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The World Is Not Falling Apart

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Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times.

It’s a good time to be a pessimist. ISIS, Crimea, Donetsk, Gaza, Burma, Ebola, school shootings, campus rapes, wife-beating athletes, lethal cops—who can avoid the feeling that things fall apart, the center cannot hold? Last year Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before a Senate committee that the world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.” This past fall, Michael Ignatieff wrote of “the tectonic plates of a world order that are being pushed apart by the volcanic upward pressure of violence and hatred.” Two months ago, the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen lamented, “Many people I talk to, and not only over dinner, have never previously felt so uneasy about the state of the world. … The search is on for someone to dispel foreboding and embody, again, the hope of the world.”

As troubling as the recent headlines have been, these lamentations need a second look. It’s hard to believe we are in greater danger today than we were during the two world wars, or during other perils such as the periodic nuclear confrontations during the Cold War, the numerous conflicts in Africa and Asia that each claimed millions of lives, or the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq that threatened to choke the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf and cripple the world’s economy.

How can we get a less hyperbolic assessment of the state of the world? Certainly not from daily journalism. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a reporter saying to the camera, “Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as violence has not vanished from the world, there will always be enough incidents to fill the evening news. And since the human mind estimates probability by the ease with which it can recall examples, newsreaders will always perceive that they live in dangerous times. All the more so when billions of smartphones turn a fifth of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents.

We also have to avoid being fooled by randomness. Cohen laments the “annexations, beheadings, [and] pestilence” of the past year, but surely this collection of calamities is a mere coincidence. Entropy, pathogens, and human folly are a backdrop to life, and it is statistically certain that the lurking disasters will not space themselves evenly in time but will frequently overlap. To read significance into these clusters is to succumb to primitive thinking, a world of evil eyes and cosmic conspiracies.

Finally, we need to be mindful of orders of magnitude. Some categories of violence, like rampage shootings and terrorist attacks, are riveting dramas but (outside war zones) kill relatively small numbers of people. Every day ordinary homicides claim one and a half times as many Americans as the number who died in the Sandy Hook massacre. And as the political scientist John Mueller points out, in most years bee stings, deer collisions, ignition of nightwear, and other mundane accidents kill more Americans than terrorist attacks.

The only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count. How many violent acts has the world seen compared with the number of opportunities? And is that number going up or down? As Bill Clinton likes to say, “Follow the trend lines, not the headlines.” We will see that the trend lines are more encouraging than a news junkie would guess.

To be sure, adding up corpses and comparing the tallies across different times and places can seem callous, as if it minimized the tragedy of the victims in less violent decades and regions. But a quantitative mindset is in fact the morally enlightened one. It treats every human life as having equal value, rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of violence and thereby implement the measures that are most likely to reduce it. Let’s examine the major categories in turn.

Homicide. Worldwide, about five to 10 times as many people die in police-blotter homicides as die in wars. And in most of the world, the rate of homicide has been sinking. The Great American Crime Decline of the 1990s, which flattened out at the start of the new century, resumed in 2006, and, defying the conventional wisdom that hard times lead to violence, proceeded right through the recession of 2008 and up to the present.


England, Canada, and most other industrialized countries have also seen their homicide rates fall in the past decade. Among the 88 countries with reliable data, 67 have seen a decline in the past 15 years. Though numbers for the entire world exist only for this millennium and include heroic guesstimates for countries that are data deserts, the trend appears to be downward, from 7.1 homicides per 100,000 people in 2003 to 6.2 in 2012.

The global average, to be sure, conceals many regions with horrific rates of killing, particularly in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. But even in those hot zones, it’s easy for the headlines to mislead. The gory drug-fueled killings in parts of Mexico, for example, can create an impression that the country has spiraled into Hobbesian lawlessness. But the trend line belies the impression in two ways.


One is that the 21st-century spike has not undone a massive reduction in homicide that Mexico has enjoyed since 1940, comparable to the reductions that Europe and the United States underwent in earlier centuries. The other is that what goes up often comes down. The rate of Mexican homicide has declined in each of the past two years (including an almost 90 percent drop in Juárez from 2010 to 2012), and many other notoriously dangerous regions have experienced significant turnarounds, including Bogotá, Colombia (a fivefold decline in two decades), Medellín, Colombia (down 85 percent in two decades), São Paolo (down 70 percent in a decade), the favelas of Rio de Janeiro (an almost two-thirds reduction in four years), Russia (down 46 percent in six years), and South Africa (a halving from 1995 to 2011). Many criminologists believe that a reduction of global violence by 50 percent in the next three decades is a feasible target for the next round of Millennium Development Goals.

