My baptismal feature article as a budding student journalist featured some 400 words about a Tai-Chi class I attended at the campus gym taught by a student-friend I met through a public speaking class we both attended. It was a typical feel-good, human-interest article. The entire experience was extraordinarily positive. Not only was I launching a new and exciting career by getting a by-line in the student newspaper, I was learning about an interesting exercise I had never heard of or seen in live-action before – an obvious working and learning win-win situation.
The extension of that first positive experience grew into many more feature articles, as well as other forms of non-fiction writing over a 30-year career as a freelancer.
During my early years as a student journalist, I developed a business plan to start a national newspaper that printed only positive and inspirational feature articles like the kind I enjoyed writing. After much consternation and false starts, I overcame this shortsighted naiveté with the realization that nobody would consistently read such a newspaper. Good news is boring. We are more attracted to bad news. That’s what sells. We see it day-in and day-out in today’s mass media. It’s typically described as “negativity bias” – a term that explains our penchant for mostly bad news. “Realistic optimism” is its opposite.
I’m currently reading three inspirational and realistically optimistic-in-the-extreme books that cogently address this issue of negativity bias, along with addressing numerous other wrongheaded attitudes and biases we possess that wind up promoting mistaken ways of thinking about our world: “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress,” by Steven Pinker; “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think,” by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund; and Pinker’s previous extraordinary book (among many), “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined,” – published in September 2012.
Enlightenment Now came out in February of this year on Kindle. Both Pinker books are long, with Better Angels at 806 paperback pages, and Enlightenment Now at 576 pages. Factfulness just came out on Amazon on April 3, and it is 320 pages.
I’ve been cruising through these three books over the last six days. I read completely through Factfulness almost nonstop to its end in two days. I started enthusiastically with Enlightenment Now sometime in March and am about halfway through. I picked up Better Angles the other day from the public library and have just started reading it. As all three titles suggest, these books promote positive vibes about humanity and our planet backed by science and data that mostly goes unnoticed by the vast majority of us (as opposed to negativity-bias vibes that consistently garner more eyeballs).
In Enlightenment Now, Pinker writes, “as we care about more of humanity, we’re apt to mistake the harms around us for signs of how low the world has sunk rather than how high our standards have risen.” And Rosling adds how “the image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively than it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe.”
Now there’s plenty of room to refute such world-progress-oriented statements with horrific examples of terrorism, refugees, the war in Syria, the fact that more than one billion people live in substandard housing worldwide, and on and on, but, from an historical perspective there’s plenty of room to support such statements as well.
If you don’t want to, nor have the time to, read their books, force yourself to check out how Pinker tortuously dolls out his world positivity views with one Power Point slide after another during a one-hour presentation he gave on Enlightenment Now in March at the Cato Institute. Rosling, who is much more entertaining, presents his work through his now famous bubble charts and maps, bolstered by his infectious enthusiasm. Start with his BBC one-hour presentation in November 2013, titled “Don’t Panic: The Facts About Population.”
Just spending two hours closely listening and watching these – regardless of Pinker’s tediousness – will teach you a lot about the world that you more than likely had no clue about before.
You can also see more videos of Pinker’s work at https://stevenpinker.com/pages/media. And Rosling’s Gapminder organization website has loads of additional great video at https://www.gapminder.org/videos-2/.
Happy viewing or reading…..