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Crime Earth Stats Politics

How Bad of a World Are We Really Living In Right Now? 210

New submitter Y.A.A.P. writes: Slate has a surprisingly relevant article of the state of the world today. A reasonable number of graphs and statistical comparisons show that our world is more peaceful than it has been for a long time. The article tells us that, despite what most news outlets (and political candidates) tell us, The World Is Not Falling Apart. Well, not from violence, at least.
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How Bad of a World Are We Really Living In Right Now?

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  • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Saturday November 28, 2015 @04:23PM (#51018857) Journal

    The news started with
    "these are the 5 worst things that happened in our city"
    then it became
    "these are the 5 worst things that happened in our state"
    then
    "these are the 5 worst things that happened in our country"
    and now it's
    "these are the 5 worst things that happened on the planet"

    And every day, somewhere, something really bad happened.

    And people have trouble determining how likely that event is going to happen to them anytime soon [normally, a lottery ticket is more likely to hit].

    • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Saturday November 28, 2015 @05:07PM (#51019037)

      And every day, somewhere, something really bad happened.

      And people have trouble determining how likely that event is going to happen to them anytime soon [normally, a lottery ticket is more likely to hit].

      Yes, or evaluating the chances of dying a plane crash vs. a car. (Driving your car is a LOT more dangerous.) Or the probability of a terrorist event. Etc.

      People are really bad about evaluating probability, and our fears are shaped by whatever the news media can dig up about the scariest things going on.

      I agree with a lot of TFA, though what's missing is the LONG-term perspective. There's a lot of graphs from the late 20th-century on showing how things (particularly violence) are trending downward, but I still remember the first time I saw a graph of the estimated murder rate over the past few centuries. Hint -- it has basically dropped pretty precipitously since the days of medieval Europe.

      Granted, the numbers are more speculative, but I think most people just have no freakin' clue how dangerous and terrible life was in the past. Everybody wants to pretend to be the "lord and lady" at the Renaissance fair, but the reality for most common folk was that you struggled to grow enough food to survive the winter. Every year. You were lucky if even half of your children survived to adulthood.

      And in those sorts of life-and-death situations, life was -- frankly -- "cheaper" than today. You could get a finger or hand cut off in a random bar fight or a street brawl. If you committing anything resembling a crime, the authorities would likely do it for you. If you tried to leave town, you were very likely to be robbed, stripped, raped, or killed by random "highwaymen."

      The trend toward improvement has continued through most of the 20th century and into our current one. Trust me -- you do NOT want to live in a poor urban center of the early 1900s compared to one today. A lot of violence is down compared to a generation or two ago, and it's certainly a heck of a lot better than it was several generations ago. Yes, kids used to roam the street without care late at night or whatever "back in the day," but they were much, much more likely to abducted or suffer a violent attack or whatever back then than they are today. The "golden age" which people are nostalgic for never existed.

      What has changed is that we are more fearful of certain things, NOT that such things (in most cases) have actually gotten worse.

      • The Hans Rosling TED Talks (The Best Stats You've Ever Seen) usually start with a quiz that shows the audience to believe far worse about the planet and mankind than reality. The most inaccurage scores on questions like girls education, deaths from violence, people with electricity, etc. came as I recall from journalists, who still use the term "third world". http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_... [ted.com] "if it bleeds, it leads"
    • The news has more slots to fill than ever, having evolved from a noon, five, and eleven broadcast to several stations with differing agendas filling 24-hour slots of their own.

      Availability heuristic works in advertising too, but if you hear a thing in the news enough times, it brings it to bear sooner and with exceptional relevance in your brain's personal selection process.

      And as everyone knows, scandalous gossip just sells better than than the other brand.

    • If you're American (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 )
      it seems a lot worse. Not just because of our news cycle either. Our economy crashed in 2008. It recovered, but virtually all of those gains were gobbled up by the investor class. Education has skyrocketed in cost (again, our investment class, who noticed that there was tons of money to be made on loans and lobbied hard to cut federal subsidies) and food prices are way, way up (there's that investment class again, with deregulation in our commodities market allowing them to skim 10-20% off our food supply).
      • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Saturday November 28, 2015 @08:31PM (#51019835)

        Does the phrase "Great Depression" mean anything to you? That one took WW2 to work its way out of the economy.

        Interestingly, WW2 brought us the GI Bill and the notion that pretty much anyone could go to college. Before that, it was the upper class and the very best of the commoners.