Violence Against Women. The intense media coverage of famous athletes who have assaulted their wives or girlfriends, and of episodes of rape on college campuses, have suggested to many pundits that we are undergoing a surge of violence against women. But the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ victimization surveys (which circumvent the problem of underreporting to the police) show the opposite: Rates of rape or sexual assault and of violence against intimate partners have been sinking for decades, and are now a quarter or less of their peaks in the past. Far too many of these horrendous crimes still take place, but we should be encouraged by the fact that a heightened concern about violence against women is not futile moralizing but has brought about measurable progress—and that continuing this concern can lead to greater progress still.


Few other countries have comparable data, but there is reason to believe that similar trends would be found elsewhere. Most measures of personal violence are correlated over time, so the global decline of homicide suggests that nonlethal violence against women may be falling on a parallel trajectory, though highly unevenly across regions. In 1993 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and polling data show widespread support for women’s rights, even in countries with the most benighted practices. Many countries have implemented laws and public awareness campaigns to reduce rape, forced marriage, genital mutilation, honor killings, domestic violence, and wartime atrocities. Though some of these measures are toothless, and the effectiveness of others has yet to be established, there are grounds for optimism over the long term. Global shaming campaigns, even when they start out as purely aspirational, have led in the past to dramatic reductions of practices such as slavery, dueling, whaling, foot binding, piracy, privateering, chemical warfare, apartheid, and atmospheric nuclear testing.

Violence Against Children. A similar story can be told about children. The incessant media reports of school shootings, abductions, bullying, cyberbullying, sexting, date rape, and sexual and physical abuse make it seem as if children are living in increasingly perilous times. But the data say otherwise: Kids are undoubtedly safer than they were in the past. In a review of the literature on violence against children in the United States published earlier this year, the sociologist David Finkelhor and his colleagues reported, “Of 50 trends in exposure examined, there were 27 significant declines and no significant increases between 2003 and 2011. Declines were particularly large for assault victimization, bullying, and sexual victimization.”


Similar trends are seen in other industrialized countries, and international declarations have made the reduction of violence against children a global concern.

Democratization. In 1975, Daniel Patrick Moynihan lamented that “liberal democracy on the American model increasingly tends to the condition of monarchy in the 19th century: a holdover form of government, one which persists in isolated or peculiar places here and there … but which has simply no relevance to the future.” Moynihan was a social scientist, and his pessimism was backed by the numbers of his day: A growing majority of countries were led by communist, fascist, military, or strongman dictators. But the pessimism turned out to be premature, belied by a wave of democratization that began not long after the ink had dried on his eulogy. The pessimists of today who insist that the future belongs to the authoritarian capitalism of Russia and China show no such numeracy. Data from the Polity IV Project on the degree of democracy and autocracy among the world’s countries show that the democracy craze has decelerated of late but shows no signs of going into reverse.


Democracy has proved to be more robust than its eulogizers realize. A majority of the world’s countries today are democratic, and not just the wealthy monocultures of Europe, North America, and East Asia. Governments that are more democratic than not (scoring 6 or higher on the Polity IV Project’s scale from minus 10 to 10) are entrenched (albeit with nerve-wracking ups and downs) in most of Latin America, in floridly multiethnic India, in Islamic Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Even the autocracies of Russia and China, which show few signs of liberalizing anytime soon, are incomparably less repressive than the regimes of Stalin, Brezhnev, and Mao.

Genocide and Other Mass Killings of Civilians. The recent atrocities against non-Islamic minorities at the hands of ISIS, together with the ongoing killing of civilians in Syria, Iraq, and central Africa, have fed a narrative in which the world has learned nothing from the Holocaust and genocides continue unabated. But even the most horrific events of the present must be put into historical perspective, if only to identify and eliminate the forces that lead to mass killing. Though the meaning of the word genocide is too fuzzy to support objective analysis, all genocides fall into the more inclusive category of “one-sided violence” or “mass killing of noncombatant civilians,” and several historians and social scientists have estimated their trajectory over time. The numbers are imprecise and often contested, but the overall trends are clear and consistent across datasets.

