A young woman holds a sparkler.

A young woman holds a sparkler.

Photo credit: Chinh Le Duc/Unsplash

Forget the Headlines. Why I’m Optimistic about 2019.

The year 2019 isn’t looking too promising. Everywhere the press is alerting us to the growing risks of a financial crisis, economic crisis, political crisis, environmental crisis, etc. But are crises that last for decades still crises?

Everything seems to indicate that the world is collapsing before our eyes without us doing anything but commenting and becoming indignant. However, we continue to view our world through a distorting prism — that of headlines, selected and written to attract our attention.

Fire, blood, horror, fear, and death. These are the triggers that focus our attention to the point of forgetting everything else.

Steven Pinker published a column recently in The Economist in which he said that journalism, even the most demanding, was forced to paint a picture of a distorting reality. For Pinker, the news focuses on catastrophic events because the good news does not interest anyone. And this, he says, creates a market for chaos promoters who take advantage of fear and indignation, and it comes to saturate everything.

This distortion has a major impact on our mental health and our apprehension of reality.

Pinker notes that, in the past, we have experienced many crises far more catastrophic than those we are experiencing today. Between 1970 and 1980, for example, there was a nuclear stalemate between America and the Soviet Union, communist dictatorships across Eastern Europe, fascism in Spain and Portugal, military conflicts that ripped through Latin America and Asia, Marxist and secessionist terrorist brigades in Europe, the civil wars in Africa and the Iran-Iraq war that killed more than half a million people.

Today, the major concern is the rise of populism.

Pinker’s understanding of this matter is a real provocation for the common person, fed up with the infernal cycle of continuous information. He is disarmingly optimistic. He claims that the most passionate populists of today — radical, intolerant, uneducated — will give way, by demographic effect, to a future electorate that is more educated, open, and diverse on an ethnic and social level.

In the same way, isolationism and militant nationalism will be engulfed by the unavoidable wave of globalization. The problems facing the different countries — migration, pandemics, terrorism, cybercrime, nuclear proliferation, and the environment — will require more and more international solutions. Pinker concludes by reminding us that, to get an accurate picture of the world, we must not just read but look at the data.

Indeed, in previous decades, more people died from war, homicide, infectious diseases, and terrorism. In previous decades, our world had more poverty, autocratic regimes, nuclear weapons, air pollution in rich countries, and contaminated water in poor countries.

Since the Enlightenment, life expectancy in the world has increased from 30 to 71 years, extreme poverty has fallen from 90% to 10%, the literacy rate has increased from 12% to 83%, and the proportion people living in democracies went from 1% to two-thirds.

Since 1945, inter-state wars have become rare, combat deaths have been divided by 10, and billions of lives have been improved by the revolutions of the rights of racial minorities, women, and LGBTQI individuals.

No one can predict with certainty how the coming year is going to shape up, but as our optimist of the day points out, to understand the world and better anticipate it, it is more reasonable to rely on the data than on the headlines.

If I can afford a wish for 2019, I wish you a year without headlines, but a year full of curiosity, reflection, and openness to new topics. I wish all of us out of our media and algorithmic bubble, to meet the unknown, the other, who, behind the TV screen, the smartphone, or behind a vest, whatever color, will have something new to teach us.

When everyone loses faith in the future, our only possible resistance is optimism. Because optimism and hope are the bases on which commitment and action are built. Also for 2019, I wish you to be optimistic, reasonably, but resolutely, optimistic!


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