Guest Post: The World Is Improving

A_smiling_child Today we feature a guest post from Brandon Russell.

Now is the greatest time in human history to be alive.

I often hear people lament at how bad the world is getting; that every year it’s worse. They are sad that we can’t go back to the morals of yesteryear. I wonder if they mean the morals of warring tribes, or of civilized dueling. Perhaps it’s the mass-slaughter of millions in holocaust that represents the morality that is missed in our current world. I don’t believe the world is getting worse, and further, I think it is a dangerous lie that is perpetuated. I think it is dangerous because it undermines real progress. It gives us a reason to not try but to simply wait for some cataclysmic event to end our problems. This is unfortunate because we, humans, are the hope for a better future.

I believe in human progress. I believe that people can and do make a difference for good. I believe that we, as a species, are learning and progressing. This gives me hope.

Here are 30 reasons (a month’s worth) that I continue to have hope:

1: Global violence is steadily and dramatically decreasing. Humans are killing and hurting each other less than ever before.1

2: Global poverty is declining.2

3: Women can vote in every country… Except 2.3 By comparison, 200 years ago, none could in any country. 100 years ago, some women could, in some circumstances, in about 15 countries.

4: US Divorce rates are decreasing steadily and have been for decades.4*

5: Global life expectancy has increased from 31 to 67.2 in the last 100 years.5

6: Slavery is illegal. Everywhere.**

7: Global literacy rates have been increasing for decades (and centuries, and millennia)6***

8: Child Abuse is declining in the US.7****

9: I can communicate with the majority of the world’s population in minutes. I can even choose my mode of communication from a buffet: phone, email, social media, Skype, etc.8

10: Remember Small-Pox? Polio? Yeah, me neither.9††

11: Most people have access to very cheap transportation intra-city, cheap transportation intra-state and intra-nation, and to all but the impoverished and the most rural, international travel is economically feasible. This creates opportunities for social/economic mobility, much like access to communication. It also creates more intercultural understanding and flattens the earth.

12: 92% of the world’s population should have access to safe drinking water this year.

In 2010, it was 89%.

In 2000, 82%.

In 1990, 77%. 10 11

13: Attitudes in favor of female genital mutilation/circumcision have been steadily declining. Most evidence suggests its prevalence and practice is decreasing as a result of education efforts.12

14: Remember ritualistic human sacrifice? Ritualistic cannibalism? Me neither.†††

15: Humans are getting smarter over the last century (or, at least scoring better on IQ tests and very likely improving in abstract thinking ability.)13

16: Only 170 years ago, washing your hands was considered ridiculous and laughable by the medical community.14

17: Despite exponential population growth, global per capita food production has steadily increased over the last 50 years.15

18: Sexual assault and rape have been declining in the US for decades.

Globally we don’t see the same trend mirrored everywhere. However, women’s rights and protections are becoming more talked about issues in many countries and there is evidence that attitudes are changing. 16

19: In 1204, the papacy legally required Jews to segregate themselves from, and dress distinctively to, the Christians. This had lasted in many forms until this last century.

In 1336, Irish law forbade intermarriage with English.

In the 1300s, people of Slavic descent couldn’t join many German guilds.

In the 1900s, Germans forbade Aryan/non-Aryan marriage… then they started to lock up Jews, blacks, homosexuals, Romanis, Slavs, Ukrainians, Poles, etc. and killed them.

In the 700s, Han Chinese forbade Uighurs from intermarrying and required them to maintain their ethnic dress.

In the 1900s, Italy had a series of restrictions on Jews limiting education, business, career, and marriage.

In the 1900s, USA had a series of racial segregation laws, referred to as Jim Crow laws limiting marriage, residential boundaries, public facility use, and protected discrimination in the private sector.

In the 1900s, South Africa had a series of racial segregation laws, referred to as Apartheid, limiting residential boundaries, public facility use, and mobility.

Racial segregation is legally upheld in only a tiny minority of countries today.

Racism and racial segregation still exist, and are all too common, but again, like many things I’ve noted, the legal abolition is a first step with plenty of work left to do.