By any standard, the world is nowhere near as genocidal as it was during its peak in the 1940s, when Nazi, Soviet, and Japanese mass murders, together with the targeting of civilians by all sides in World War II, resulted in a civilian death rate in the vicinity of 350 per 100,000 per year. Stalin and Mao kept the global rate between 75 and 150 through the early 1960s, and it has been falling ever since, though punctuated by spikes of dying in Biafra (1966–1970, 200,000  deaths), Sudan (1983–2002, 1 million), Afghanistan (1978–2002, 1 million), Indonesia (1965–1966, 500,000), Angola (1975–2002, 1 million), Rwanda (1994, 500,000), and Bosnia (1992–1995, 200,000). (All of these estimates are from the Center for Systemic Peace.) These numbers must be kept in mind when we read of the current horrors in Iraq (2003–2014, 150,000 deaths) and Syria (2011–2014, 150,000) and interpret them as signs of a dark new era. Nor, tragically, are the beheadings and crucifixions of the Islamic State historically unusual. Many postwar genocides were accompanied by splurges of ghastly torture and mutilation. The main difference is that they were not broadcasted on social media.

The trend lines for genocide and other civilian killings, fortunately, point sharply downward. After a steady rise during the Cold War until 1992, the proportion of states perpetrating or enabling mass killings of civilians has plummeted, though with a small recent bounce we will examine shortly.


The number of civilians killed in these massacres has also dropped. Reliable data, collected by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, or UCDP, exist only for the past 25 years, and this period is so dominated by the Rwandan genocide that an ordinary graph looks like a tall spike poking through a wrinkled carpet. But when we squish the graph by using a logarithmic scale, we see that by 2013 the rate of civilian killing had fallen by an order of magnitude since the mid-1990s, and by two orders of magnitude since Rwanda.


Though comparisons to the cruder data of previous decades are iffy, the numbers we have suggest that the rate of killing civilians has dropped by about three orders of magnitude since the decade after World War II, and by four orders of magnitude since the war itself. In other words, the world’s civilians are several thousand times less likely to be targeted today than they were 70 years ago.

War. Researchers who track war and peace distinguish “armed conflicts,” which kill as few as 25 soldiers and civilians caught in the line of fire in a year, from “wars,” which kill more than a thousand. They also distinguish “interstate” conflicts, which pit the armed forces of two or more states against each other, from “intrastate” or “civil” conflicts, which pit a state against an insurgency or separatist force, sometimes with the armed intervention of an external state. (Conflicts in which the armed forces of a state are not directly involved, such as the one-sided violence perpetrated by a militia against noncombatants, and intercommunal violence between militias, are counted separately.)

In a historically unprecedented development, the number of interstate wars has plummeted since 1945, and the most destructive kind of war, in which great powers or developed states fight each other, has vanished altogether. (The last one was the Korean War). Today the world rarely sees a major naval battle, or masses of tanks and heavy artillery shelling each other across a battlefield. The green curve in the graph below (from the UCDP) shows how major wars have sputtered out in the postwar period.


The end of the Cold War also saw a steep reduction in the number of armed conflicts of all kinds, including civil wars. The blue curve in the graph shows that recent events have not reversed this trend. In 2013 there were 33 state-based armed conflicts in the world, a number that falls right within the range of fluctuations of the last dozen years (between 31 and 38) and well below the high of 52 shortly after the end of the Cold War. The UCDP has also noted that 2013 saw the signing of six peace agreements, two more than in the previous year.

But the red curve in the graph shows a recent development that is less benign: The number of wars jumped from four in 2010—the lowest total since the end of World War II—to seven in 2013. These wars were fought in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Syria. Conflict data for 2014 will not be available until next year, but we already know that four new wars broke out in the past 12 months, for a total of 11. The jump from 2010 to 2014, the steepest since the end of the Cold War, has brought us to the highest number of wars since 2000. The worldwide rate of battle deaths (available through 2013) has also risen since its low point in 2005, mostly because of the deaths in the Syrian civil war.


Though the recent increase in civil wars and battle deaths is real and worrisome, it must be kept in perspective. It has undone the progress of the last dozen years, but the rates of violence are still well below those of the 1990s, and nowhere near the levels of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s.

The 2010–2014 upsurge is circumscribed in a second way. In seven of the 11 wars that flared during this period, radical Islamist groups were one of the warring parties: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel/Gaza, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen. (Indeed, absent the Islamist conflicts, there would have been no increase in wars in the last few years, with just two in 2013 and three in 2014.) This reflects a broader trend. In January 2014 the Pew Research Center reported that the number of countries experiencing high or very high levels of “religious hostilities” increased by more than 40 percent (from 14 to 20) between 2011 and 2012. In all but two of these countries (those listed above together with Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, and Thailand) the hostilities were associated with extremist Islamist groups. These groups tend to gain the most traction in countries with exclusionary, inept, or repressive governments or in zones with no effective government at all, including long-anarchic frontier regions and the parts of Syria and Iraq that have been rendered anarchic in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring.

