THE NEGATIVITY INSTINCT

 


CHAPTER TWO

THE NEGATIVITY INSTINCT

How I was kind of born in Egypt, and what a baby in an incubator can teach us about the world

 

Which statement do you agree with most?

A: The world is getting better.

B: The world is getting worse.

C: The world is getting neither better nor worse.


Getting Out of the Ditch

I remember being suddenly upside down. I remember the dark, the smell of urine, and being unable to breathe as my mouth and nostrils filled with mud. I remember struggling to turn myself upright but only sinking deeper into the sticky liquid. I remember my arms, stretched out behind me, desperately searching the grass for something to pull, then being suddenly hauled out by the ankles. My grandma putting me in the big sink on the kitchen floor and washing me gently, with the hot water meant for the dishes. The scent of the soap.

These are my earliest memories and were nearly my last. They are memories of my rescue, aged four, from the sewage ditch running in front of my grandma’s house. It was filled to the brim with a mix of last night’s rain and sewage slurry from the factory workers’ township. Something in it had caught my attention, and stepping to the ditch’s edge, I had slipped and fallen in headfirst. My parents were not around to keep an eye on me. My mother was in the hospital, ill with tuberculosis. My father worked ten hours a day.

During the week, I lived with my grandparents. On Saturdays my daddy put me on the rack of his bike and we drove in large circles and figures of eight just for fun on our way to the hospital. I would see Mommy standing on the balcony on the third floor coughing. Daddy would explain that if we went in we could get sick too. I would wave to her and she would wave back. I saw her talking to me, but her voice was too weak and her words were carried away by the wind. I remember that she always tried to smile.

The Mega Misconception That “The World Is Getting Worse”

This chapter is about the negativity instinct: our tendency to notice the bad more than the good. This instinct is behind the second mega misconception.

“Things are getting worse” is the statement about the world that I hear more than any other. And it is absolutely true that there are many bad things in this world.

The number of war fatalities has been falling since the Second World War, but with the Syrian war, the trend has reversed. Terrorism too is rising again. (We’ll get back to that in chapter 4.) 

Overfishing and the deterioration of the seas are truly worrisome. The lists of dead areas in the world’s oceans and of endangered species are getting longer.

Ice is melting. Sea levels will continue to rise by probably three feet over the next 100 years. There’s no doubt it’s because of all the greenhouse gases humans have pumped into the atmosphere, which won’t disperse for a long time, even if we stop adding more.

The collapse of the US housing market in 2007, which no regulators had predicted, was caused by widespread illusions of safety in abstract investments, which hardly anyone understood. The system remains as complex now as it was then and a similar crisis could happen again. Maybe tomorrow.

In order for this planet to have financial stability, peace, and protected natural resources, there’s one thing we can’t do without, and that’s international collaboration, based on a shared and fact-based understanding of the world. The current lack of knowledge about the world is therefore the most concerning problem of all.

I hear so many negative things all the time. Maybe you think, “Hans, you must just meet all the gloomiest people.” We decided to check.

People in 30 countries were asked the question at the top of the chapter: Do you think the world is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same? This is what they said.

I never trust data 100 percent, and you never should either. There is always some uncertainty. In this case, I’d say these numbers are roughly right, but you shouldn’t jump to any conclusions based on small differences. (By the way, that is a good general principle with statistics: be careful jumping to any conclusions if the differences are smaller than say, roughly, 10 percent.) The big picture is still crystal clear though. The majority of people think the world is getting worse. No wonder we all feel so stressed.

Statistics as Therapy

It is easy to be aware of all the bad things happening in the world. It’s harder to know about the good things: billions of improvements that are never reported. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about some trivial positive news to supposedly balance out the negative. I’m talking about fundamental improvements that are world-changing but are too slow, too fragmented, or too small one-by-one to ever qualify as news. I’m talking about the secret silent miracle of human progress.

The basic facts about the world’s progress are so little known that I get invited to talk about them at conferences and corporate meetings all over the world. They sometimes call my lectures “inspirational,” and many people say they also have a comforting effect. That was never my intention. But it’s logical. What I show is mostly just official UN data. As long as people have a worldview that is so much more negative than reality, pure statistics can make them feel more positive. It is comforting, as well as inspiring, to learn that the world is much better than you think. A new kind of happy pill, completely free online!

