World of India!: The Glass is half empty... e

World of India!

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The Glass is half empty...

If you were asked a simple question - What do you think of the world as it exists today? chances are that you would go into a long harangue about whatever is wrong with today's world. You would speak of a break down in law and order, destruction of moral values (whatever you mean by that) and...of course corruption...what else can you think of...hmmm..poverty, farmers committing suicide, pollution, global warming....and when you run out of problems to list, you can always complain about the traffic.

You are not alone. Reading back at some of my blog posts, I am surprised by how sarcastic and pessimistic I sound, in places.

This pessimism is not unique , of course, but rather universal. A survey conducted in the USA by the renowned National Opinion Research Center based at the University of Chicago, reports the results of interviews with more than 1,300 adults nationwide, comparing the current data with the results of the same survey taken in 1991.Among the current set of respondents to the unhappiness survey, a staggering 92% cited at least one "significant negative life event" in the past year. That number is up from 88% in 1991.

That's a lot of pessimistic people.

One reason why people are so pessimistic is that all of us have have lost a perspective into history. We tend to look at the past with a sense of romance and nostalgia- "The air was so fresh in 1952 in Mumbai" or " Everyone was so rich and happy in ancient India". Part of the reason for this nostalgia is that since we are constantly dis-satisfied with our current lives, we automatically tend to think the past was much better.

Stephen Pinker who was formerly with MIT and now at Harvard, and author of 'How Mind works' explains this beautifully. Bruno Giusanni wrote a post about it and explained it thus -

" He shows images of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which have been seared into our conscience in the XX century. During that century we witnessed a series of atrocities, from Stalin and Hitler to Mao and Rwanda. And the XXI century has not started better (Darfur, Iraq). But despite this perception of inhuman violence in the last 100 years, truth is that our ancestors were far more violent that we are, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful times in history.

The decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon, says Pinker, you can see it over millennia, centuries, decades (although there may have been a tipping point an the onset of the Age of Reason on the XVI century):

Millennium scale - Until 10'000 years ago all humans lived as hunter-gatherers, without permanent settlement or government. But recent research has revealed that the likelihood of violent death (that a man would die at the hands of another man) was of 50-60%. If we consider later civilizations such as the ones described in the Bible (about 3000 years ago), well, the Bible itself contains several passages like the one about "slewing all the males" (Numbers, 31).Century scale - Violence was common in European Middle ages and early modern times (while is rare or absent today): mutilations and torture were routine criminal punishments; death penalty was a sanction for a long list for nonviolent crimes; slavery; sadistic capital punishment (burning at the stake); cruelty as entertainment. One-on-one murder: criminologist Manuel Eisner searched historical records in Europe for homicide rates in the Middle Age, and determined a decline of at least two orders of magnitudes in homicides since then.Decade scale - Since 1945 in Europe and Americas steep decline in wars, armed conflicts, number of deaths per war per year. Since end of Cold War: similar trends.
So why are we so wrong about something so important? One of the reason is that we have better journalistic reporting which creates a cognitive illusion: memorable events are judged to be more probable (if we read every day about suicide bombers, we believe that's the norm); guilt; change in standards outpaces change in behaviour."

True, isn't it? In India, for instance, because of the recent media explosion, we are confronted with a expose' a day. Everyday we are being bombarded with news of how much violence and corruption exists in our country. Compare this to the amount of time & space that is devoted to 'positive' news and you will understand why we all feel so negatively about the world in which we live.


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