Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers | Steven Pinker
Is the world getting better or worse A look at the numbers Steven Pinker

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Was 2017 really the "worst year ever," as some would have us believe? In his analysis of recent data on homicide, war, poverty, pollution and more, psychologist Steven Pinker finds that we're doing better now in every one of them when compared with 30 years ago. But progress isn't inevitable, and it doesn't mean everything gets better for everyone all the time, Pinker says. Instead, progress is problem-solving, and we should look at things like climate change and nuclear war as problems to be solved, not apocalypses in waiting. "We will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one," he says. "But there's no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing." Check out more TED Talks: The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. Follow TED on Twitter: Like TED on Facebook: Subscribe to our channel:


*alittlelost* : The world isn't getting worse, but the spread of bad news has become easier.

yapdog : You wouldn't believe how harshly I always get attacked online when I said we're better off now than we were by nearly every measure. I've been saying this for the past 10 years, but, no matter their political leanings, people really don't like to hear it, calling me ignorant.

Wael Fadhel : People, he said it clearly , We are not perfect but we are better and we are making a progress. Not perfect.

Estabanwatersaz : Cheered me up. Thank you sir!

Legominder : Climate cathastrophy and almost all of us are gone - if we don't change our behaviour FAST. Feel good messages are important, but stay with the truth.

Martin Kuek : For whom? Over what time frame? And by what measure(s)? The vague question itself is the reason for the debate. Who are the people making the assertion the world is getting worse? Certainly not the average developing world citizen who has been lifted out of poverty and now has a job manufacturing cheap goods for the West. No, it is the average citizen of the developed world who is usually responsible for statements like this. Pinker himself points out that progress doesn't benefit everyone all at the same time 12:35. So from the perspective of the Western middle class the world could have gotten worse even as humanity as a whole improves. What time frame are those who complain talking about. Pinker makes many references to times long past. Medieval periods, the 17th and 19th centuries etc. But I believe the time frame Western middle class are referring to when complaining about their declining world is simply living memory. That puts us at most as far back as the 50s, 60s, 70s. What about the measures used to indicate progress? Again, those who argue the world is better are using completely different measure to the average Western middle class citizen. Pinker ackolwledges this too. 14:32. It seems cold and selfish that the average guy in the west does not care about literacy in Africa but it is the brutal truth and his experience of the world getting worse for him is in no way less valid than the experience of the poor in Africa rising out of poverty.

Christos Panagiotidis : 8:40 How does one measure happiness? Don't see any chart there.

Ed Paha : Hans Rosling has many interesting presentations along these lines. As Spock would say " Live long and prosper"

Goose : i think social media has amplified everything. things may not be as bad as 30 years ago but with social media people just love to complain, hate and voice their negative opinions.

Aidid Rashed Efat : World is becoming better day by day, but media is going more and more reactionary.

Martín Paz : You just answered most of my darkest questions about ourselves. Wow. Thank you!

Reshma Geffken : This maybe one of the best talks I have ever watched. Progress not as a definition of some inclination of something, but a metrics based approach to doing so. Kudos.

Vaes Joren : I was wondering if there may be a relation with perceived poverty due to what is shown around 8:00 regarding work hours, domestic appliances, and time spent on "housework". As we spend less time working, and less time doing house work, we free up time to do other things in our spare time. This means we have more time to spend money, an even if we have more money, we feel like we don't because we don't have as much of an increase in income as we have an increase in time. So where maybe you could go out for a nice dinner every time you got all the work done, now we have so much more opportunities to do so we can no longer fill all of them (we still fill more of them, but the ratio declined). Add to this the fact that we now have more stuff to spend money on that we perceive as basic necessities - TV, microwave, computer, laptop, smartphone, internet, ... all of which we didn't spend (as much) money on before, this leads to the perception of lower wealth - when we are done buying the things we feel we ''have'' to buy, we might have less money left, even though our luxury and well-being has gone up (the convenience of the phone for communicative, navigation etc, being able to watch videos on the internet or read wikipedia when we have questions, reheating food easily allowing us more freedom to schedule our meals,...). I think perhaps, at least to some extent, this also impacts people feeling like things were better before - we didn't have the time to notice they weren't.

Earthbjorn Nahkaimurrao : 9:15 - someone with ability should start a news organization that focuses on tracking the improvements we are making. This would greatly inspire people to contribute to society by becoming engineers, teachers, doctors, etc.

Eqinor : 8:58 Sure, let us see how the audience is laughing instead of showing us the funny slide so we can laugh as well.

Dan Leclaire : Eloquently said and explained. Cheers to a better future.

Scrambled Greg : Steven Pinker? More like Steven Thinker!

Jessie Watson : Much needed analysis. It shouldn't require a cognitive psychologist to highlight such progress.

