STATUS: TRUEBill Gates on the state of the world:

Gates was asked how he’s able to remain “so upbeat” about the state of the world in “this time of political division, violence and natural disasters.”

“How long people live, the reduction of disease… this period since World War II has been unbelievable – the reduction in violence, the improvement in literacy, the improvement of health is phenomenal,” he said.

“By almost any metric,” Gates argued, “the world is a far better place today – less violent deaths, less disease, more education – than ever in its history. It doesn’t mean we can feel complacent about that remaining burden.”

Gates noted that 12 million children under 5 years old died in 1990 and that figure is now less than 5 million per year.

The world, he said, is “100 times less violent than it was 1,000 years ago – that is, the percentage of deaths that are violent is down dramatically.”

Coincidentally, I’m reading at the moment Ian Morris’s wonderful “War: What Is It Good For? The role of conflict in civilisation, from primates to robots” (which could be read as a companion to Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature”), a book that goes into great detail discussing historical trends in violence. From page 333:

Averaged across the planet, violence killed about 1 person in every 4,375 in 2012, implying that just 0.7 percent of the people alive today will die violently, as against 1-2 percent of the people who lived in the twentieth century, 2-5 percent in the ancient empires, 5-10 percent in Eurasia in the age of steppe migration, and a terrifying 10-20 percent in the Stone Age.

Violence is just one aspect, but life has been getting better for more people than ever before in just about every other way. Yet, at the same time, those most fortunate, the inhabitants of the developed world, wallow in self-pity, depression and dissatisfaction. Elsewhere in the world, people who have a lot less, are far more optimistic. The West’s malaise is dangerous because 1) most of it is irrational, and 2) it will nevertheless have profound effects for the future. Nations and civilisations need the power of positive thinking too if they are to continue to survive and thrive. The West at this point in time looks like a not seriously sick but nevertheless severely depressed patient who has given up the will to live.