Statistically speaking, the world has drastically improved in recent centuries. We live in a measurable (albeit imperfect) Golden Age—never has there been a better time to be born, regardless of gender, race, religion, economic class, and 99% of nationalities.
And yet, most people think morality is in rapid decline, according to new research by Adam Mastroianni. After studying half a million humans, Mastroianni cites two causes for this: biased exposure and biased memory. The first is how people pay more attention to negative news, which journalism disproportionately publishes in order to increase advertising revenue. The second means the outrages of yesterday don’t seem so outrageous today (even though they are).
In short, media bias and our brains have tricked us into thinking everything is worse. As Mastroianni writes, “If you think that morality is declining, then you must think that some switch has been flipped in society, causing it to produce worse humans. No doubt you would want to un-flip that switch, whatever you think it is: smash the social media companies! Kill all the politicians! Ban the bad books! None of that is going to reverse the trend, because the trend doesn’t exist. It’s like activating the sprinkler system in a building that’s not on fire.”
This realization is both refreshing and frightening. In the meantime, let’s not “fix” anything until we verify that it’s actually broken.