Because the radical Islamist groups have maximalist goals and reject compromise, the major mechanisms that drove the decline in the number of wars in the preceding decades—negotiated settlements and peacekeeping and peacebuilding programs—are unlikely to succeed in ending these conflicts. Also intensifying the violence is their international scope. External fighters and weapons drive up death tolls and prolong fighting. For these reasons we do not expect the recent upsurge to be quickly reversed.

At the same time, there are reasons to believe that it will not extend into the indefinite future, let alone escalate into global warfare. Let’s examine the three most prominent trouble spots.

Iraq/Syria. The Islamic State will not expand into a pan-Islamic caliphate, and it is unlikely to persist over the long term. For one thing, its ideology and politics are loathed throughout most of the Islamic world; even al-Qaida has excommunicated the movement for being too extreme. The extremists thus lack the mass popular support that is necessary for fighting the kind of “people’s war” that proved successful in places like China and Vietnam.

The Islamic State, moreover, lacks the conventional military capabilities needed to overthrow a heavily defended Baghdad. It has minimal armor, long-range artillery, sophisticated rocketry, and air power, and only a rudimentary air defense system. The Islamists’ remarkable sweep through northern Iraq in the summer of 2014 occurred mainly because hapless Iraqi soldiers, abandoned by officers with no loyalty to the Shiite regime, chose not to fight.

The Islamic State is now overextended and will become more vulnerable as it seeks to become a normal state. Although wealthy by terror group standards, its income—estimated at $2 million a day—is grossly inadequate to the task of governing as a state. It is already under the same U.N. sanction regime as al-Qaida, and it is isolated from the region’s main centers of trade, manufacture, and commerce. As ISIS is decreasingly able to extract, refine, and sell oil, its major source of revenue is shrinking. It has no access to the sea, it has no major-power supporters, and its neighbors are mostly enemies. Last but not least, the United States and its allies, together with the Iraqi army, are planning a spring counteroffensive against ISIS that will be far more punishing than anything attempted thus far.

Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s reabsorption of Crimea into Russia, and his thinly disguised support for Ukrainian secessionist movements, are deeply troubling developments, not just because the resulting fighting has claimed more than 4,000 lives, but also because they challenge the grandfathering of national borders and the near-taboo on conquest that have helped keep the peace since 1945.

Yet comparisons to the world of a century ago—when romantic militarism was widespread, international institutions virtually nonexistent, and leaders naive about the costs of escalating great-power war—are almost certainly overdrawn. So far Russia has sent “little green men” rather than tank divisions across the border, and even the most hawkish of American hawks has not proposed pushing it back with military force. Meanwhile Putin’s adventurism has been hugely costly for Russia. The tough EU sanctions, along with plunging oil prices, will push Russia into a recession in 2015. The ruble is plummeting in value, food prices have risen sharply, and Russian banks are finding it increasingly difficult to borrow foreign capital. All this suggests that the tensions in Ukraine are far more likely to end in an uneasy stalemate like those in Georgia and Moldova, which have endured the loss of pro-Russian breakaway statelets, than a repeat of World War I.

Israel and Palestine. The recurring outbursts of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, including the incursion into Gaza last summer that killed 2,000 people, have obscured two facts that come into view only from a historical and quantitative vantage point.

First, the Israel-Palestine conflict was once a far more dangerous Israel-Arab conflict. Over the course of 25 years, Israel fought the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan five times, with more than 100,000 battle deaths, and in 1973 both Israel and the United States put their nuclear forces on high alert in response to the threat. For the past 41 years there have been no such wars, and neither Egypt nor any other Arab regime has shown an interest in starting one.

For all the world’s obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict, it has been responsible for a small proportion of the total human cost of war: approximately 22,000 deaths over six decades, coming in at 96th place among the armed conflicts recorded by the Center for Systemic Peace since 1946, and at 14th place among ongoing conflicts. That does not mean that the violence is acceptable, only that it should not be a cause of fatalism or despair. Worse conflicts have come to an end, not least ones that have embroiled Israel itself, and a peaceful settlement to this conflict should not be dismissed as utopian.