Abhilash S : "Knowledge is better than superstition" Thank you TED

Pierre Taichou : Good TED talk, but I wanted to see graphs on suicide rates.

Ken Wells : This guy is AWESOME! No more Malcom Gladwell until I've exhausted Pinkerton.

Joy Marcus : Scala Sans! Excellent choice of typeface, Dr. Pinker.

D.B. : Great talk Mr. Pinker

robert fripp : classic status quo lover, square capitalist....

ka ta : great speech. changed my mind.

Matt Cy : It's a fallacy to think that since things have trended to improve, they will continue to improve. While, yes, things are better now, we must fight the chance of these trends to reverse.

Travis Edwards : And now look it's legal to publicly defecate in certain cities right out in the wide-open I mean yeah human societies getting real great

Rob Dircks : Definitely in the top five TED talks I've ever watched. What a breath of fresh air, and permission to have more hope for us all.

thomas makucevich : In the 1980's I was in my 30's now I'm in my 60's. No improvement there. (Physically speaking)

JakulaithWolff : I think shorter hair would make him look more handsome, but this is also cute. He reminds me of Beethoven.

Aidid Rashed Efat : Progress is not a miracle but problem-solving.👏🏼

Captain Ron : Wonderful talk! However, despite the convincing numbers that the world is a better place today than it was in the past, many people are incapable of seeing progress and instead dwell on current issues and problems. This is not a bad thing but focusing on the world's miseries (without acknowledging the amazing progress of human society) is a depressing way of living one's life.

Tamjan San : Maybe we should ask his pal Epstein if world is getting better or worse!?

Doaa Altarawy : Thanks. But How do we measure happiness? there is no measure we can all agree upon. If the use of antidepressants is a measure then we are getting more miserable!

Rajendra Bist : Thank you - for attempting to correct our flawed perspective of life

Attila Szigeti : Is it just me or he sounds a little like Michio Kaku? Nice speech btw

MostlyLoveOfMusic : Even so, let's do better. Thanks Steven

Nguyễn Nhân : I just need his statistical sources:).

Balboa Baggins : Interesting how you forgot the most important issues: more green energy, more garbage recycling, the ocean and rivers are getting cleaned up, there's more vegetarians etc.

Georgios Tsirtsidis : One thing Dr. Pinker didn't mention is that 30 years ago 1 person (mostly man) could feed a family with 1 job, and now 2 people have to work 1 or even 2 jobs. It kinda sucks doesn't it? I don't know if I'm being naive here. Of course women are more than welcome to work, my problem is that they HAVE to work.

Mila Djordjevic : Positive things in recent years which have been making the world a better, and more positive place: 🌻 the discovery of worms that eat plastic which can help us drastically reduce the astronomical amounts of trash we've produced. 🌻 the slow beginning of charging and (better yet) banning people from using plastic bags in certain cities across the world. (message me for a map if you're interested in more info.) 🌻 the invention of the Seabin which is a vacuum that sucks up oil and trash from the ocean, including microplastic! 🌻 the explosion of fair trade, sustainable, vegan, cruelty free, and zero waste companies out there for clothing, shoes, & cosmetics etc 🌻 the invention of compostable cutlery and reusable straws 🌻 the man made iceberg which creates fresh water for deserts in the Himalayas (think how this can influence others to bring fresh water to other places in the world that are in dire need of fresh clean water) 🌻 meditation in detention centers in schools which have improved the behavior of misbehaved students 🌻 meditation in prisons which have improved inmates' livelihoods 🌻 the increase of spreading awareness and education on mental health and disease and how preventable/curable many diseases are 🌻 increase of conversations on self-love, forgiveness, and gratitude. 🌻 the increase of supply and demand of vegan food which helps make the world a greener place because animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean dead zones/loss of biodiversity, animal extinction, deforestation especially of the Amazon rain forest which are the lungs of our planet and greenhouse gas emissions. 🌻 comment below more positive things I can't think of right now, but I KNOW there're millions more positive things to be grateful for in this world!

erikbarrett85 : By the time We got To Woodstock We were HALF a million strong

Jordan Witney : This is the best Ted Talk I’ve seen, and I’ve watched way too many of these things.

Life Or Death : Another great Ted Talk, thanks George Washington!

a precedence shrift irksloon : The truth almost certainly lies somewhere in between those dichotomous portraits in pursuit of anthropogeny. “Worries ? you don’t know enough to worry.” –T. McKenna

mooxim : :D I could see his eyes welling up as he finished. I'm glad he kept his cool while speaking instead of getting too preachy and passionate but these are thoughts worth getting emotional about.

Saraoushka .n : #super ★★★★★ Thank you for speaking my mind

el koku : I think in a perfect world without problems we create problems. We can't stand a world without problems, we thrive for them and feel uncomfortable when all is fine, and no drama to live around.

Jonathan Lebon : So eloquently put. Every journalist should watch this...