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The world is bad, but better. The vast majority of westerners believe the world is poorer, more violent, deadly, primitive, and awful than it actually is. This book beautifully illustrates our ignorance, updates your knowledge, and gives you tools for a fact-based worldview.
4 levels of income
The labels “developed” and “developing” countries (the latter just being a euphemism for “poor”) are wrong. There is no gap between “rich” and “poor” countries — there’s a vast spectrum of very, very different lives you can live on different income levels. A much better model is this:
Level 1 (<$2/day) - This is extreme poverty. You sleep on dirt. You eat the same awful thing every single day (or sometimes not at all). And you spend many hours a day just fetching water (often dirty). 1 billion people live like this.
Level 2 ($2-$8/day) - This means you can buy shoes, you can sleep on a mattress, maybe can afford a bike. You might have a gas stove. And your kids can go to school. 3 billion people live like this.
Level 3 ($8-32/day) - You have running water. You have a fridge. A motorbike most likely. Your children can finish high school. 2 billion people live like this.
Level 4 ($32+/day) - This is you and I, and the world we know. You can afford a car and a vacation at least once in a while. And you have at least high school education, maybe more. 1 billion people live like this.
Check out Dollar street, which shows life on different income level. You’ll see there’s a big difference between levels below 4. And that the so-called cultural or religious differences between countries and regions are mostly bullshit — the life on different levels looks very similar any place on the planet.
Bad but better. Keep those two things in mind. The world is definitely not uniformly “good” — life is hard for most people. But it’s also better. It is improving, and pretty fast. You don’t hear that on the news.
>80% of children are vaccinated globally.
>80% of people have at least some access to electricity.
>80% of children (boys and girls) go to primary school.
Extreme poverty has dropped in half over the last 20 years.
Deaths from natural disasters dropped by 75% over the last 100 years. (Even more if you consider there’s a lot of more people around.)
… and a lot more stats like this.
On simple ABC questions about these things (e.g. “20/50/80% of people…”), only ~10% of westerners could give the correct answers — most picked the most pessimistic one. Worse than a random guess!
Why is this important? Because progress is encouraging. We only hear the worst stuff on the news, and either get depressed that the world is awful and can’t be better or get apathetic and stop caring about the rest of the world.
It’s not fair to just blame the media for our ignorance. They just give us what we want. We have to actively fight our instincts to support a fact-based worldview:
- gap instinct — we think the world is split into two (us vs them), with a gap in between (it’s actually gradually spread out)
- negativity instinct — we are more sensitive to losing than gaining, and we pay attention to the bad, not the good.
- fear instinct - we overestimate unlikely dangers (like terrorism, natural disaster, nuclear leaks, plane crashes) and underestimate more likely and dangerous but less frightening dangers.
- overdramatic instinct — we want to hear the most dramatic stories (incremental progress over 20 years is boring)
- generalization instinct — we group people into categories that might not actually explain a lot (e.g. african countries, muslim countries)
- destiny instinct — the feeling that groups of people don’t change and are destined to fail/succeed (e.g. “african countries” which have progressed tremendously; or the overstating of the link between religion and number of children per woman — muslim women have only slightly more children on average than christian women, and the difference is mostly explained by difference in income levels)
- blame/claim instinct - we look for a scapegoat instead of thinking about the system that brought about a problem, limiting out ability to improve it, or to see that it is improving. Same is true when things are going well.
- urgency instinct - “something MUST be done NOW!”
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