* * *

The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states—by far the most destructive of all conflicts—are all but obsolete. The increase in the number and deadliness of civil wars since 2010 is circumscribed, puny in comparison with the decline that preceded it, and unlikely to escalate.

We have been told of impending doom before: a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, a line of dominoes in Southeast Asia, revanchism in a reunified Germany, a rising sun in Japan, cities overrun by teenage superpredators, a coming anarchy that would fracture the major nation-states, and weekly 9/11-scale attacks that would pose an existential threat to civilization.

Why is the world always “more dangerous than it has ever been”—even as a greater and greater majority of humanity lives in peace and dies of old age?

Too much of our impression of the world comes from a misleading formula of journalistic narration. Reporters give lavish coverage to gun bursts, explosions, and viral videos, oblivious to how representative they are and apparently innocent of the fact that many were contrived as journalist bait. Then come sound bites from “experts” with vested interests in maximizing the impression of mayhem: generals, politicians, security officials, moral activists. The talking heads on cable news filibuster about the event, desperately hoping to avoid dead air. Newspaper columnists instruct their readers on what emotions to feel.

There is a better way to understand the world. Commentators can brush up their history—not by rummaging through Bartlett’s for a quote from Clausewitz, but by recounting the events of the recent past that put the events of the present in an intelligible context. And they could consult the analyses of quantitative datasets on violence that are now just a few clicks away.

An evidence-based mindset on the state of the world would bring many benefits. It would calibrate our national and international responses to the magnitude of the dangers that face us. It would limit the influence of terrorists, school shooters, decapitation cinematographers, and other violence impresarios. It might even dispel foreboding and embody, again, the hope of the world.


35 Comments on "The World Is Not Falling Apart"

  1. Makati1 on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 6:13 am 

    What a piece of shit article! This psycho actually gets paid to shovel it out to the public. Democracy is dead. Fascists and Dictators rule. An empire of chaos is trying to control the whole world. Genocide, murder and torture spring up everywhere it goes. Sovereignty is it’s enemy. Peace and Freedom is not found in it’s home country. Debt is it’s life force. 50,000,000 of it’s citizens are in soup lines. 100,000,000 more are dependent on it’s welfare. It’s biggest business is weapons and wars. It houses the largest insane asylum in the world inside it’s beltway.

    I could go one for pages but anyone who gets past the hardline and actually reads all of this is either psycho like the author or in deep denial. I goy thru the first paragraph and skipped to that last few. Glad I didn’t waste my time on the rest.

    I was looking for the “April Fools” line or the “gottcha!” of a satirist, but … he/she is serious. Here, take this bit of depleted uranium shrapnel and put it beside your bed. It is perfectly safe and will keep the wolves away…

  2. Dredd on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 6:16 am 

    It’s hard to believe we are in greater danger today than we were during [insert imaginary history here] … How can we get a less [insert denialist adjective here] assessment of the state of [petroleum civilization]?


    Your post is a prime example … (Hopium mixed with exceptionalism on steroids):

    “Historically, self-destruction is the common denominator for past human civilization, culture, and society:

    ‘In other words, a society does not ever die ‘from natural causes’, but always dies from suicide or murder — and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown.’

    (A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee). As regular readers know, I have posted Sigmund Freud’s writings where he indicated that psychoanalysis of groups, including civilization itself, would not prove unproductive …”

    (Are We Riding Out The Sixth Mass Extinction?).

    The cultures of the past were on the same path as ours today because of, among other things, “creeping normality and landscape amnesia,” two of the many cultural trances.

    It is instructive to remember that culture is composed primarily with the word “cult” … a word that depicts a dynamic composed of trances (Choose Your Trances Carefully).

  3. Rodster on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 6:26 am 

    It looks like someone lost their job at NBC Today or Good Morning America. 😛

    What a bag of manure this article is. You have a global economy that is collapsing….AGAIN !

    You have the USSA wanting to start WWIII with Putin. The world is in a major trouble.

  4. rockman on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 7:13 am 

    “It’s hard to believe we are in greater danger today.” Actually it’s true…just as long is very selective in defining “we”. For instance, “we” obviously doesn’t include the more than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s.

  5. Norm on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 7:35 am 

    Yes, the world IS falling apart. All the resources are used up, the environment is trashed, even things like GIRAFFE are going extinct. In USA you got big fat stupid waddling pigs spending welfare checks at Wal-Mart, and voting for Mitt Romney and John Boehner cause he will make them rich (and help them lose weight) yeah right. And then the far right will put in the 4th Reich and start dropping the bombs, and there goes your view home, just a smoking hole in the ground. But you would have run out of gas for your car and money to pay the bills, long before that anyway, so when the bombs take you out its kind of a relief. Oh, but good times are here again? Oh, all those fat stupid far-right gun toting slobs, smoking their meth pipes are suddenly going to be rocket scientists like Werner Von Braun? OK you convinced me.