Extreme Poverty

Let’s start by looking at the trend for extreme poverty.

FACT QUESTION 3

In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has …

A: almost doubled

B: remained more or less the same

C: almost halved

The correct answer is C: over the last 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved. But in our online polls, in most countries, less than 10 percent knew this.

Remember the four income levels from chapter 1? In the year 1800, roughly 85 percent of humanity lived on Level 1, in extreme poverty. All over the world, people simply did not have enough food. Most people went to bed hungry several times a year. Across Britain and its colonies, children had to work to eat, and the average child in the United Kingdom started work at age ten. One-fifth the entire Swedish population, including many of my relatives, fled starvation to the United States, and only 20 percent of them ever returned. When the harvest failed and your relatives, friends, and neighbors starved to death, what did you do? You escaped. You migrated. If you could.

Level 1 is where all of humanity started. It’s where the majority always lived, until 1966. Until then, extreme poverty was the rule, not the exception.



The curve you see above shows how the extreme poverty rate has been falling since 1800. And look at the last 20 years. Extreme poverty dropped faster than ever in world history.

In 1997, 42 percent of the population of both India and China were living in extreme poverty. By 2017, in India, that share had dropped to 12 percent: there were 270 million fewer people living in extreme poverty than there had been just 20 years earlier. In China, that share dropped to a stunning 0.7 percent over the same period, meaning another half a billion people over this crucial threshold. Meanwhile, Latin America took its proportion from 14 percent to 4 percent: another 35 million people. While all estimates of extreme poverty are very uncertain, when the change appears to be like this, then beyond all doubt something huge is happening. 

How old were you 20 years ago? Close your eyes for a second and remember your younger self. How much has your world changed? A lot? A little? Well, this is how much the world has changed: just 20 years ago, 29 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Now that number is 9 percent. Today almost everybody has escaped hell. The original source of all human suffering is about to be eradicated. We should plan a party! A big party! And when I say “we,” I mean humanity!

Instead, we are gloomy. On our Level 4 TVs, we still see people in extreme poverty and it seems that nothing has changed. Billions of people have escaped misery and become consumers and producers for the world market, billions of people have managed to slide up from Level 1 to Levels 2 and 3, without the people on Level 4 noticing.

Life Expectancy

FACT QUESTION 4

What is the life expectancy of the world today?

A: 50 years

B: 60 years

C: 70 years

Showing all the causes of deaths and suffering in one number is nearly impossible. But the average life expectancy gets very close. Every child death, every premature death from man-made or natural disasters, every mother dying in childbirth, and every elderly person’s prolonged life is reflected in this measure.

Back in 1800, when Swedes starved to death and British children worked in coal mines, life expectancy was roughly 30 years everywhere in the world. That was what it had been throughout history. Among all babies who were ever born, roughly half died during their childhood. Most of the other half died between the ages of 50 and 70. So the average was around 30. It doesn’t mean most people lived to be 30. It’s just an average, and with averages we must always remember that there’s a spread.

The average life expectancy across the world today is 70. Actually, it’s better than that: it’s 72. Here are the results of some polling.

This is one of those questions where the better educated you are, the more ignorant you seem to be. In most countries where we tested, members of the public just about beat the chimps. (The full country breakdown is in the appendix.) But in our more highly educated audiences, the most popular answer was 60 years. That would have been correct if we had asked the question in 1973 (the year when 200,000 people starved to death in Ethiopia). But we asked it in this decade, more than 40 years of progress later. People live on average ten years longer now. We humans have always struggled hard to make our families survive, and finally we are succeeding.

When I show this amazing graph, people often ask, “What is the most recent dip there?,” and they point at 1960. If you don’t know already, this is a great opportunity for me to attack the misconception that the world is getting worse.

There’s a dip in the global life expectancy curve in 1960 because 15 to 40 million people—nobody knows the exact number—starved to death that year in China, in what was probably the world’s largest ever man-made famine.

