Despite the challenges mankind faces, we are living in the safest, most peaceful era in the history of our species, argues ‘intelligent optimist’ Rohan Roberts
Bad news sells. In fact, the working motto of most mainstream newspapers and news channels is “If it bleeds, it leads”. If we flip through an average newspaper, we can expect to read about bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, murders, robberies, and other such frightening stories.
We may be forgiven for thinking the world is getting worse with each passing day, and that there is no hope for the future. However, we’d be wrong. Not only is the world getting better, but we are probably living in the best possible time in human history. By almost every index we use to measure the state of the world, things are getting better, and not worse.
We are now living longer, healthier, wealthier, safer lives than at any time in the history of our species. Some will scoff and remind us of the terrible events of the 20th century: wars, epidemics, tsunamis,hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods and plagues of locusts. But despite such unrest, that period also saw infant mortality decrease by 90 per cent, maternal mortality decrease by 99 per cent and overall human lifespan increase by more than 100 per cent. We’ve made huge strides in the ‘rights revolution’: rights for women, for children and for animals.
We are now living in the safest, most peaceful era in the history of our species. The United Nations describes a serious conflict as any conflict that involves more than 1,000 deaths on average per year. In 1990, there were dozens upon dozens of conflicts that would have been classified as “serious conflicts” by the United Nations. Currently, there are only seven. We are now living in what’s known as “the long peace”. This is the longest period that has passed without the world powers going to war.
Most people who hear this narrative are skeptical, which is why in 2011 we started the Intelligent Optimism movement in Dubai as a way to counter the constant focus on bad news in the mainstream media.
Instead, what we wanted to do was to highlight all the amazing things our species has been accomplishing. Today, the Intelligent Optimism movement has gone global, with more than 300,000 followers worldwide, and is averaging 1,000 new followers on Facebook every two days.
We are now living longer, healthier, wealthier, safer lives than at any time in history
Intelligent Optimism isn’t about looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses and pretending everything is OK, but about making an honest appraisal of the state of the world based on facts. Yes, there are wars. Yes, poverty exists.
But what we are saying is that things are getting better. And advances in science and technology will continue to make the world a better place to live in. Martin Luther King Jr said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” All the evidence around us over the last several thousands of years indicates that this is true.
As a teacher I bring a cosmic perspective into the classroom. There are more than 300 billion stars in our galaxy alone – more stars than there are grains of sand in all the deserts and beaches on our planet. To think that something interesting is only happening around our sun, our grain of sand, is to be guilty of a great hubris. The universe is vast, and mysterious.
To teach students the cosmic perspective would allow them to appreciate that they are part of something much grander and greater than their race or nationality, or ethnicity or tribe – to appreciate how glorious it is to simply be alive and conscious in this vast and inhospitable universe.
The future is ours to make of it what we will. Think of an exciting, ecstatic, desirable future, and pull the present forward to meet it.