20: Global teenage pregnancy rates are declining.17

US teen pregnancy rates have been declining for decades. As a consequence, abortion rates have dramatically dropped as well.18

And, as a really interesting kicker, the number of sexually active teens in the US has been declining for decades. In fact, they are now the minority! (~42.5% now versus ~56% in 1988)19

21: The maternal mortality ratio decreased from 1000 to 10 per 100,000 childbirths in the last century.20††††

22: US charitable giving has been increasing steadily for decades, even after adjusting for inflation.21

23: US intimate partner violence (domestic violence/spousal abuse) has decreased 64% over the last two decades.22

24: Child employment, child labor, and child hazardous labor rates are all three trending significantly down in terms of raw number as well as percentage over the last decade and a half.23

25: Remember when the politically elite had hundreds of men (and women and children) fight each other and wild beasts in bloody combat, often to the death, in the coliseum as tribute to their dead fathers and for show, entertainment, and political gain? Me neither.24‡‡

26: Antibiotics. Only around for the last 60 or so years, they help with pneumonia, whooping cough, meningitis, syphilis, UTIs, and skin infections. They have saved millions of lives and made life better for millions more.25

27: Big Data, a creation of our current decade, is already being used to improve farming techniques and reduce irrigation needs, fight terrorism, map the genome and change medical approaches, reduce traffic, and generally understand the universe (or multiverse) on a quantum and astro level. These developments in understanding will very possibly mean improvements made over the last couple centuries will continue into the future. And areas where we haven’t seen improvement might become better understood.26

28: Global gender inequality is declining in nearly every category (education, economics, lifespan, representation).27

29: The global child mortality rate (deaths under age 5) has dropped 43% in the last two decades.28

30: Somehow, beyond all logic, the world continues to become a better place in spite of the fact that every single generation for millennia has been worse than the previous. Without a doubt, my generation is the worst that has entered the workforce, and my son’s will certainly be much worse than mine ;) 29


* Sometime in the coming year, someone will say ‘divorce rates are skyrocketing’ and will say ‘50% of marriages end in divorce.’ Even though it will hurt the violence statistics, I give you permission to punch that person in the nose.


** Slavery has been abolished globally since 1981. Unfortunately, abolition is only step one (but an incredibly important step). We are a very long way from elimination. This is probably the area that deserves the greatest focus, concern, and effort to improve global morality.30


*** This Is Huge! I believe there is a chain of effect and a strong causation of literacy increasing understanding, exposing morality, decreasing violence, decreasing poverty, improving health practices, and extending life times.


**** I think there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that not only rates of abuse are decreasing, but what is considered abuse is expanding. Adrian Peterson’s case created a real outcry; I honestly don’t think it would have raised many eyebrows 30 years ago, and my gut tells me it wouldn’t have caused any interest 60 years ago.

Many parents today don’t even spank their kids.

In fact I’m one of them.

Many people see this act as abuse and that idea is spreading.


† This is pretty important in terms of mobility. If I’m impoverished and want to pursue work in a city (or a different country), I don’t need to say goodbye to my rural family forever. I can communicate with them quickly and cheaply. This is vastly different than 100 years ago where moving any distance may mean going years or forever without communicating with family. Mobility was an action which could completely sever you from your heritage.


†† In the course of my life, I saw a plague begin, grow to fear-inducing levels, and then dissipate. AIDS is now considered by many to be a chronic illness, not the death sentence it was in the 80s and early 90s. This is absolutely unprecedented control and maintenance of a deadly disease without parallel in history.31


††† Seriously, human history is riddled with atrocious acts done in the name of religion or superstition which today we, collectively, see as indefensible, and have completely outlawed and shunned.

I also realize that both of these still occur in recent history, but they are incredibly infrequent and rather remarkable due to their rarity.


†††† A century ago, have ten kids? 9.5% chance they’ll grow up without a mother.

(How did we survive as a species?)


‡ The last decade has been relatively flat, given the recession, but the trend is definitely upward.


‡‡ Or how we decapitated Peyton Manning last year after the Broncos lost?32

I mean, we still like to watch our burliest men savagely throw themselves at each other in sport, often to their long term mental, physical, and psychological detriment…. But, we’ve still come a long ways from actually encouraging mass-scale murder for entertainment.

































45 comments for “Guest Post: The World Is Improving

  1. Thanks for this post. It makes me think of President Hinckley, who was always so optimistic about the future.

    Generally, it seems we have two contradictory narratives in popular Mormonism:

    1. Things are SO MUCH worse. (This seems to get a lot of mention, but is applied only to sexual morality. As you point out, this is not necessarily correct.)

    2. Things are SO MUCH better . . . . because the light of the Restoration is spreading through the world. (This gets less mention, but is applied to, e.g., technology which allows family history work and GAs to talk to you while you wear pajamas.)

  2. Thank you! I’m printing out copies of this and sharing with people at church whenever I hear, as I did last week, that “the world has been going downhill for the last one hundred years.”

  3. Nice try, but it doesn’t address the problems of higher suicide rates, truly foul pornography (not just pin-up girls), and an increasing rate of cohabitation with its associated problems, including many women struggling in poverty as single mothers.

