If you share some uplifting link with somebody on Facebook -- some video of an act of human kindness captured on camera, or this dolphin masturbating with the aid of its little fish friend -- the response is usually the same. "Nice to see there are still heartwarming stories in this awful world!"
In other words, any positive news or trend is treated as the exception, when the overall arc of civilization is clearly downward. The only problem is that it is absolutely not true, and it's actually very easy to prove, as we have made it our mission to point out.
So you can sit around and worry about debt ceilings and terror attacks, but take a moment to appreciate that you happen to be alive during the goddamned golden age of human civilization. Just think about the fact that ...
5We're Closing in on World Peace (Seriously)
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This one seems laughable -- mankind has gone from fighting with swords, to muskets, to machine guns -- right up to the modern era of poison gas and nukes that can murder every human on the planet in minutes. Mankind's technological growth has been marked mainly by increasingly efficient ways to slaughter each other.
Sure enough, the 20th century had to have been the most violent in human history. Two world wars, conflict in Southeast Asia, constant war in the Middle East -- and those were just the ones that America was directly involved in. At the beginning of the 21st century, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and rumblings of war with Syria, it seems like the world is a pack of rabid dogs about to pounce on a Snausage pinata.
Awww. That's just his way of saying he wants to love you right in half.
The Good News:
Even with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the first decade of the 21st century saw the number of annual battle deaths at its lowest ever in history.
Professor Joshua Goldstein put it best: "If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that's because there's more information about wars -- not more wars themselves." Overall, we're in the midst of an unheard of "long peace," as no major powers have clashed since World War II, replacing them with smaller wars that historically would count as skirmishes -- the U.S. lost 3,400 soldiers in Afghanistan, which is terrible, but during the American Civil War, 4,700 troops were killed on one side of one single battle. Here it is in graph form:
OK, so maybe this is just a temporary breather after the bloodbath that was the previous century? Nope -- it's part of a long-term trend. As crazy as it seems to suggest it, the past couple of hundred years have been the most peaceful in world history. That's including the world wars.
(The numbers don't lie: Property crime, theft, and burglary have also all been dropping since around 1993. The De-Textbook has more on why you'd be just as safe leaving your doors unlocked now as your grandparents were in "the good old days.")
Yes, in absolute numbers, more people died violently in the 20th century than in any other century -- but that's because there are so many more people now. The chances that a person living in the 20th century would die violently were about 3 percent. That's a historically low number -- it was five times higher in prehistoric societies. In tribal societies, war was a daily occurrence -- just the process of everyone settling down into large-scale governments, even violent ones, was an improvement. If our hunter-gatherer ancestors could see us now, they'd be confounded by the complete lack of annual head smashing and face stabbing (if you ever unfreeze a caveman, show him our violent video games -- he'll go nuts for that shit).
Especially when you show him how to teabag.
And it's not just war, it's all violent deaths -- in 14th century England, some cities had a homicide rate as high as 110 per 100,000 citizens. London's homicide rate in 2012 was just under 1 per 100,000. And we've previously talked about how violent crime is dropping to historic lows, even in the gun-crazy USA. No matter how you break it down, violence is slowly going out of style.