The Good Old Days – That’s Now

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days

than a bad memory – Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960), American columnist & wit


Steven Pinker has data and figures for important things in this world we live in and how these things have changed over the years.

And some people hate him for it! They know the world is worse than it was in the ‘good old days’, but he shows data that shows how some things – a lot of things – have actually improved.

Wars still go on, including the worst war in a generation in Syria, but by and large the trend in war has been downward. A fraction of the number of people are killed in wars today, compared to the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

In fact, five-sixths of the earth’s surface is free of war. That’s an example of a kind of trend that you can’t really pick up from the news because when a country doesn’t have a war, it’s not news.

Child mortality is down.

Maternal mortality is down.

Illiteracy is down. Ninety percent of the world’s population under the age of 25 can read and write.

We’re even getting smarter: IQ scores have been rising by three points a decade for almost a century. (The Flynn Effect refers to the observed rise in IQ scores over time).

We waste less of our waking hours on housework.

We work fewer hours.

We have wider access to culture.

Many, many more people who would have lost contact with their families can now phone home.

Its much easier for people working far from home to send money home.

All these developments won’t make the news, but give you a bit more confidence in the way the world is heading, says Pinker, to boos from people who seem to dislike – and distrust – good news.

Part of the problem is when pessimists speak they speak in serious, sober tones and people tend to nod gravely. Optimists tend to be more upbeat and human nature looks on that with misgiving – as though the optimist is being (heaven forbid!) frivolous! Years of listening to dominees and politicians have made us think pessimism is serious – and thus true.

If we could go back to the good old days of our youths we would hear our elders seriously complaining about how bad things are!


See this TED talk: Steven Pinker: Is the world getting better or worse?