    As an aside, I had someone tell me within the past year with a straight face that the Avenues in Salt Lake City was little better than a bacchanalian orgy. All of it. All the time. Sometimes anxiety is not logical. Just like anti-vaxxers are unlikely to be swayed by reason, sometimes the anxious brain needs anxiety.

    But, funny thing, some of the more anxious people I know, the ones worried about the state of the world, are the most likely to be serving in nursing homes, visiting widows, recording and transcribing the life stories of the elderly, providing employment services, home teaching and visiting teaching single parents, and otherwise taking care of some of the critical needs in our communities. I know this is anecdotal, but something about being anxious about the state of the world seems to translate into taking care of people in practical ways.

  4. By the way, that probably sounds crabbier than what I meant. I was going to start with a joke that you could share this entire list, and anxious people would just reply with “illegal immigration! pornography! unwed mothers!” So read my previous comment without the “Nice try” part, and it should make more sense.

  5. I think there is validity to your point. But, IMHO, there had never been a time in the world’s history when civilizations have been so interdependant and interconnected, giving current technological power to a few to wreak havoc on a civil, economic, and social scale before unthinkable. That is why this is time for some well given trepidation. Life as we have become accustomed to could be shaken by man made and/or natural events without the seeming distance of the far off news of the past.

  6. The world is only “getting worse” for people who experience it through TV instead of directly. You’ll notice that anyone who talks this way will have their accounts of the decline of whatever smeared with the fingerprints of the latest media frenzy. Even in General Conference talks (not to mention press conferences…) you can often tell which media outlets the speaker prefers and what books/newspapers they’ve been reading. This goes for comments on science just as much as for world affairs and societal trends.

  7. I agree with you, Owen. I guess because my employment is in the large scale tactical/security side of life I worry about stuff most don’t realize even exists. I concur that the media magnifies the issues with respect to our private lives.

  8. Well what are we going to do now during the “the world is getting worse so Christ is going to come back soon” part of the lesson? Say “Well, that Millennium sounded pretty good, but I guess we don’t need it anymore”?

  9. Yeah, it is fun to use the stats and figures above to ridicule the simple narrative of many of our fellow church-goers. And to the joy of us all, the OP is very correct; many, many things are getting better and I would personally not choose to live in any previous century, but reality is certainly more complicated than that.

    As Russell Kirk said, “When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects.” Some people fear, reasonably I think, that the permanent/foundational things that fueled these wonderful progressions in the first place are giving way to the times and will stifle or turn back progress in the future.

  10. Actually, I think there is a counter argument to everything listed here. Don’t forget that measles also belongs to the banished diseases with polio and smallpox. But as the recent outbreaks have shown, numerous people have so forgotten them that they no longer immunize their children with disastrous results. Meanwhile a whole new class of infectious diseases called “superbugs” has arisen with no known cures.

    Literacy rates are increasing, but the average American high school graduate reads well below the 8th grade level, with almost half reading at about a 4th grade level. More people can read, but it is Fifty Shades of Dick and Jane that is comprehended. (Just look at popular LDS scripture commentaries as proof of this.) Meanwhile, we have actually entered a post-literate age of electronic media that actually devalues critical thinking skills.

    It is true, there is no slavery, but economic liquidity has evaporated for most households and the child sex trade is booming.

    Etc. Etc.

    I agree that there is much progress that has been made, and that many prior generations all have claimed they were living in the last days. I think one should be positive, whilst preparing for the zombie apocalypse. :)

  11. dibs, yes, increasing suicide rates are troubling, as are flat drug abuse rates and alcohol abuse rates (neither increasing nor decreasing) and flat child neglect rates. I think there are numerous areas where continued focus and interest are deserved.
    Regarding the pornography issue, it’s a tough one. “By their fruits ye shall know them”; The weird thing about the increased prevalence of pornography is that it has happened concurrently with decreased sexual abuse/rape, decreased intimate partner violence, and decreased child abuse rates. The aggregation of studies linking pornography to sexual abuse find no causal link or correlation. ( ) Individual studies that find correlation are often heavily funded or influenced by parties interested in finding such a causal link, and they seem to be the minority.
    I’m not saying that pornography is a factor causing a reduction the rates stated above (though it very well could be), but it’s not slowing their decrease much either. Perhaps pornography isn’t quite as bad as we’ve been led to believe. Perhaps there are other things that are much worse. Like thousands of children pooping themselves to death because they don’t have clean water or access to antibiotics. I’ll live in a world with pornography if it means more clean water for children (false dichotomy fallacy, I know).

    Also, more generally speaking, I don’t think that the idea that the world is improving is cause to celebrate and say ‘All is well’. There is still a lot of evil in the world. The world could get much much worse over the next century. But just because it could, doesn’t mean it will. The response is: ‘What have we done that seems to be working on such a macro scale, and how do we keep doing that?’.

