Jesse Richards, author of The Secret Peace, believes that everything is getting better and better.
A series of new books argues that all the essential statistics show the world is making progress, materially and ethically.
By Paul Harris
A rash of optimistic books is being published in the US, as authors do their best to lift the gloom created by a news agenda dominated by world recession, wars, floods and famine.
The latest to appear is The Secret Peace by Jesse Richards, with its controversial theory on the modern human condition: the world is a nice place and getting better. When the Observer met Richards last week, he remained steadfast in his lonely insistence on a state of optimism when it comes to the human race’s progress. “It is easy to relate to a short-term disaster. It is harder to understand larger, long-term statistics. But they show that we really are better off, and getting better and better,” he said.
Richards’s book is full of ideas and numbers that sustain his thesis. Global life expectancy, for example, is now 68 years and rising. Mobile phones – once the preserve of wealthy yuppies – are now owned by 40% of Africans, connecting an entire continent to the rest of the world. Despite the world’s conflicts, the number of people killed in wars has been dropping for decades.
Only 70 or so years ago – the span of a single lifetime – the world was still dominated by huge colonial empires. Now independent countries have emerged, with more and more of them becoming democracies. Infant mortality rates are down and still falling. “We are progressing ethically, we are progressing morally and just becoming a better species,” Richards said.
Another example of a recently published book with an optimistic message is The Better Angels of Our Nature by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, which examines global statistics on violence, both criminal and that which springs from warfare. The pattern is clear, Pinker argues. When it comes to war deaths, rape, murder and domestic violence, all the trend lines are headed downwards to a more peaceful future.
In another book, Winning The War On War, American University professor Joshua Goldstein argues that global conflicts are causing fewer and fewer deaths. A third recent book on war, The Human Security Report, shows average annual battle deaths have dropped from 10,000 per conflict in the 1950s to less than 1,000 now.