Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Things Are Better Than You Think

If you listen to the apocalyptic rhetoric coming out of Donald Trump and the GOP, you'd think the world was coming to an end, with armed gangs of Islamic terrorists roaming the streets and murdering people at will, armed gangs of Mexicans stealing American jobs when they aren't busy raping American citizens, and hordes of screaming, wild-eyed liberals frantic to give away to the unwashed undeserving everything Hard-Working AmericansTM have struggled to build.

The reality looks a bit different, although you won't find it on Faux News or any of the GOP ads.

That's not to say that there aren't things wrong in America, but that the picture is not so bleak as the screaming heads would have you believe.

I call your attention to this interesting recent article by Peter Diamandis: Why the World Is Better Than You Think in 10 Powerful Charts. Mr Diamandis writes,

"We humans are wired to pay 10x more attention to negative news than positive news. Being able to rapidly notice and pay attention to negative news (like a predator or a dangerous fire) was an evolutionary advantage to keep you alive on the savannas of Africa millions of years ago. Today, we still pay more attention to negative news, and the news media knows this. They take advantage of it to drive our eyeballs to their advertisers. Typically, good news networks fail as businesses. It's not that the news media is lying — it's just not a balanced view of what's going on in the world."

I'd never thought about the evolutionary advantage of noticing negatives first, and how that might play into the way our news media operate. The old news editor's admonition that "if it bleeds, it leads" is the product of millions of years of evolution.

So, why are things better than we're being led to believe? The charts Mr Diamandis includes in his article spell them out. Here are two examples:

Other charts document the decline in the number of teenage pregnancies in the US, the decline in the US violent crime rate*, and the declining percentage of income spent on food in the United States**.

There are two charts, though, that seem to me to provide counterintuitive information:

Although the average number of years of education is going up steadily, modern Americans can be abysmally stupid, particularly when deeply held religious beliefs contradict established science. And while literacy rates are going up around the world, it seems that fewer and fewer people in this country actually read widely and absorb a broad range of ideas ... the idea of the modern media echo chamber applies.

Anyway, things are better than many people would have you believe. Think about that when you parse the information that the bad news cheerleaders are giving you. And if you need another chart to help put this in perspective, check out this diagram by Jessica Hagy from her wonderful blog, Indexed ...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Despite the recent spate of mass shootings, the violent crime rate is actually going down. Obviously, the reasons for this depend on the political leanings of the observer: the gun lobby tells us it's because criminals are afraid of retaliatory action by an armed victim, while others would suggest that we're becoming more law-abiding. Take your pick.

** This seems counterintuitive here in NoVa, where prices for fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables are often stratospheric.


Duckbutt said...

Charts like these are an antidote for some of the gloom saying that things are going to the dogs.

The Bastard King of England said...

Things are looking up.

Mike said...

I like Jessica Hagy.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

The news tends to emphasize bad or unfortunate events. Things that are working out usually does not qualify as news. Even local news tends to stress the bad news. Has a good news television news or newspaper ever worked?