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The World is Getting Better: 7 Reasons Why This Matters

(To read the rest of our posts on "The World is Getting Safer/Better, please check out the articles below:

- Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars? (This post has links to an entire series of people asking this question.)

- Why I Believe Things Are Getting Better: A Review of Rising Up and Rising Down's Premise

- An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Two

- Things Are Getting Better...Still

- On V Update to Old Ideas: Drones, the World Isn’t Getting More Violent, and “This Ain’t Hell” Doesn’t Take Criticism Well

- On V Update to Old Ideas: Fear and Risk Edition

- When Realists Don’t Live in Reality: The World is Getting Safer

- An On V Update to Old Ideas: The End of War Edition

- Another Update to the World is Getting Safer

- Anti-Pollyannas or: The Worst Arguments AGAINST the World is Getting Safer

- Using Anecdotes or: The Worst Arguments AGAINST the World is Getting Safer

- Moving the Goalposts or: The Worst Arguments AGAINST the World is Getting Safer

- Using Incorrect Facts: The Worst Arguments AGAINST the World is Getting Safer

- Politicians STILL Don’t Believe the World is Getting Safer (And the Media Doesn’t Call Them On It)

- On V Debates: Does America Make the World Safer?

- Eric C's Take: Does America Make the World Safer?

- Michael C’s Take: Does America Make the World Safer?

- Rebuttals! Does America Make the World Safer?

- Don’t Worry about EMPs, WMDs or ISIS: Sorry, Republicans The World is Getting Safer

- “You Know Nothing, Donald Trump”: How Game of Thrones Shows the World is Getting Safer

- Dark Wings, Dark Words: Rebuttals to “How Game of Thrones Shows the World is Getting Safer”)

In the past few weeks, we’ve finished or started finishing up a few long-running topics that, unless a new story breaks, we’re done writing about including: debunking Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy and our work on Lone Survivor and American Sniper. (We’re figuring out where we’re placing a final outside piece of writing on this topic and then we’ll have a few last posts on the topic.)

That leaves us room to expand on some of our other favorite bailiwicks. We’ve decided to devote this week to our favorite topic, (the raison d’etre for this blog if you will):

The world is getting safer! And better!

To this end, we’re devoting the next two weeks to this topic (and a number of other posts as well later this month). We’re going to provide two On V updates to “The End of War”, again filling in this “debate” with all the statistical evidence. (With graphs!) Then, we’re going try to explain why, in Michael C’s opinion, liberalism in foreign policy continues to make the world a safer place, but still doesn’t get any credit.

Unlike our recently discarded topics, we’re going to keep writing about the world getting safer, even once we finish this series.

But, why? Why keep harping-on/retreading/re-discussing this topic?

First, the vast majority of people still don’t know this fact.

In terms of the gap between what people believe versus reality, I would argue that "the world is getting safer" tops the list. Anecdotally, I have to explain it to people all the time.

And this isn’t an issue for just uneducated people. Jad Abumrad co-created Radiolab, one of the most popular radio programs/podcasts on science. Yet, he had a crossover episode with On The Media on nihilism, arguing that present day nihilism is a reflection on the sorry state of the world today. He didn’t realize that the media (which he liberally quoted in that piece) emphasizes statistically rare events.

More importantly, he's even interviewed On V fav John Horgan before, which turned us onto this entire topic!

Second, even if you learn this fact, many people don’t want to believe it.

People, it seems, just want to think the world is a terrible place. I recently researched and read the various rebuttals to Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature--I’m open-minded, so I wanted to see if I was missing something--and the counter-arguments some thinkers make to rebut Pinker are down right silly. And illogical.

For example, if you debunk Pinker’s the-world-is-getting-safer thesis by citing one example of violence in the world, that’s an anecdotal fallacy. But people also misuse statistics, move the goal posts, or “debunk” one part of Pinker’s thesis but ignore others. Why would otherwise intelligent people deny this reality? They don’t want to believe it, a response more emotional than rational.

Third, we keep finding more evidence.

We keep finding and collecting links on how the world is getting better. Over the next two days, we’ve got two “On V Updates to Old Ideas” sharing links about how the world is getting safer (and better, in general). In some ways, these links prove the case in the simplest, most definitive way possible. (Just look at the graphs!)