The Chinese harvest in 1960 was smaller than planned because of a bad season combined with poor governmental advice about how to grow crops more effectively. The local governments didn’t want to show bad results, so they took all the food and sent it to the central government. There was no food left. One year later the shocked inspectors were delivering eyewitness reports of cannibalism and dead bodies along roads. The government denied that its central planning had failed, and the catastrophe was kept secret by the Chinese government for 36 years. It wasn’t described in English to the outside world until 1996. (Think about it. Could any government keep the death of 15 million people a global secret today?)

Even if the Chinese government had told the world about this tragedy, the UN World Food Programme—which today distributes food to wherever it is most needed in the world—couldn’t have helped. It wasn’t created until 1961.

The misconception that the world is getting worse is very difficult to maintain when we put the present in its historical context. We shouldn’t diminish the tragedies of the droughts and famines happening right now. But knowledge of the tragedies of the past should help everyone realize how the world has become both much more transparent and much better at getting help to where it’s needed.

I Was Born in Egypt

My home country of Sweden is today on Level 4 and one of the richest and healthiest countries in the world. (Saying that a country is on Level 4 means that the average person in that country is on Level 4. It doesn’t mean that everyone in Sweden is on Level 4. Remember, averages disguise spreads.) But it hasn’t always been so.

Now I’m going to show you my favorite graph. There’s a color version of it on the inside front cover of this book. I call it the World Health Chart and it is like a world map for health and wealth. As with the bubble graph you saw in the previous chapter, each country is represented by a bubble, with the size of the bubble showing the size of the country’s population. As before poorer countries are on the left and richer countries are on the right; healthier countries are higher up, and sicker countries are lower down.

Notice that there are not two groups. The world is not divided into two. There are countries on all levels, all the way from the sick and poor in the bottom left corner to the rich and healthy in the top right corner, where Sweden is. And most countries are in the middle.

Now this next bit is exciting.

The trail of little bubbles shows Sweden’s health and wealth for every year since 1800. What tremendous progress! I have highlighted some countries that correspond, in 2017, to important years from Sweden’s past.


1948 was a very important year. The Second World War was over, Sweden topped the medals table at the Winter Olympics, and I was born. The Sweden I was born into in 1948 was where Egypt is on the health-wealth map today. That is to say, it was right in the middle of Level 3. Life conditions in 1950s Sweden were similar to those in Egypt or other countries on Level 3 today. There were still open sewage ditches and it wasn’t uncommon for children to drown in bodies of water close to home. On Level 3, parents work hard, away from their children, and the government has not yet enforced regulations to protect water with fences.

Sweden kept improving during my lifetime. During the 1950s and 1960s it progressed all the way from Egypt today to Malaysia today. By 1975, the year Anna and Ola were born, Sweden, like Malaysia today, was just about to enter Level 4.

Let’s go backward now. When my mother was born, in 1921, Sweden was like Zambia is now. That’s Level 2.

My grandmother was the Lesothian member of our family. When she was born in 1891, Sweden was like Lesotho is today. That’s the country with the shortest life expectancy in the world today, right on the border between Level 1 and 2, almost in extreme poverty. My grandmother hand-washed all the laundry for her family of nine all her adult life. But as she grew older, she witnessed the miracle of development as both she and Sweden reached Level 3. By the end of her life she had an indoor cold-water tap and a latrine bucket in the basement: luxury compared to her childhood, when there had been no running water. All four of my grandparents could spell and count, but none of them was literate enough to read for pleasure. They couldn’t read children’s books to me, nor could they write a letter. None of them had had more than four years of school. Sweden in my grandparents’ generation had the same level of literacy that India, also on Level 2, has achieved today.

My great-grandmother was born in 1863, when Sweden’s average income level was like today’s Afghanistan, right on Level 1, with a majority of the population living in extreme poverty. Great-grandmother didn’t forget to tell her daughter, my grandmother, how cold the mud floor used to be in the winter. But today people in Afghanistan and other countries on Level 1 live much longer lives than Swedes did back in 1863. This is because basic modernizations have reached most people and improved their lives drastically. They have plastic bags to store and transport food. They have plastic buckets to carry water and soap to kill germs. Most of their children are vaccinated. On average they live 30 years longer than Swedes did in 1800, when Sweden was on Level 1. That is how much life even on Level 1 has improved.

