In England, science journalist Matt Ridley also realized he had focused on the wrong things. That realization led to the more positive outlook in his book “The Rational Optimist.”
Now he gives lectures about why he’s an optimist. It’s not just an attitude; it’s an accurate assessment of how well the human race has fared over the past several hundred years.
“I discovered that almost everything is getting better, even the things that people thought were getting worse,” says Ridley.
He was taught to think the future was bleak. “The population explosion was unstoppable. Famine was inevitable. Pesticides were going to shorten our lives. The Ice Age was coming back. Acid rain was killing forests … All these things were going to go wrong.”
Yet time and again, humanity survived doomsday. Not just survived, we flourish. Population increases, yet famine becomes rarer. More energy is used, yet the environment gets cleaner. Innovation and trade keep improving our lives.
But the media win by selling pessimism porn.
“People are much more interested in hearing about something that’s gone wrong,” says Ridley. “It sounds wiser to talk about what might go wrong than to talk about what might go right.”
Or what already went right. Over the past 40 years, murder dropped by 40 percent, rape by 80 percent, and, outside of war zones, Islamic terrorism claims fewer than 400 lives a year. The last decade saw the fewest lives claimed in war since record keeping began.
One unnecessary death is tragic, but the big picture is good news.
Our brains just aren’t very good at keeping track of the good news. Evolution programmed us to pay attention to problems. Good news often happens slowly. The media miss it.
There is, however, one big problem that threatens our future: the political class. Politicians offer us unsustainable debt and incomprehensible regulations. So far the economy has survived that because of what the Mercatus Center’s Adam Thierer calls “permission-less innovation.”
Interested in hearing more about Ridley’s work? Watch his 2012 Hayek lecture at Duke University.