  12. “…it doesn’t address the problems of higher suicide rates, truly foul pornography (not just pin-up girls), and an increasing rate of cohabitation with its associated problems, including many women struggling in poverty as single mothers.”

    There are still many grave problems throughout the world, and many new ones that we haven’t really faced before (online porn is certainly not a good thing, but its detriment to humankind is often overstated in the LDS church). There may also be some huge catastrophes to come (who knows?). But without a doubt, overall human well-being has steadily increased. Also, it isn’t only the Mormon church making claims about how the world is getting increasingly worse, it is a proposition that I hear from both people of other faiths and secularists. But on a collective basis, it is a misconception.

  13. Not to oversimplify (OK, maybe a little) but with a few exceptions USA-LDS doomsayers are conservative Republicans pining for the good old days (women & minorities knew their place, gas was $0.20/gallon, etc.) i.e., there’s a political element to perception (or perception naturally leads to a particular political orientation). As one commenter above alluded, such person’s reading/media is heavily slanted, unreliable, agenda-laden. They are more likely to own guns and less likely to have friends outside of their particular faith/political paradigms. Thus, as media expands and knowledge of the world grows, they find ways to make their own world-view smaller, more restricted & paranoid. Interesting, sad and potentially a problem: these people elect representatives like themselves to Congress where they specialize in gumming up the works, primarily because their view of the world is so small and they don’t really understand how the works actually works – duh, compromise!

  14. Steve Smith, I’m wondering about your statement, “the Mormon church making claims about how the world is getting increasingly worse…”

    I must be missing that. I tend to hear that line of thought from individual members; not so much from “the Mormon church.”

    I just searched for all instances of the phrase “the world” in October 2014 General Conference and of the first 21 addresses using the phrase, not one of them supports your claim. In contrast, many uses refer to the reach of the conference or are from scriptures like “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.”

    Elder Scott said, “You will be doing something very significant to add to the cumulative peace in the world.” (“Make the Exercise of Faith…”)

    President Monson said, “Throughout the history of the world, Satan has worked tirelessly for the destruction of the followers of the Savior.” (“Guided Safely Home”)

    Elder Holland said, “Given the monumental challenge of addressing inequity in the world, what can one man or woman do?” (“Are We Not All Beggars”)

    And so forth.

    So, as the OP mentioned, individuals may go on about this; however, I don’t see this sentiment coming through official channels, at least not in the last general conference, but please do let me know if I’m missing something.

  15. Wow, p…. and I thought those “USA-LDS doomsayers” were the only ones that were narrow-minded and judgmental and relied on inaccurate stereotypes?

  16. I wouldn’t say that this is just conservative Republicans pining for the good old days when minorities knew their place–but there does certainly seems to be a political divide here. It’s bad enough that in my ultra-conservative ward, even a mention of a positive change (the teenage pregnancy in the U.S. had dropped in half in the past twenty years, for example) elicits a negative reaction. The world has gotten worse, because pornography! and whatever else happens to be on Fox News and talk radio, and most people refuse to listen to or consider evidence to the contrary.

    Ultimately, though, I think it has more to do with media than anything else. Probably both the liberal and the far-right media, although around these parts it’s just the far-right media that people listen to.

  17. Took a while, but I read every word… I feel blessed to live in the era that we do, I’ve expressed this to God many times. We live in a time where in many instances things have never been better, such as you made mention. There are still many problems in the world, some we contribute to, some we are ignorant of, and some we ignore simply because we don’t feel the sting of their consequences on a personal level. The question is knowing what we know, what will we personally do about any of it….no matter how great or small the improvement may be…? Even with all the calamity in the world, one can find peace within, if they can answer with a transparent “yes” to the following…. With the existence you were given did you do your best to make this world a better place? (in your home? In your relationships? In your community? In your country? In your world?) One’s best is all that can be required of anyone. Too few of us believe that we can really make a difference, but stats wouldn’t be what they are, if we weren’t all contributing in some way, good or bad.

  18. First dibs, you obviously haven’t been listening closely enough to the words of the LDS church leaders. Here Richard G. Scott in April 2004:

    “Much of the world is being engulfed in a rising river of degenerate filth, with the abandonment of virtue, righteousness, personal integrity, traditional marriage, and family life. Sodom and Gomorrah was the epitome of unholy life in the Old Testament. It was isolated then; now that condition is spread over the world. Satan skillfully manipulates the power of all types of media and communication. His success has greatly increased the extent and availability of such degrading and destructive influences worldwide. In the past some effort was required to seek out such evil. Now it saturates significant portions of virtually every corner of the world. We cannot dry up the mounting river of evil influences, for they result from the exercise of moral agency divinely granted by our Father. But we can and must, with clarity, warn of the consequences of getting close to its enticing, destructive current.”

