Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg is a concise, fast-paced book that you should read instead of scrolling your newsfeed or watching the news.
The book’s premise is that the daily news focuses on events that grab your attention.
But, by definition, events that grab your attention are rare and novel. These are, for the most part, the exception to much bigger trends changing human life.
In fact, news events are often the exceptions that prove the rule of general progress and improvements in human standards of living, decision-making, peacefulness, lifespan, and quality of life.
Progress delivers exactly what it says on the cover – 10 reasons to look forward to the future.
For example, take war.
Based on the news and general chatter about Syria, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, you’d think that the world is basically a violent hellhole with vicious wars raging everywhere. In fact, we pay attention to those wars because they are basically the only wars going on. As recently as the 1990s, there were wars raging on every populated continent. There were so many wars that you have probably never heard of a few. And compared to the 1930s or 1940s, the 1990s were a golden era of peace & democracy.
The same goes for crime. Based on the news coverage of the uptick in violent crime in the US in 2016, you’d think we were entering a lawless anarchy. In fact, crime of every type in every city is at it’s lowest point ever.
The book continues on through medicine, food, environmental issues, etc.
But the biggest insight of the book is the decentralization of knowledge, education, and decision-making.
While progress is firmly entrenched, it is not moving as fast as we need it to move to save lives and reduce suffering.
I would add tribalism & hatred of “the other” to superstition and bureaucracy. But either way, his point stands. Progress will come. Doing nothing due to fatalism is not only wrong but also misguided.
The end of the book reminded me of William Gibson’s quote that “the future is already here it’s just not evenly distributed”. It’s easy to forget the people in the past who fought hard to make progress come faster than it would have. But they did – and that is an ongoing process happening even now.
Progress is a great anti-dote to the doom and gloom about the world but also a call to action to make progress happen even faster.