  6. Norm on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 7:38 am 

    Actually Makati, depleted uranium is no problemo, its kind of like lead. Had a chunk of it in my hands, and i still got hands. In a lab environment, was around a big stack of it, and no worse for wear. I guess that individuals cannot collect it though, its probably kind of a controlled substance. Too bad would make a cool paper weight.

  7. paulo1 on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 7:47 am 

    re: “At the same time, there are reasons to believe that it will not extend into the indefinite future, let alone escalate into global warfare. Let’s examine the three most prominent trouble spots.”

    Did anyone notice Human Nature changing the last while? I didn’t. To quote a few upthread commenters, this is a piece of sh#! article.

  8. Makati1 on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 7:56 am 

    Norm, if you know anyone in Iraq, they can go out back and pick up a few hundred pieces for you. So much for “controlled”. As for how safe it is … well, they thought lead was safe when they were putting it into gasoline and paints. But then they found that it dumbed down the population, among other things.

  9. antiwarforever on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 8:15 am 

    I always thought it’s better to be a pessimist and proven wrong than an optimist like the author of this article – and risk being proven wrong…
    this piece reminds me of a famous French song from 1939 “everything’s fine, Lady Marquise” … I guess it’s a case of a glass half full or half empty .
    I believe it’s better to see it half empty , and seeing there is room fror improvement, work for it, instead of being complacent.

  10. OFT on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 8:57 am 

    I don’t think the author was claiming that the world was a fairer or more democratic place.

    The subject was risk: risk from homicide, violence and your likelihood to shuffle off this mortal coil somewhat earlier than you might have expected.

    The charts generally support that claim. At least if you live in the US. I expect the UK shows a similar set of trends.

    Interestingly, given the high news profile of recent deaths at police hands in the US, I read this week that the number of people shot and killed by English and Welsh police in the last year was zero (0). I can’t speak for the other home countries.

  11. Nony on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 9:15 am 

    Funny to see how much this article agitates you doomers. Just more proof that you are more religious than scientific. That you’re wedded to your doomer view and facts that don’t support you agitate you.

    Oh Rock, how’s “POD” when oil price drops 40%. And don’t give me some “it’s higher than 30 BS”. Any way you cut it, POD took a 40% haircut.

  12. Apneaman on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 9:24 am 

    This guy is just regurgitating Steve Pinker’s 2011 book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” It has been demonstrated by a number of knowledgeable critics that Pinker had pre-decided his conclusion before he started his research. That always makes one see things that are not there. I stopped reading Pinker’s ivory tower fantasy about a quarter way through; it was that pathetic (He’s done some fine work in other areas, but we all have our biases).

    I think a better explanation is that we live under what is known as Inverted totalitarianism. Bhaa Bhaa Bhaa

  13. ghung on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 9:37 am 

    But the Dow passed 18,000 this morning and last quarter growth in the US was 5%. I still don’t lock my doors at night, and the GOP will soon rule the roost in Congress.

    The rest of the world be damned. Everything’s great, here in the land of the free, and all that. Just ask Nony.

  14. penury on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 10:23 am 

    I would really like to see a balanced study by an unbiased author (O.K. I know that that is impossible) bit what would be nice to know is: What is happening in the areas the gov does not want us to care about? Ebola, Undocumenteds entering the U.S.. the build-up of military equipment in Kuwait, the build-up of NATO forces in the Baltic States, the outcome of the Russia mtg on SWIFT, the investigation into the airliner shot down by the Ukraine govt? That and the currency war to destroy the nations which want not to use dollars (Russia, Iran, Venezuala) The Dept of Peace announcing at least 1500 troops to Iraq in Jan/ :ittle things that nag and are never reported.

  15. Nony on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 10:38 am 

    Ebola? That’s a joke. That’s a PERFECT example of how the numbers are being ignored. A couple thousand Africans die of that disease (and only a couple Americans). Yet, you JonBenetRamsey following news hounds get all agitated about it. And we have thousands and millions dying of cancer, heart disease, tuberculosis, etc. effing etc.

    Ebola. Give me a break. That should be the POSTER CHILD of the overworked doomer meme.

    Oh…how’d that Y2K work out for ya?