    Here’s Gordon B. Hinckley in the September 2007 Ensign: “You face so much evil…I do not know that there was ever a time in the history of the world when there was greater evil in the world than there is today.”

  19. Guilty as charged, ABM, but the wards I’ve belonged to, as Tim above seems to echo, have been absolutely dominated by far-right anti-government pro-gun doom-saying Republicans convinced that Obama was indeed the Great Satan and signaled The End. This, essentially, is the Great State of Utah.

    Actually, I would have made “Black Man Elected President of the USA” number 31 on Brandon’s progress list above. This is INDEED forward motion. Too bad most Mormons don’t see it that way – a shame & shameful, as a matter of fact, given our disgracefully bigoted history (for which we still have not issued an apology) (although I have lately learned via a senior apostle that the LDS Church does not apologize for, well, anything! – a stand I find both disgraceful and incomprehensible)

  20. p, I have seen some of those types at church too. The church isn’t them…

    Also, I bet that even the most conservative members of your ward would elect a black man for President… if his politics agreed with theirs.

  21. While the article has a lot of insightful statistics, it has two problematic elements. First off, the article begins with an enormous straw man, portraying those who feel like society’s morals are degrading as parochial. Equating the moral standards that say traditionalists defend with the examples the op gives is misleading. Had the OP actually explored the argument of an actual traditionalist and then given a counterargument, the article would be more interesting.

    Second, the OP starts off talking about the traditionalist lament about the moral state of the world, but ends up talking about the material rather than moral progress of the world. Indeed, a good many of these statistics are more economic measures rather than barometers of ethical or moral progress. Even those statistics that have moral content, such as a declining divorce rate, only give part of the story, people are delaying marriage and having more sexual partners (which is ethically questionable).

    I think the problems of the OP go beyond the piece itself. Its an extraordinary undertaking to actually determine whether the world is becoming a better place. There are legitimate things to give us hope, such as less child abuse and less overall violence. However, there are real trends that should give us pause, such as increasing political destabilization around the world and children being born out of wedlock. The issues is far too complex to say that now is the greatest time to be alive.

  22. Thank you for all of the work that went into this post! I’ve been saying the same thing for as long as I can remember.

    Even if you set aside all of the wonderful progress that comes from medical advances and focus exclusively on “sin,” the world is clearly getting better. The present world is a much less violent place than it has ever been! And while there may be more readily accessible pornography than ever before, the world does not exactly have a long history of strict sexual morality and monogamy. There is a lot less prostitution now than ever before, less rape, and probably just as much (if not more) monogamy than has existed in the vast majority of human history.

    I don’t think most people realize that when they hear the “increasing wickedness of the world” stuff at church, what they are really hearing is the inter-generational criticism that probably goes back to the beginning of time. Every generation wants to believe that they were the best, and that kids these days will never get it. They believe that becaue they saw them start off as kids! Because our church leaders are all older, this attitude gets mixed into the messaging.

    I’ve had a lot of debates with people on this topic. When I have actually pointed out to them just how ridiculous it is to say the world is getting worse, every single one of them has come around. I usually just have to point out that I wouldn’t change when I was born for anything, and not because of all of the comforts available today. I wouldn’t change it, because right now, I am much less subject to evil than I would have been at any other point in history. I am less likely to be abused or the victim of violence. I am more likely to have a say in what happens in my life. If somthing bad does happen to me, I’m more likely to be able to get help and pursue justice.

    It’s really hard to argue with the reality that those born today are less likely than any other people in history to be victimized by the evil of the world. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still out there. But I’d take these odds over any others, and I can’t imagine who wouldn’t.

  23. Lots of conservatives are optimists. (Look at Reagan) And lots of conservatives think the world is getting better. Let’s not create straw men of how conservatives think.

  24. Just Saying – I think goodness of the world includes many factors. Morality is one, possibly the largest, but one. Others include safety, knowledge, opportunity, comfort, fulfillment, and the list goes on.
    However, 16 of my points deal directly with morality (1,2,3,4,6,8,13,14,18,19,20,22,23,24,25,28) which is more than half.
    Additionally, I believe most medical discoveries are found by people who are legitimately trying to make the world a better place, not trying to get rich. For instance, take germ theory. After the discovery and publishing of his findings, Ignaz Semmelweis lost his job and suffered depression. Two years later he was admitted to an asylum and died two weeks after that. His findings flew in the face of common understanding and were largely criticized, but he published them anyway. I think medical discovery is usually an indirect consequence of morality.
    Also consider improved drinking water. This isn’t happening by accident. It is the result of a concerted effort by WHO and other charitable organizations and billions of dollars of donations. It is an indirect consequence of increased morality.

