Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Distortions of world view

Chris Anderson notes how "Certain types of news — for example dramatic disasters and terrorist actions — are massively over-reported, others — such as scientific progress and meaningful statistical surveys of the state of the world — massively under-reported." This derives from: "a deep human psychological response. We're wired to react more strongly to dramatic stories than to abstract facts. There are obvious historical and Darwinian reasons why this should be so. The news that an invader has just set fire to a hut in your village demands immediate response. The genes for equanimity in such circumstances got burned up long ago...Although our village is now global, we still instinctively react the same way. Spectacle, death and gore."

"Percentage of males estimated to have died in violence in hunter gatherer societies? Approximately 30%. Percentage of males who died in violence in the 20th century complete with two world wars and a couple of nukes? Approximately 1%. ...a carefully researched Human Security Report concluded that the numbers of armed conflicts in the world had fallen 40% in little over a decade." (Steven Pinker's essay in the "What are you optimistic about" series also notes the decline of force over the centuries and hopes that it is a real phenomenon, the product of systematic forces that will continue to operate, and that we can identify those forces and perhaps concentrate and bottle them.)

"In fact, most meta-level reporting of trends show a world that is getting better. We live longer, in cleaner environments, are healthier, and have access to goods and experiences that kings of old could never have dreamed of. If that doesn't make us happier, we really have no one to blame except ourselves. Oh, and the media lackeys who continue to feed us the litany of woes that we subconsciously crave."

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