  16. Apneaman on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 11:26 am 

    Nony, apparently those big money “job creator” “producers” you admire so much, do not have the same faith in the future as you do. Yes, at the same time the high priests of capitalism are preaching that all is well to the true believers like you, they have long been making plans to bunker up at home and abroad. I bet all that white privilege is getting mighty nervous especially in those deep south oppressor states.

  17. Jerry McManus on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 12:26 pm 

    Actually, the author is probably right. We are, after all, at the peak of industrial civilization. It would make sense that right about now things will have never been better, at least in general. That is the very definition of “peak”.

    The “Limits to Growth” study said as much, on their BAU (“Standard run”) scenario graph cover up with your hand everything after about 2020 and it will look like indicators such as food population and industrial output are going up, up, up while at the same time the death rate is going down.

    What comes next is another story.

    Run the same data sets from this article in 50 years time and we’ll see if the world has fallen apart.

  18. turningpoint on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 12:50 pm 

    Yes, follow the trend lines not the headlines but not without context. For example, in the case of Mexico, the Revolution went from 1910 to 1920. One million Mexicans were killed and another one million fled the country. The population was only about 15 million people at the time. Based on the shear number of those affected throughout most of the country, that made it among the worse wars of all time.

    After the Mexican Revolution came the Cristero war. One quarter of a million Mexicans died during that war between the 1920’s-1930’s and beyond.

    If that trend line went back to 1910, it would go far higher on the left side of the graph.

    I think those two wars have an impact on the homicide rate in Mexico.

    Without context, graphs can mislead.

  19. turningpoint on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 12:56 pm 

    These graphs don’t give you a feel for what’s simmering beneath the surface. Sometimes anger builds through time until the damn bursts. Something snaps and then there’s an earthquake. My sense is that things are simmering now and close to reaching a boiling point.

    Hopefully cooler heads prevail before things get really ugly….

  20. turningpoint on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 12:56 pm 

    These graphs don’t give you a feel for what’s simmering beneath the surface. Sometimes anger builds through time until the damn bursts. Something snaps and then there’s an earthquake. My sense is that things are simmering now and close to reaching a boiling point.

    Hopefully cooler heads prevail before things get really ugly….

  21. ghung on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 1:03 pm 

    Jerry: “…We are, after all, at the peak of industrial civilization.”

    Perhaps, although I’m more in the camp (which includes Greer, Kunstler, others) that feels industrial civilization likely peaked late 60’s-early 70’s, about the time that US crude production peaked and the US dollar (world’s reserve currency) went off to fiat land.
    Since then, we’ve been on an undulating plateau funded by exponentially increasing debt. That period also saw peak constructive discussion of social, political, and environmental issues, peak western culture (rock n roll, baby!), peak exploration (to the Moon!),, peak ideas? Everything since seems to be re-runs/ refinement of what came before; social and economic masturbation. Even most of our important technology was conceived of by the mid/late 70’s. The only things that hadn’t peaked were population, consumption, waste, debt, and related production: reactionary rather than progressive or revolutionary. Note that peak discovery of oil reserves occurred around 1965.

    Duncan discusses other peaks in the Olduvai theory:

    “Industrial civilization is defined in Duncan’s paper as the time between energy production per capita rising above 37% of its eventual peak value, and it falling back below 37% of the peak value later. In 1996 he estimated this period to be from 1930 until approximately 2025, with the per capita peak having occurred in 1977.[3] In 2009, he considered separately the peaks of standard of living in OECD countries, non-OECD countries (specifically China, India and Brazil), and the USA. He found that the standard of living in the US peaked in 1973, that of OECD countries in 2005, while that of the non-OECD countries was still rising in 2007. He predicted a global peak in standard of living 2010, followed by a decline to the 1930 level by 2030.”

    I think that the 60 year period from 1965 – 2025 will be the ultimate peak everything period, excepting peak misery and climate change. Just an educated guess though 😉

  22. Dredd on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 1:47 pm 

    The sicko propagandist who wrote this slop descends from historical and hysterical bullshitters:

