A reflection on Chapter 4 of our shared dream

“No learning unless you act.”

Here is a short extract from Chapter 4 of ‘What makes us human?’

 “To reassure themselves about the superiority of their way of life, Westerners are content to accept negative representation of poorer countries by their media.”

I want to give a different perspective to Jean-Louis here.

If Westerners are prepared to accept a negative representation of poorer countries, I believe we are also willing to accept a negative representation of our own countries. I think we are very broad minded in our negative views of the world. If you have the stamina, I recommend Steven Pinker’s book ‘The better angels of our nature’. In 841 dense pages, he presents an overwhelming weight of evidence to show that today we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ history. This is not a recipe for complacency. But it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that humanity over its history has been on a path of progress. Our challenge is to continue on that path.

I have written about Hans Rosling before. He was relentless in his attempts to show that our perception of the state of the developed world was far too pessimistic. In this TED talk Rosling dramatically shows how our views of the developing world are systematically biased in a pessimistic direction.

So Rosling agrees with Jean-Louis that Westerners hold a negative representation of poorer countries, but he gives a different explanation for that biased view.

“Why is there so much ignorance? Most people understand the world by generalizing personal experiences which are very biased. In the media the “news-worthy” events exaggerate the unusual and put the focus on swift changes. Slow and steady changes in major trends don’t get much attention. Unintentionally, people end-up carrying around a sack of outdated facts that you got in school (including knowledge that often was outdated when acquired in school).”

Personally, I am persuaded by Rosling’s explanation, but the important challenge is to help people to recognise the facts. The death of Hans Rosling makes that more difficult. But the Gapminder site http://www.gapminder.org/ will continue to be a powerful resource for us.

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