Your own country has been improving like crazy too. I can say this with confidence even though I don’t know where you live, because every country in the world has improved its life expectancy over the last 200 years. In fact almost every country has improved by almost every measure.1

32 More Improvements

Is the world in your head still getting worse? Then get ready for a challenging data encounter. I have 32 more improvements to show you.

For each one, I could tell a similar story to those I have told about extreme poverty and life expectancy. For many of them I could show you that people are consistently more negative than the data says they should be. (And where I can’t, it’s because we haven’t asked these questions yet.)

But I can’t fit all these explanations into this book, so here are just the charts. Let’s start with 16 terrible things that are on their way out, or have even already disappeared. And then, let’s look at 16 wonderful things that have gotten better.

It is hard to see any of this global progress by looking out your window. It is taking place beyond the horizon. But there are some clues you can tune into, if you pay close attention. Listen carefully. Can you hear a child practicing the guitar or the piano? That child has not drowned, and is instead experiencing the joy and freedom of making music.

The goal of higher income is not just bigger piles of money. The goal of longer lives is not just extra time. The ultimate goal is to have the freedom to do what we want. Me, I love the circus, and playing computer games with my grandchildren, and zapping through TV channels. Culture and freedom, the goals of development, can be hard to measure, but guitars per capita is a good proxy. And boy, has that improved. With beautiful statistics like these, how can anyone say the world is getting worse?



The Negativity Instinct

In large part, it is because of our negativity instinct: our instinct to notice the bad more than the good. There are three things going on here: the misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; and the feeling that as long as things are bad it’s heartless to say they are getting better.

Warning: Objects in Your Memories Were Worse Than They Appear

For centuries, older people have romanticized their youths and insisted that things ain’t what they used to be. Well, that’s true, but not in the way they mean it. Most things used to be worse, not better. But it is extremely easy for humans to forget how things really did “used to be.”

In Western Europe and North America, only the very oldest, who lived through the Second World War or the Great Depression, have any personal recollection of the severe deprivation and hunger of just a few decades ago. Yet even in China and India, where extreme poverty was the reality for the vast majority just a couple of generations ago, it is now mostly forgotten by people who live in decent houses, have clean clothes, and ride mopeds.

The Swedish author and journalist Lasse Berg wrote an excellent report from rural India in the 1970s. When he returned 25 years later, he could see clearly how living conditions had improved. Pictures from his visit in the 1970s showed earthen floors, clay walls, half-naked children, and the eyes of villagers with low self-esteem and little knowledge of the outside world. They were a stark contrast to the concrete houses of the late 1990s, where well-dressed children played and self-confident and curious villagers watched TV. When Lasse showed the villagers the 1970s pictures they couldn’t believe the photos were taken in their neighborhood. “No,” they said. “This can’t be here. You must be mistaken. We have never been that poor.” Like most people, they were living in the moment, busy with new problems, like the children watching immoral soap operas or not having enough money to buy a motorbike.

Beyond living memory, for some reason we avoid reminding ourselves and our children about the miseries and brutalities of the past. The truth is to be found in ancient graveyards and burial sites, where archeologists have to get used to discovering that a large proportion of all the remains they dig up are those of children. Most will have been killed by starvation or disgusting diseases, but many child skeletons bear the marks of physical violence. Hunter-gatherer societies often had murder rates above 10 percent and children were not spared. In today’s graveyards, child graves are rare.

Selective Reporting

We are subjected to never-ending cascades of negative news from across the world: wars, famines, natural disasters, political mistakes, corruption, budget cuts, diseases, mass layoffs, acts of terror. Journalists who reported flights that didn’t crash or crops that didn’t fail would quickly lose their jobs. Stories about gradual improvements rarely make the front page even when they occur on a dramatic scale and impact millions of people.

And thanks to increasing press freedom and improving technology, we hear more, about more disasters, than ever before. When Europeans slaughtered indigenous peoples across America a few centuries ago, it didn’t make the news back in the old world. When central planning resulted in mass famine in rural China, millions starved to death while the youngsters in Europe waving communist red flags knew nothing about it. When in the past whole species or ecosystems were destroyed, no one realized or even cared. Alongside all the other improvements, our surveillance of suffering has improved tremendously. This improved reporting is itself a sign of human progress, but it creates the impression of the exact opposite.

