What exactly is human progress and why should I care?
1: What is human progress? Measuring it sounds complicated.
“You might think that the question is so subjective and culturally relative as to be forever unanswerable,” Steven Pinker writes in his book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.
“In fact, it’s one of the easier questions to answer,” he observes.
“Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Abundance is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony,” Steven writes.
2: The good news?
All of these things can be measured. If the numbers have improved over time, that is progress.
The really good news?
All of the numbers for all of these measures have improved over time.
3: Information about human progress is easy to find. And, we don’t have to read thousands of pages of dry reports to understand it. No, the data is displayed in gorgeous websites, like Max Roser’s Our World in Data, Marian Tupy’s Human Progress, and Hans Rosling’s Gapminder.
There are also plenty of “listicles” available: “Five Reasons Why 2013 Was the Best Year in Human History”, “40 Ways the World Is Getting Better”, “50 Reasons We’re Living Through the Greatest Period in World History” and “23 Charts and Maps “That Show the World is Getting Much, Much Better”
It doesn’t stop there. “In the year 2000,” Steven writes, “all 189 members of the United Nations, together with two dozen international organizations, agreed on eight Millennium Development Goals for the year 2015 that blend right into this list.
“And here is a shocker: The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being.
“Here is a second shocker,” Steven concludes: “Almost no one knows about it.”
Reflection: Why do so many people think the world is getting worse when the data tells us otherwise? What do I believe? What do I make of this data?
Action: Discuss with my spouse or a good friend.