 1970s and 1980s, the decades of big and notorious war conflicts. “In a historically unprecedented development, the number of interstate wars has plummeted since 1945, and the most destructive kind of war, in which great powers or developed states fight each other, has vanished altogether”. Thus, the wars of the twenty-first century are not as destructive or taking as many lives as any of the wars of the twentieth century did.
The culture of fear is rising: the Ebola virus pandemics and the extensive news coverage of it made all world nations anxious about visiting the 2016 Olympics in Rio because of the danger. Yet, many people forget that outbursts of infectious diseases are unavoidable and have always accompanied humankind in its evolution. Among the well-known examples is bubonic plague. Black Death that raged in the 14th century and killed more than 50 million people is currently considered the greatest catastrophe in the history of the human world. However, nowadays, the situation is by far less catastrophic. Of course, humankind has not yet conquered all the viruses and diseases, still the progress is undoubted. For example, we eradicated smallpox, another disease that took many lives in the past. As for the ones still raging, Rosen’s diagrams show the trend for malaria – one of the most horrible diseases torturing Africa for decades if not centuries. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the trend shows a decline: from 764,000 Africans dead in 2000 to 395,000 as of 2015. The change for the better is visible – all over the globe and not only in Africa. With each year, the world is getting safer from diseases.
Another news ‘scare’ that made many tourists refuse to go to Ryo during the Olympics is violence. Brazil has a long and colorful history of violence, indeed. And it is true that news reports are rich with topics such as homicides – in Brazil as well as all over the world. However, sporadic cases of violence do not equal trends for violence. Even pertaining to Rio, the government of Brazil did everything possible to neutralize the threat of violence by involving tens of thousands of police officers whose job was to guard peace and order (and the tourists). It already suggests that the world is changing for better, finding ways to mitigate threats and prevent crime. On the global scale, all countries struggle to create safer environments for their citizens to live in. In fact, violence rates devolved as humans evolved – the farther back through history, the higher the rates. For example, the homicide rates had skyrocketed and remained steadily high in Europe during the 14th-15th centuries (reaching 20-70 victims per 100,000 people per year) and are now low as never before in the recorded history (1 per 100,000).
People tend to notice the evil, even if it is minor. People are used to fearing the evil. People often exaggerate the local evil and extrapolate it onto the whole world. These three people’s habits make the world look dangerous when, in fact, it is not that bad at all. If statistics and other evidence are not enough to convince the true pessimists, they should probably look around and start noticing all the good that happens to them and people around them. After all, a positive worldview is also a part of a better and safer world.