At the same time, activists and lobbyists skillfully manage to make every dip in a trend appear to be the end of the world, even if the general trend is clearly improving, scaring us with alarmist exaggerations and prophecies. For example, in the United States, the violent-crime rate has been on a downward trend since 1990. Just under 14.5 million crimes were reported in 1990. By 2016 that figure was well under 9.5 million. Each time something horrific or shocking happened, which was pretty much every year, a crisis was reported. The majority of people, the vast majority of the time, believe that violent crime is getting worse.

No wonder we get an illusion of constant deterioration. The news constantly alerts us to bad events in the present. The doom-laden feeling that this creates in us is then intensified by our inability to remember the past; our historical knowledge is rosy and pink and we fail to remember that, one year ago, or ten years ago, or 50 years ago, there was the same number of terrible events, probably more. This illusion of deterioration creates great stress for some people and makes other people lose hope. For no good reason.

Feeling, Not Thinking

There’s something else going on as well. What are people really thinking when they say the world is getting worse? My guess is they are not thinking. They are feeling. If you still feel uncomfortable agreeing that the world is getting better, even after I have shown you all this beautiful data, my guess is that it’s because you know that huge problems still remain. My guess is you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that everything is fine, or that you should look away from these problems and pretend they don’t exist: and that feels ridiculous, and stressful.

I agree. Everything is not fine. We should still be very concerned. As long as there are plane crashes, preventable child deaths, endangered species, climate change deniers, male chauvinists, crazy dictators, toxic waste, journalists in prison, and girls not getting an education because of their gender, as long as any such terrible things exist, we cannot relax.

But it is just as ridiculous, and just as stressful, to look away from the progress that has been made. People often call me an optimist, because I show them the enormous progress they didn’t know about. That makes me angry. I’m not an optimist. That makes me sound naΓ―ve. I’m a very serious “possibilist.” That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful.

When people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may conclude that nothing we have tried so far is working and lose confidence in measures that actually work. I meet many such people, who tell me they have lost all hope for humanity. Or, they may become radicals, supporting drastic measures that are counter-productive when, in fact, the methods we are already using to improve our world are working just fine.

Take, for example, girls’ education. Educating girls has proven to be one of the world’s best-ever ideas. When women are educated, all kinds of wonderful things happen in societies. The workforce becomes diversified and able to make better decisions and solve more problems. Educated mothers decide to have fewer children and more children survive. More energy and time is invested in each child’s education. It’s a virtuous cycle of change.

Poor parents who can’t afford to send all their children to school have often prioritized the boys. But since 1970 there has been fantastic progress. Across religions, cultures, and continents, almost all parents can now afford to send all their children to school, and are sending their daughters as well as their sons. Now the girls have almost caught up: 90 percent of girls of primary school age attend school. For boys, the figure is 92 percent. There’s almost no difference.

There are still gender differences when it comes to education on Level 1, especially when it comes to secondary and higher education, but that’s no reason to deny the progress that has been made. I see no conflict between celebrating this progress and continuing to fight for more. I am a possibilist. And the progress we have made tells me it’s possible to get all girls in school, and all boys too, and that we should work hard to make it happen. It won’t happen by itself, and if we lose hope because of stupid misconceptions, it might not happen at all. The loss of hope is probably the most devastating consequence of the negativity instinct and the ignorance it causes.

How to Control the Negativity Instinct

How can we help our brains to realize that things are getting better when everything is screaming at us that things are getting worse?

Bad and Better

The solution is not to balance out all the negative news with more positive news. That would just risk creating a self-deceiving, comforting, misleading bias in the other direction. It would be as helpful as balancing too much sugar with too much salt. It would make things more exciting, but maybe even less healthy.

A solution that works for me is to persuade myself to keep two thoughts in my head at the same time.

It seems that when we hear someone say things are getting better, we think they are also saying “don’t worry, relax” or even “look away.” But when I say things are getting better, I am not saying those things at all. I am certainly not advocating looking away from the terrible problems in the world. I am saying that things can be both bad and better.