        As to "food prices are way up", there are about as many indications that "real" (adjusted for inflation) food prices are down as up. Just depends on what you're buying...

        • life leading up to the great depression was pretty much ass for everyone but a lucky few. When things went pear-shaped in the 2000s we had a lot more people who had something to lose.

          If you're on Min-Wage or low wage (which, judging by American Median Income at least half are) prices are nuts. When Min wage was $4/hr I could buy a dozen eggs for $0.80 cents, less if they were on sale. These days the same eggs are $3.20 off sale and $2.60 on. Chicken is the same way. Beef was a bit cheap for a while, but
      • Contrast that with the 70s, 80s and 90s where apart from an oil scare and a dip when manufacturing moved overseas things were mostly on the up and up.

        You've got some serious selection bias going on. 70's - massive racial unrest over injustice, much worse than today, 80's drugs and gang related crime - much worse than it is today, 90's - just the beginning of the downward trend of the bad things that we're seeing even less of now. Since the 80's the average percentage of the household budget spent on food has gone from 17% to 11%. In the 50's it was 30% and in 1900 it was 45%.

    • The news started with
      "these are the 5 worst things that happened in our city"
      then it became
      "these are the 5 worst things that happened in our state"
      then
      "these are the 5 worst things that happened in our country"
      and now it's
      "these are the 5 worst things that happened on the planet"

      And every day, somewhere, something really bad happened.

      And people have trouble determining how likely that event is going to happen to them anytime soon [normally, a lottery ticket is more likely to hit].

      In another few centuries, those supernovae in the Andromeda Galaxy will be front page news!

  • What does "bad" mean?

    I figure "now" ostensibly means the 21st century.

    • I figure "now" ostensibly means the 21st century.

      And I figure "now" means 2015. Since we won't know much about how things are in 2075 for another 60 years....

      • by Skewray ( 896393 )

        I figure "now" ostensibly means the 21st century.

        And I figure "now" means 2015. Since we won't know much about how things are in 2075 for another 60 years....

        Now is 2014. TFA is almost a year old.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 28, 2015 @04:30PM (#51018885)

    The truth is we are living during the safest, most prosperous times in human history.
    The media gives us a (false) perception that the world is collapsing under war, civil unrest and terrorism. The reality is that now, more than ever before, people are more likely to die form old age than from a violent death.
    Crime is down worldwide. So is hunger, war, rape and genocide.
    The world is far from perfect and the Syrian crisis is very real and should not be minimized. But as tragic as things are in the Middle East, what is happening there is the exception, not the rule.

    • One major difference is that we now have the power to have a human-initiated ELE.

    • Things were great in early 1914 too.

      * We've lost privacy.
      * We've lost 12 minutes per hour of our entertainment to advertising.
      * The quality of fruits and vegetables are down for most people.
      * There's a growing set of food intolerance diseases- most likely due to issues with the food.
      * If we have another widespread war- it's going to be fast and horrific compared earlier wars.
      * If we have another financial panic get thru- it's going to be worse than the great depression.
      * If a terrorist group gets hold of in

  • Objectively (or at least as objectively as I can be), no, it's not as bad as the media can make it out to be -- because warm-and-fuzzy news doesn't make for great ratings, death, destruction, violence, disaster, and all things extreme make for great ratings. Speaking of extremes, that's what we're seeing right now: extremes in both directions. One might also opine that some of the extremes on the violent/horrifying/terror end of the scale are being artificially inflated by the perpetrators of said actions (
  • Coincidentally (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pollux ( 102520 ) <{speter} {at} {tedata.net.eg}> on Saturday November 28, 2015 @04:39PM (#51018937) Journal

    I just finished watching the movie Tomorrowland yesterday. It was a bit of a let-down ... good acting, but the story made the movie weaker than it should have been.

    But, hidden within it was this very insightful gem:

    "In every moment, there is the possibility of a better future. But you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it, you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality. So you dwell on this all-terrible future and resign yourselves to it for one reason: Because that future doesn't ask anything of you today." -- David Nix / Hugh Laurie

    We like being pessimists when it comes to our future. When we imagine a brighter future, then we are responsible for doing what is necessary to create it. But when we imagine a bleaker future, there's nothing we have to do to make it a reality. We can just live as hedonists until our passing.

    • What a load of jizz.

      History is full of people who tried to make the world a better place - and succeeded.

