Reasons to be Hopeful
written by Tony Morley
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If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be — what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into—you wouldn’t choose 100 years ago. You wouldn’t choose the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies.
You’d choose right now.
~Former President Barack Obama, 2016
We are living through the healthiest, wealthiest, best-educated, and most abundant time in the history of human civilisation. No age has seen more humans experience a higher standard of material, physical, and mental well-being than the one in which we are now living. If that statement strikes you as counterintuitive, uncomfortable, or even offensive, then you are not alone. Many people dispute or outright reject the positive indicators of global progress, expressing a vivid scepticism or wholesale rejection and even hostility to this news. A great many others see the human progress around them and feel ashamed or embarrassed to promote it, incorrectly assuming that only the rich countries are flourishing, often or entirely at the expense of developing and poor countries.
However, around the world vast numbers of people are escaping poverty, gaining access to advanced healthcare, paid work and banking, clean water, cleaner air, more nutritious food, electricity, education, and much more. Today the life expectancy, healthcare, nutrition, available resources, and standards of living in the world’s poorest countries largely exceeds that of the world’s wealthiest countries at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. On the morning of January 1, 1800 in Britain, life expectancy was 36.6 years and GDP was just $3,430 per capita. Today, life expectancy in Zambia, one of the world’s poorest countries, exceeds 50 years, and GDP per capita is greater than $3,800.
And yet, some still maintain that it is insensitive, or even insulting, to acknowledge the astonishing achievements of human progress and growth. So here are three easy steps to ditch progress shame and change your way of thinking.
Know The Data
I want people, when they realize they have been wrong about the world, to feel not embarrassment, but that childlike sense of wonder, inspiration, and curiosity that I remember from the circus, and that I still get every time I discover I have been wrong: “Wow, how is that even possible?”
~Hans Rosling, Factfulness
Across our modern civilisation, a figurative army of government agencies, NGOs, scientists, statisticians, historians, and researchers have been collecting astonishingly accurate and abundant data on the health, wealth, science, production, growth, education, prosperity, and the well-being of our species since at least circa 1800. These data have provided a clear window into the improving standards of living for our civilization. Websites like Our World In Data, Gapminder, Human Progress, The World Bank Data, the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and The Gates Foundation, amongst others, help to cast light on the nature and scope of our collective progress.
Continues, trigger warning, contains right wing thinking.