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.
See also: Does accepting (or celebrating) social progress hinder future progress?
I was recently talking to an ultra-liberal friend who admitted that today is a better time to be born than any other time in history, regardless of race, gender, and let’s say 99% of nationalities. While the world is far from perfect, it is a better place for the greatest number of people. That includes higher life expectancies, education, and literacy rates, and remarkably less death, disease, poverty, war, crime, dictators, and injustices.
Nevertheless, this same friend expressed fear that acknowledging said progress might encourage conservative society to stop making progress. I argued that most conservatives have made social progress, albeit slower than liberals, since forever (especially since the industrial revelation). Furthermore, there’s no evidence suggesting that conservatives will suddenly stop once a tolerable threshold of social equality has been reached. And yet I suspect this liberal fear exists in more than just my friend.
I don’t know the exact number, but I do know many outspoken liberals feel the need to qualify any acceptant that the world has gotten better. They almost always couch it with, “Yeah, but we still have a long way to go!” I sense many of them share this fear that by acknowledging our social progress, we’ll suddenly stop perfecting the other flawed areas of social inequality.
To get to the bottom of what I believe is an unfounded fear, I interviewed several people on the subject. This is what I learned. Continue reading…