      And for every famous one there's a thousand others making tiny pushes in the right direction.

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      We know exactly what we have to do for a better future. True it is not a complete set of steps which leads from the now to a better future, but we know at least a dozen of things to do to allow a better future to emerge. First, we have to get rid of carbon emissions. We could do that must faster if we would really care, but we do not and we obviously do not care about our kids and grand kids. Second, we need to transform our production industry in a cyclic economy. We also know how to start going there. How

  • Your perception of how good or bad the world is probably depends most on what's going on inside your home and inside your head.

    Despite bad things that happen (which is nothing new, of course) the world is definitely on the good side of the bell curve. Positively above average. Maybe it's the proximity to Thanksgiving, with my family around me and everybody healthy and the Bears beating the Packers, but I feel pretty good about the world now. I can feel pain from all the bad things in the world, have thos

  • While percentages are down, it's not always the case for raw numbers. Some of them are. Not just for violence, but also for diseases, poverty, etc.

    Clearly we are getting better at stuff, but for certain things, raw numbers are more important than percentages.

    Suppose there was a just a single serial killer out there that killed one person every year for the past 25 years. Population doubles every 23 years or so. So it looks like he has cut his death rate in half, when it has actually stayed the same.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 28, 2015 @05:29PM (#51019147)
      If you have a single serial killer and your population doubles you are doing better, because statistically society should have produced a second serial killer. Each person's odds of being killed by a serial killer have dropped by 50%. I'm not sure in what way you think that's a bad thing.
    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      In things like disease, things are getting better, as a percentage and absolute numbers. Polio has dropped from hundred of thousands to hundreds of cases in 20 years. Of course cancer and diabetes in the US is up, and HIV did not exist 50 years ago, but many ailments that cursed our civilization for known history have become much less virulent. I would also say percentages do matter. The black death eliminated half the population of major cities, but the total number of probable dead was only half the po
    • Suppose there was a just a single serial killer out there that killed one person every year for the past 25 years. Population doubles every 23 years or so. So it looks like he has cut his death rate in half, when it has actually stayed the same.

      I'm not sure I understand your point here. In your hypothetical situation where the world only has one serial killer murdering people, suppose there are 1000 people at the beginning. The serial killer is killing 1 person each year, so I have a 0.1% of being murdered this year. There is also 0.1% of the population (the serial killer) which is going around killing other people.

      In 25 years, if the population is 2000, now my chances of being murdered by this guy are 0.05%, and only 0.05% of our population

  • Or are there other interpretations that explain why it *seems* bad?

    Enduring and worsening (I don't know about the worsening part) income inequality, with automation and globalization likely to make income inequality even worse, and automation predicated by many to lead to widespread under/unemployment?

    The environment getting much worse -- mass deforestation, global warming, declining fresh water supplies, much of it abetted by ever-spiraling population growth?

    While it's true we don't actually worry about a

    • The environment getting much worse -- mass deforestation, global warming, declining fresh water supplies, much of it abetted by ever-spiraling population growth?

      The environment is getting better. You should have seen how bad the air pollution was in the 70s, for example. Rivers have been cleaned up and come back to life since then.

  • Weak arguments (Score:5, Insightful)

    by prefec2 ( 875483 ) on Saturday November 28, 2015 @06:26PM (#51019371)

    Many charts cover only 30 years which is not really a long period in human history. Therefore, the deductions made on that charts are weak or only valid for that short time period. Beside this overall impression, I want to point out in detail the argument about democracy. There are more democracies now than in 1945 or even in 1988. However, this only looks on the name these states give themselves on paper. Many democracies suffer today from lobbying, like the US, the UK, and Germany, which has a negative impact on participation and limits real democratic processes. Furthermore, most Western democracies have an imbalance in media communication, with the all time low of FoxNews.

    And it is even worse when you look at the democracies in east Europe. Especially at Hungary, where the prime minister Orban changed the constitution to limit the power of the supreme court. He also favours a illiberal democracy, which is a democracy with no minority rights. That results at the end in no democracy at all. He is also racist beyond comprehension. And Poland just elected a very very very right wing party and president. The latter already stated that judges which are critical of his doings will face disciplinary actions. So there goes the separation of powers.

