Links and Comments: Optimists; Bible; Children

Time Magazine’s current issue is called “The Optimists,” and is edited by Bill Gates. Steven Pinker has a piece:

Why We Refuse to See the Bright Side, Even Though We Should

According to the latest data, people are living longer and becoming healthier, better fed, richer, smarter, safer, more connected–and, at the same time, ever gloomier about the state of the world. As the political scientist John Mueller once summed up the history of the West, “People seem simply to have taken the remarkable economic improvement in stride and have deftly found new concerns to get upset about.” How can we explain pessimism in a world of progress?

One answer is an issue I’ve noted repeatedly: the news media, by their nature, focus on the bad, no matter how rare bad incidents may occur. (This doesn’t make the news media bad or dishonest; that’s just the nature of the medium. It has to be understood, the same way advertising must be understood.)

News is about what happens, not what doesn’t happen, so it features sudden and upsetting events like fires, plant closings, rampage shootings and shark attacks. Most positive developments are not camera-friendly, and they aren’t built in a day. You never see a headline about a country that is not at war, or a city that has not been attacked by terrorists–or the fact that since yesterday, 180,000 people have escaped extreme poverty.

NYT writer Nicholas Kristof occasionally echoes the same theme. Today, Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History

As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty. In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone. After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.

And he cites Pinker (who has a new book coming out in February). Both address psychological issues, how human biases betray clear thinking. Thus there will always be an audience for the likes of Trump.

President Trump rode this gloom to the White House. The idea “Make America Great Again” professes a nostalgia for a lost Eden. But really? If that was, say, the 1950s, the U.S. also had segregation, polio and bans on interracial marriage, gay sex and birth control. Most of the world lived under dictatorships, two-thirds of parents had a child die before age 5, and it was a time of nuclear standoffs, of pea soup smog, of frequent wars, of stifling limits on women and of the worst famine in history.

And one more, at 9 ways the world got a lot better in 2017, by Charles Kenny.

Less famine, fewer deaths from wars and natural disasters, progress against pestilence (via vaccinations), greater life expectancy, more democracy, expanding human rights, fewer very poor people, greener energy.


Also in NYT, an essay about the new Museum of the Bible, which apparently is more a shrine to uncritical veneration than a true museum exploring origins and influences.

The Museum of the Bible Is a Safe Space for Christian Nationalists.

If you walk in thinking that the Bible has a single meaning, that the evidence of archaeology and history has served to confirm its truth, that it is the greatest force for good humanity has ever known and that it is the founding text of the American republic — well, then, you will leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

Also, a fascinating piece about what it means if your child is lying to you.

Is Your Child Lying to You? That’s Good.

On the one hand,

Why do some children start lying at an earlier age than others? What separates them from their more honest peers? The short answer is that they are smarter.

On the other, concerning an experiment in which a child is told not to look for a toy,

(Children who don’t peek at the toy in the first place are actually the smartest of all, but they are a rarity.)

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