As per Max Roser’s article on Our World In Data The short history of global living conditions there was a tremendous improvement in the human living conditions from 1800 to date. The data he presented seems correct, impressive and persuasive. Does it mean that our future is bright, and we just have to wait until our Meaning of Life will be discovered as our knowledge increases, created by some future discoveries and inventions or just simply become an unimportant question as all our problems will be solved?
To make it easier for the readers to understand the transformation in living conditions that humanity has achieved, the author of the article made a summarizing visualization in which he imagined this 200 year history as the history of a group of 100 people to see how the lives of them would have changed if they lived through this transformative period of the modern world.
In spite of this data, people do not think that the world is becoming a better place. A recent survey asked, “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?” In Sweden, 10% thought things are getting better. In the US, they were only 6%. And in Germany, only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.
Our first reaction to these “new” facts may be just shouting: “Hey You All, wake up! Don’t believe that mass media, with all those reports on catastrophes, terrorism, wars, and economic crises, are telling you the truth! Our world and our living conditions is better than ever!” And, yes, we may actually be telling the truth; we know that practically all media distorts reality heavily. In order to gain an audience, they show far more negative news (such as murders) than we can actually experience in our own life. Recent articles are describing how the media creates a “social reality” or “social perception of reality,” sometimes quite far from the actual events, the frequency of actual events, or the actual effect of real events to our life. So, yes, people can actually wake up and fear less as the world is a better place than currently perceived. The article also explains why we can’t perceive these positive developments.
The false negative perception may also affect our thinking regarding the meaning of life. If we believe that the world is going in the wrong direction, we start worrying about our future and start thinking about whether the whole suffering is worth the effort… Now, however, we know that we are going in just the right direction. Just a little further and we may find ourselves in an Earthy paradise! Yee!
Unfortunately, it is not so simple (as usual…). First of all, we must check the sources, the reliability and relevance of the data presented, then we can think about what other living conditions can be examined, of which evolutions are not so encouraging. But the two most significant reasons are as follows:
- Some of our current most difficult problems are direct consequences of the above past successes. Vaccination, a decline of child mortality, and poverty (larger consumption per capita) have directly led to the current large population increase and extensive usage of natural resources. Therefore, our success is indirectly leading to major environmental problems. No cross no crown. Nothing is for free.
- Past performance is no guarantee of future results. It is essential to understand WHY these past developments have happened. If the factors behind the progress are not sustainable, if it would reverse, or if the positive effects of these factors are declining (the law of diminishing returns), then we may find ourselves in deep trouble in the future.
So, based on these data and their careful analysis, we can say, yes, we can have a solid hope for the future. But then again, we should avoid arrogant confidence at any cost; we should keep our powder dry.
This post is also available in: Hungarian