Fourth, we need to cover this because most pundits/journalists/media sites don’t.

To paraphrase Steven Pinker, newspapers and websites don’t run news stories on all the countries that aren’t at war. Not unexpectedly, after the GermanWings airliner crashed, it took over the news, but all the car accidents around the U.S. didn’t. Even the coverage on the nuclear deal with Iran focused more on a possible war than the actual deal.

Fifth, we want to focus on good news.

For a website named On Violence, we don’t want to only write about what’s gone disastrously wrong. (Like the people in the previous paragraph.) Yes, we hate drone strikes (coming soon), possible wars with Iran, NSA snooping, police violence, innocent people on death row, overcrowded prisons and so on. So we have a blog to write about these things.

We shouldn’t lose focus: good news comes out all the time. It’s just not sexy.

Besides harping on the statistical rarity of terrorism--you, an American, are more likely to win the lottery than die (or suffer injuries) from a terror attack--our other favorite bit of optimism comes from the decreasing risk of war. Yes, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan have simmering civil wars. Yes, Israel and Palestine have not come to any agreement. Russia still controls Crimea. And yes, Iraq is in a civil war. But the pace of interstate wars is at historic lows. So are internal civil wars. And the rate keeps going down. (One could also argue that if the developed world/rapidly developing world focused more on peacekeeping and preventing dictatorships, this could go down even faster.)

Sixth, this affects our nation’s willingness to go to war.

Many neo-conservatives, and especially those in the military establishment, believe the world is a “dangerous place” and use this argument to go to war. Or expand funding to fight terrorism. The world is, comparatively, not a dangerous place. It weakens that particular argument.

Counter-intuitively, the things that have made the world safer, at times, make us more likely to go to war. Why does ISIS inspire the world’s rage? Not because they’ve killed thousands of Iraqis, but because they’ve executed a handful of Americans. At this point, the deaths of a few can inspire the world to war.

Seventh, by figuring out why the world is getting safer, we can actually help it become even safer.

Really isn’t that why we do this in the first place?

five comments

“the decreasing risk of war”

One could argue that the occurrence, not the risk, is decreasing.

I personally am uneasy about the global situation because my country had a period of fighting no war in Europe for 43 years in a row – and then WWI happened. That’s not the only parallel.

People have lost respect for war. It’s not about “In the next war we will all die to red nukes!” any more. War has become an expensive form of foreign policy and reality TV with a little bit of Michael Bay.

There are furthermore a couple upstart powers – Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, soon India and in a way even Saudi-Arabia – which may pay dearly sooner or later because their society has little memory of war’s horrors.

All this being said, the ‘wisdom of crowds’ is extremely poor in regard to risk management and thus also poor in regard to resource allocation.


@ SO – Good point. Some academics have argued the risk of war has gone up, the occurrence hasn’t.


Eric,

Do you believe that the best position from which to influence the world toward “safer and better” is the military/Officer Corps, or that pursuit of civilian careers in technology, medicine, sciences, and anything else which makes a strong contribution to societal progress is a superior path?

Put another way, for someone well aware of this phenomenon of a safer world, would it be wiser to invest in becoming a part of senior leadership and thus contribute to more rational, less warhawkish behavior, or to simply make the best contribution possible from without the institution?


@ Chris – Either way. I think you could make a strong argument that the military needs our country’s “best and brightest”, or I would argue, out moral, ethical minds. On a personal note, that’s a big reason why I, a pacifist, supported Michael C joining the Army. I wanted people like him in the institution. Frankly, in terms of letting us see the world so we can write about it, I’m proud of him joining.

I think having smart, moral people—who realize that killing isn’t the only way to fight a war—yes, that will help make the world a safer place. Ted Cruz just said he wants to get rid of the rules of engagement and nation-building. We need people in the military explaining to him how bad an idea that is.

Or as you pointed out, not arguing for more wars. We may write a post on this, but ironically, America as a nation, in some ways, has prevented the world from getting safer by fighting in some many wars.


Eric,

Not much to say other than thanks for a robust response. Appreciate the time you took having written back.

You both should be proud and all the happier that Michael’s able to pursue more substantive, enjoyable things but still undertook what he did.

Regarding your commentary, it all helps in carving out one’s own path toward a significant future… anyway, cheers and thanks again!