    Or you could look at Greece. It does not matter which government they elect, the EU commission, the ECB, and the IMF define what happens in Greece. And it looks similar for Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

    Therefore, democracy is presently in the West not in a good shape. And I do not know if they counted Russia as democratic country. And the situation in India is also not that positive. So I conclude that their assessment on democracy is not correct at all.

    • Therefore, democracy is presently in the West not in a good shape.

      Compared to 1970, democracy is in very good shape. Of the countries which you mentioned, two were under a communist dictatorship (Hungary and Poland) and three under a military regime (Greece, Spain, Portugal).

      It depends on the timeframe you use for the comparison. As much as I am saddened by what happened in the recent elections in Poland, Hungary or Turkey, I think that these are only bumps, and that these countries present little risks of going back to a real dictatorship.

      • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

        I hope you are right. However, I fear that these are not just bumps. But we will see how it will look like in 20 years.

  • Didya check the date on that article? Dec. 22, 2014.
  • All societies are by definition living in the "best of all times".
    It is just that the definitions change to fit the times.

  • The world is a safer place for most people compared to decades ago. I hope that it lasts. History tells us that it never does. We may be experiencing a "peace bubble" that is about to burst as the IS moves out to raise hell among others that don't accept their views as the only valid world view. Too much has happened in the world recently to not be concerned that at any time a single event could trigger a widening war that comes closer and into to the Western world. Pray for peace people, but watch your bac
  • Famed statistician, Hans Rosling, has been telling the world or anyone who'll listen for years that the world is getting safer, less violent, and more prosperous. He also says that in populations where they're getting better education, access to healthcare, and especially women's reproductive healthcare, birth-rates are going down (higher infant-mortality and personal insecurity correlate with higher fertility rates). The only bad news here is for the tiny minority of people in organisations and businesses

  • by a whoabot ( 706122 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @05:06AM (#51020889)

    The past is often misunderstood.

    A major reason for this is selection bias. The perspectives that generally survive from the past, are the perspectives of the elites. Impoverished people could not afford to create stories, literature, artifacts which represented their points of view.

    So, it is not surprising if one's intuitions about the past, when past on the surviving material, give a very biased view: It can create the impression that people lived relatively well, when really it was just the elites' lives that you're imagining.

  • Because things were worse 50 years ago than they are today, it means that they will be just incredibly good in 50 years? Yeah, like we had rain yesterday and today is just a bit cloudy so tomorrow will surely be sunny.

    Everybody agrees present days are probably the best humanity ever had. How how close to the apex is it? How will it be in 50 years from now? What's you argument to say it will be better?

    • We're moving into a situation where the climate changes will force people from coastal areas, both poor and rich alike. We're still polluting and depleting the Earth at an alarming rate. Furthermore, the income gap between the rich and poor is widening. There seems to very little control, and where it does exist it's often more evil than where it doesn't exist. Besides all that we're still living in between nukes and nuclear power plants and those *are* going to blowup once in a while, if history has thoug

      • by lorinc ( 2470890 )

        You know what, I was having exactly the same thought regarding the Fermi paradox. Why don't we see alien civilization? Because we expect them to be massively large scale, and they probably aren't.

        If we look at ourselves and our future. The human race might probably survive for a long time, but probably not in its current population levels. If we want some growth in our standard of living, that means more energy consumed individually, which we can't achieve at a global level. That's the gap you are talking a

  • The Slate article is interesting, but it is also almost a year old. Do the editors check anything before accepting submissions?
  • ...before it was sacked. Some folks see weakness and irresolution growing in the western world. They see barbarians like ISIS rising up to fill the vacuum left by the west's loss of confidence- and they see dark ages coming again. If nothing is done, the new dark age may be 50 years out, or they may be 20 years out. (And certainly dark times have arrived for real in parts of the middle east.)

    Civilizations rise because they have insights, standards and practices that are superior to those around them. Those

  • These clowns manage to opine about the state of the world without mentioning "environment", " climate ", or " species ". It's nice that war and violence are down, but ignoring the fact that overpopulation, habitat destruction, and climate change have brought our home planet to the sixth great extinction event is unforgivable. The world IS falling apart, you deliberately clueless assholes.

  • I broke with tradition and RTFA.

    The author makes some statements about declining violence and says: The only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count. How many violent acts has the world seen compared with the number of opportunities? And is that number going up or down? As Bill Clinton likes to say, “Follow the trend lines, not the headlines.” We will see that the trend lines are more encouraging than a news junkie would guess.

    But then - no numbers.

    It has some details ab

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