Think of the world as a premature baby in an incubator. The baby’s health status is extremely bad and her breathing, heart rate, and other important signs are tracked constantly so that changes for better or worse can quickly be seen. After a week, she is getting a lot better. On all the main measures, she is improving, but she still has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical. Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes. Absolutely. Does it make sense to say it is bad? Yes, absolutely. Does saying “things are improving” imply that everything is fine, and we should all relax and not worry? No, not at all. Is it helpful to have to choose between bad and improving? Definitely not. It’s both. It’s both bad and better. Better, and bad, at the same time. 

That is how we must think about the current state of the world.

Expect Bad News

Something else that helps to control the negativity instinct is to constantly expect bad news.

Remember that the media and activists rely on drama to grab your attention. Remember that negative stories are more dramatic than neutral or positive ones. Remember how simple it is to construct a story of crisis from a temporary dip pulled out of its context of a long-term improvement. Remember that we live in a connected and transparent world where reporting about suffering is better than it has ever been before.

When you hear about something terrible, calm yourself by asking, If there had been an equally large positive improvement, would I have heard about that? Even if there had been hundreds of larger improvements, would I have heard? Would I ever hear about children who don’t drown? Can I see a decrease in child drownings, or in deaths from tuberculosis, out my window, or on the news, or in a charity’s publicity material? Keep in mind that the positive changes may be more common, but they don’t find you. You need to find them. (And if you look in the statistics, they are everywhere.) 

This reminder will give you the basic protection to allow you, and your children, to keep watching the news without being carried away into dystopia on a daily basis.

Don’t Censor History

When we hang on to a rose-tinted version of history we deprive ourselves and our children of the truth. The evidence about the terrible past is scary, but it is a great resource. It can help us to appreciate what we have today and provide us with hope that future generations will, as previous generations did, get over the dips and continue the long-term trends toward peace, prosperity, and solutions to our global problems.

I Would Like to Thank … Society

Struggling for breath in that ditch full of pee 65 years ago in a working-class suburb in Sweden, little did I know that I would be the first in my family to go to university. Little did I know that I would become a global health professor and travel to Davos and tell the world’s experts that they knew less about basic global trends than chimpanzees.

I didn’t know any basic global trends myself back then, of course. I had to learn them. The only way anyone can know about different causes of death and how they are changing, for example, is to keep track of every death and its cause, write them down, and then add them up. That’s extremely time-consuming. There’s only one such data set in the whole world. It’s named the Global Burden of Disease, and when I consulted it many years later it showed me that my near-death experience was not so special. It was a common type of accident for a child under five living on Level 3.

All I knew was that I was stuck. My grandmother came to the rescue and lifted me up. And then Swedish society lifted me further.

During my lifetime, Sweden moved from Level 3 to Level 4. A treatment against tuberculosis was invented and my mother got well. She read books to me that she borrowed from the public library. For free. I became the first in my family to get more than six years of education, and I went to university for free. I got a doctor’s degree for free. Of course nothing is free: the taxpayers paid. And then, at the age of 30, when I had become a father of two and I discovered my first cancer, I was treated and cured by the world’s best health-care system, for free. My survival and success in life have always depended on others. Thanks to my family, free education, and free health care, I made it all the way from that ditch to the World Economic Forum. I would never have made it on my own.

Today, now that Sweden is on Level 4, only three children in 1,000 die before the age of five, and only 1 percent of those deaths are drownings. Fences, day care, life-jacket campaigns, swimming lessons, and lifeguards at public pools all cost money. Child death from drowning is one of the many horrors that has nearly disappeared as the country has become richer. That is what I call progress. The same improvements are taking place across the world today. Most countries are currently improving faster than Sweden ever did. Much faster.

Factfulness

Factfulness is … recognizing when we get negative news, and remembering that information about bad events is much more likely to reach us. When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world around us, which is very stressful.

To control the negativity instinct, expect bad news.

• Better and bad. Practice distinguishing between a level (e.g., bad) and a direction of change (e.g., better). Convince yourself that things can be both better and bad.

• Good news is not news. Good news is almost never reported. So news is almost always bad. When you see bad news, ask whether equally positive news would have reached you.

• Gradual improvement is not news. When a trend is gradually improving, with periodic dips, you are more likely to notice the dips than the overall improvement.

• More news does not equal more suffering. More bad news is sometimes due to better surveillance of suffering, not a worsening world.

• Beware of rosy pasts. People often glorify their early experiences, and nations often glorify their histories.





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