  25. Most lists like this have little or nothing to do with righteousness or wickedness. Whether or not we are healthier, or wealthier, or smarter, or safer does not necessarily correlate to increased righteousness. Most of this has nothing to do with the commandments.

    I also think some of the rhetoric of the world getting more evil has to do with opportunity or access to evil.

  26. @ P:

    I dunno. In a recent Utah congressional election, a white male descendant of Mormon pioneers ran against a black female convert who, the white male openly argued, didn’t reflect “Utah values” (how’s THAT for a “dog whistle”?).

    And he lost.

  27. Just as a reminder, the Titanic was the most opulent, sophisticated, safest, modern, hopeful, resourceful, technologically progressive, luckiest place to be in the whole world right up until the time everyone was asked to put on life jackets. Of course, by then, it was too late.

  28. Eric, I don’t know how you can look at this list and think that many of these things have nothing to do with rigtousness or wickedness. I think you are either operating under WAY to narrow a definition of those things (there is wickedness that isn’t pornography or premarital sex, believe it or not), or you are privledged enough to be in the class of people that wasn’t as victimized by a lot of the wickedness throughout history.

    It’s easy to overlook how wicked slavery was if you wouldn’t have been a slave. It’s easy to dismiss the evil of rape as a typical part of warfare if you aren’t a woman. Maybe partner violence doesn’t seem so pernicous if you’re a man. And maybe systematic opression through the witholding of the vote and education don’t seem so bad if you wouldn’t have been one of the opressed.

    For the vast majority of human history, wickedness in the form of violence and mistreatment was a huge part of the lives of MOST people. For what it’s worth, premarital sex was a pretty big part of human history, too, as was pornography and prositituion.

    I just don’t understand how you can look at this list and not see triumphs of rightousness. In fact, I’m downright disturbed by that, because it indicates a real blindness to some of the wickedness that has been hurting people for a very long time.

  29. “Things are SO MUCH worse.”
    “Things are SO MUCH better.”

    We hear both of these things from church leaders often, because they are both true. Prosperity begets wickedness.

    Moroni 10:6 comes to mind: “nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is”

  30. Great post! I completely agree that we are by almost any objective measure better off today than in the past. Steven Pinker’s _Angel’s of Our Better Nature_ compellingly supports your assertions that our world is much less violent and cruel than it ever was previously. Not to mention indoor plumbing, deoderant, access to credit, and on and on..

    There are at least two key areas where I feel there is some cause for concern, however; where the trend lines seem to be going in the wrong direction:

    First is the disintegration of communities. As our society becomes ever more legalistic, exchange-based, and mobile, we and our families become little atomized units severed from the love and support structures that sustained generations past. While there is a danger in idealizing the past, and while the internet certainly plays a role in bringing people together today in new and positive ways, I still think there is something that many of us lack. Never before has it been so easy to instantly gratify our cravings (pornography may be part of this), and thus we edge nearer to a Huxleyan world where personal satisfaction reigns supreme. Perhaps this is part of the enduring suicide and substance abuse rates.

    Secondly, much of the scientific world is convinced that human-driven environmental change is a serious threat to global stability. By most accounts, this could lead to some dire consequences. With most things, the changes wrought over the last centuries have been in the right direction, even if disease, war, and poverty are still hanging around. Given the current levels of skepticism and disregard related to our care for the planet, however, and the collective action problems stymying efforts to address climate change, it seems that the trend is headed in a bad direction. Global climate catastrophe – combined with our modern capacity to more efficiently kill each other than ever before, if we so choose – is one of the few things I could see bringing apocalyptic levels of violence and destruction to our otherwise ever-more-peaceful planet.

  31. I would like to thank you for raising the many excellent points in this article, Brandon. As mentioned above, Pres. HInckley and many other leaders in and out of the church were very much optimists and almost certainly paid attention to the many global indicators you cite. (I believe that is part of the job of the leader of a large global organization!)
    I would also like to stick up for many older (I presume), and largely conservative folks who are portrayed by some commenters as being hopelessly out of touch.
    Many of the comments include global statistics in which the USA had already achieved 90% or more of the improvement at least two generations ago, sometimes centuries. This applies fully or mostly to points 2,3,5,6,7,10,11,12,13,14,16,17,19,21,24,25,26,28,29. 19 out of 30 points are beyond the experience and memory of most LDS in our country.
    For USA-only stats, 4,8,20,23 are only a couple of decades trends, so that most adults do remember when things were getting worse, and some remember when they were absolutely worse. For example, how many people had zero divorces in their extended family from their parent’s generation, but have seen many instances in their own (or none in theirs but many in their children’s)? Also, many LDS in Utah and surrounding states have gone from small towns growing up, with all of the advantages in peace and harmony that frequently obtain there, to living in a large city, sometimes without even having moved?

    p, I would certainly argue with your point #31 indicating progress. Maybe most LDS in your congregation correctly identified our current president as a corrupt Chicago machine politician. Looking at the past 6 years, this identity better explains many actions of Pres. Obama than any racial classification. So just remember folks, be very wary of any politico who carries a history with the corruption of Chicago machine politics. There may be another candidate on the ballot next year.
    Just so some few do not misunderstand, I have been a (legal and living) registered voter in the state of Illinois and in fact voted in state-wide and US elections. As far as I am aware, none of those who got my votes at the time have ever served time in prison, been convicted of corruption, made a complete and utter fool of themselves (politically), or trampled on the US constitution. This puts me in a very small minority of the Illinois electorate. (Voting straight ticket R or D for several elections in a row disqualifies someone on the first two, very objective, criteria I lay out)

  32. Megan,

    Why do you think I am taking either side in some argument?

    I would suggest that items #2,4,5,7,9,10,11,12,15,16,17,21,26,27,29,and 30 have little to nothing to do with righteousness. Additionally divorce rates could be down because many do to bother with marriage, and teen pregnancy could be down due to birth control rather than abstinence. The list is less impressive with these items removed.

    I can make this point without taking either side.

  33. I’d agree that the world is improving if societies were better at taking care of the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable are unborn children. The number of abortions per year worldwide is over 40 million. Teen abortions may be down compared to recent decades, meaning perhaps that more teens are abstaining from sex, are using prevention, or are delivering their children. But the number of abortions compared to previous centuries is abominable. Twenty percent of US pregnancies end in induced abortion, and the rate is much higher in many parts of the world. This one aspect of current society outweighs all the gains to me.

  34. Well, Julie, now you’ve really done it. If the world is not “ripening” in iniquity, but actually getting better, that means we will never get the millennium. I hope you’re happy!

  35. I agree with those who have stated that the decrease in number of certain negative statistics are not necessarily, in themselves, indicative that the world is getting better. Certainly, I would hope that we would all be happy that violent crimes are reduced (in some places), that people are being treated more fairly (or at least less UNfairly) than before (mostly), and that scientific and medical advances are helping more people live longer, healthier lives. And I agree that we should always have hope.

    I also believe that many things are indeed getting worse. I also don’t believe studies themselves are as helpful as we might think them to be. I believe many problems are simply going underground because few people care about them or even believe them to be problematic at all (pornography being a prime example already cited in the comments and I see people already downplaying that even here.) Some things aren’t as easily quantifiable. The lack of civility in interpersonal communication, the lack of collaboration and compromise in the political arena, the increased reliance upon sex and consumerism as key motivators in human interaction, are all things that aren’t as easily reduced to simple statistics. That is not to say that there are not positives to be found as well, and we should never stop agitating for positive change. But all is not well in Zion. Certainly we can help to try to change that, and we should strive to do so.

    Great work remains to be done. I think we can be about the Lord’s work while at the same time recognizing spiritual decay that threatens the individual, as well as society. Remember that not all those who have done “great and wonderful works” will be accepted of the Lord at the last day. Why we do the work is every bit as important as the work that we do. Spiritual apathy is the largest obstacle I see to be overcome. And it’s hard to put a number to that. So by all means, let us enjoy the great blessings that the Lord has granted us and be grateful for them. But let’s keep our shoulder to the wheel as well. The enemy remains active and things will get worse before they get better.

  36. Interestingly, around New Years all I was hearing in my social media circles was people who describe themselves as “left leaning” describing 2014 as terrible and a general set back for society. The way they described it things were getting worse, not better.

    I think it’s a generally recognized trope to say the sky is falling when it really isn’t. This isn’t a phenomenon particular to any religious or political group in my observation.

  37. The Prophets have always been opposed to “the world” or “Babylon.” Lehi preached against the sins and prophesied the downfall of Jerusalem, yet his oldest sons downplayed the wickedness of their friends and saw the good side of life in that society. Who was correct?

    The problem isn’t that sometimes even the most degraded political and social systems get some things right. It has always been granted that societies can improve. The problem is that these societies are not Zion. They can never offer a resolution to the spiritual problems of the human condition. They cannot overcome the Fall when they celebrate elements of their fallen condition. The clock is ticking for the whole system. Getting things close to a Zion condition on a few issues will not count. Half-way is not good enough.

  38. That list is exciting, for sure. My brother read Pinker’s book a couple years ago and tried to convince me that my view of the modern world was too dark, too influenced by scripture about End Times. He may well be correct–I hope he is. But I wonder how much of our increased peace is due to increased material prosperity–it seems that poverty tends to breed violence and an us-v-them mentality. If something like global climate change seriously diminishes worldwide prosperity and turns large percentages of the world population into refugees, how long will good will last? In such cases I expect that the only people who manage to act unselfishly are those whose altruism is a product of some kind of powerful spirituality, and not just the I-wish-you-no-harm-as-long-as-I-get-my-cookies attitude that material comfort can easily provide. And how many such people are there out there? People who are good, not just acting good? People who don’t defend their food storage with a gun? We’ll only know if/when the belt tightens.The porn question is in the same category–it could well be that the violence that used to be a product of sexual frustration is being curbed by porn. But if you were to shut down the Internet tomorrow, and millions no longer could get their porn fix, I would bet that the problem of sexual violence would be far worse than it was before and that those who sexual tastes have been shaped by a steady diet of violent sexual imagery and images of trafficked women and children being abused would turn the world black and blue very quickly without their virtual pacifier.

    And the percentage of marriages that end in divorce is down, but the percentage of marriages that never happen at all is up. And the number of people who never become parents. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for longterm stability to me.I think that an increase in the percentage of adults who are non-spouses and non-parents probably doesn’t curve the population toward greater empathy. It may leave them more discretionary income, though, which again can keep us peaceful as long as the prosperity lasts. Again, I hope I’m wrong. Please let me be wrong.

  39. It is hard to argue against the idea that the world is becoming a better place if the measurement that you use is technological achievement and improvement of the physical lives of the world’s inhabitants. I wake up grateful every day to live in a world where my children will have more opportunities than any previous generation.

    I have been thinking about this paradox for some time- this idea that while this is supposed to be the “end of days” it is also the most prosperous time in the history of the world. I harken back to the Book of Mormon, where the people almost without exception became increasingly less righteous as their material wealth increased. That really makes perfect sense if you think about it. Going back to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in a utopia. They had everything they needed at their fingertips, wanting for nothing. So what was the missing ingredient for spiritual progression? Opposition. Ironically, when people are given (or earn) everything that they need, it can undermine the entire plan of salvation. We were meant to struggle against the elements and to fight for survival. We were meant to get sick, to see loved ones suffer and die, to experience failure and discouragement. Yet, we live in a world that increasingly eliminates all of those things. If we lose our job, the system itself can keep us alive. Medicine can cure us. Drugs can mitigate the effects of depression. More and more influential people are now saying that robots are going to begin taking our jobs in very large numbers over the next decade or two. So, our need to go to work will even begin to disappear. It is easy to envision a day where automated companies will create most of the world’s economic wealth, and governments will simply distribute the spoils to the people, eliminating the need for work. That type of world, as nice as it sounds superficially, may be terrible for the souls of its people, unless those people replace the struggle to survive with what the church offers. In other words, as the world becomes more and more a place of leisure and decadence, I expect that the church and similar institutions will have to fill the spiritual void. If we no longer need to work 40-50 hour weeks, we will be working more in the temples. Perhaps we will go on missions at younger ages with spouses.

    Outside the church, however, the trend is clearly that people are becoming less and less religious. In my mind, this combination of ease, decadence, and failure to maintain a spiritual outlook on life will be the downfall of the world at large.

  40. It depends on your measuring stick, as has been pointed out in previous comments. You’ve made a good point that these are good times. In some ways, these are truly the best of times.

    But anyone can as easily make the opposite case, without even having to point to things like the widespread use and acceptance of pornography, the vanishing institution of marriage, etc. For example, take this analysis from a leftist historian and political analyst in South America:

    “We began the 21st century with Al-Aqsa’s Intifada; then we went on to the September 11th attacks against the Twin Towers; the March 11th, 2004 attacks in Madrid; several massacres in North American schools and universities; the burning neighborhoods in Paris in 2005, whose fiery tongues recently reached the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists; the many terrifying ways to commit murder in the fight for and against drug dealers in Mexico; the chilling tribal conflicts in Sudan; the Arab Spring which since 2010 has turned into a permanent Winter; the sadly renewed conflicts in the Gaza Strip; the limitless cruelty seen in the Syrian civil war…”

    and she goes on, but you get the point. So, in some ways, these are truly the worst of times.

    As usually happens in life, this is a complex issue.

Comments are closed.