    ON THE night of October 22, 1929, one of America’s most widely known economists addressed a great banquet of credit men. Not only were Wall Street prices not too high, he told his delighted hearers, but we were really only on the threshold of the greatest boom in the nation’s history. The prophecy evoked a burst of applause. Next morning, a few minutes after the great bell announced the opening of trading on the Stock Exchange, the storm broke. The greatest economic depression in our history was formally ushered in — though it had been in progress for some time. From this point on, as the country slowly roused itself to a consciousness of the far-spreading crisis, leaders in politics and business repeated with invincible optimism that it was all just a wholesome corrective. After several years a waggish commentator published a little volume called Oh, Yeah! It was a sardonic recording of the persistent and unconquerable stream of promises of quickly returning health. There you will find recorded the statements of statesmen, financiers, university professors, leading economists, and editors assuring the people that it was all a blessing in disguise, a corrective phenomenon, that the broad highway to renewed prosperity lay just ahead. All of which proved quite conclusively that these men did not know what they were talking about because they had no understanding of the economic system under which they lived. Then came the collapse of 1933 on the grand scale — and a resumption of the bright prophecies of happy days.”

    (Myth Addiction Is Establishment’s LSD – 3).

  23. green_achers on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 2:23 pm 

    I believe the statistics presented here. They can be explained easily as the result of two factors. First, the general overall aging of populations. Young people commit most of the violent crime in the world. As one would expect, violence in the US peaks out in the 1970s, when the baby boom was in it’s mid-teens to late-20s. Other countries can be expected to follow their own curves, but the overall trend is the same in many cases.

    Second, the end of the cold war and the (now unraveling, in my opinion) dominance of the US and US-oriented trade freed up a lot of wealth that led to unprecedented prosperity in a lot of places. More prosperous people generally commit fewer crimes, and have less political unrest.

    None of this should surprise anyone, and none of it should lead one to conclude either that trends will, simply by momentum, continue, or that serious factors (e.g. peak energy, environmental degradation, financial risks) can safely be ignored.

    Silly article, and some reactions are just as silly.

  24. Nony on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 2:30 pm 

    Apnea, here’s another good video. 🙂

    Remind you of any doomers? 🙂

  25. Speculawyer on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 2:55 pm 

    Makati1, you seem to be the one deep in denial. Heck, you can’t even be bothered to read the facts.

  26. galacticsurfer on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 3:36 pm 

    This is like old lady scared to cross street because of a report on a purse snatcher or rapist so she becomes a recluse. Compare that to getting a doomer focus and then becoming a prepper in the backwoods.

    Other thought that long market stability is artificial. Think of pax romana under augustus after major civil wars. We are perhaps just in between massacres. Since ww2 population has tripled and resorce usage maybe 10 times and nature gone way down and climate variability climbing way up.

    So we are controlling evrything on a very tight system stretched to breaking point and like in a shopping mall or a happy 1950s scene everybody is neurotically nervously controlled but just wait till the control is gone(like after east bloc broke up or post colonial india, arica, etc.) Then TSHTF as in ferguson or ukraine, a whole society goes psycho and crazies get in control. People repressed and peaceful with screens before eyes busy working to survive. What can break spell. EU , dollar, oil, china bust all potential problems. Then your next ukraine, iraq, comes like taiwan, spratlies, kashmir conflicts or internal like china riots when jobs, money, corruption bad or usa protests over banks, cops. Europe was peaceful and controlled then 10s of millions died? Maybe calm before storm fits article best or what jesus said

    1The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. 2But He replied to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3″And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?…

  27. FriedrichKling on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 4:06 pm 

    The article is correct in one sense: most people harbor a sense of anxiety, but NOT for the reasons cited in this archaic article. Instead we all possess a collective sense that we are rapidly approaching an ecological doomsday. Among the consequences of taking down a few hundred species each day, and a mushrooming human population that swells by 80 million every year; at some point, we are the species we take into the abyss. The vanishing point draws nearer every day. Our response: More toys. Burn all fossil fuels. Clear-cut the rain forests. Strip-mine the soil. Pollute the water. Foul the air. Go shopping. And, most importantly, figure out how we can make a few more bucks as the world burns.

  28. Makati1 on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 6:34 pm 

    Speck, there are no facts in that article, just spin. If you cherry pick your facts, you can prove anything. I look at the world around me and see the truth. I lived the best years of industrialization and they are long past. If you believe the propaganda we are living in perfections today. But 47,000,000 million Americans in the sop line says other.

    How many wars are happening as we type? 6? 10? 20? And what is war? Destruction of other countries by any means possible. Should I list the countries involved today? Easier to list the ones who are not.

    Life expectancy in the West is declining. Education in the West is declining. Wealth in the West is declining (for the 99%). Debt is going exponential. Disease is rampant, only kept under control by Big Pharm and trillions of dollars of paper Charmin. The food, air and water is all polluted. The oceans are dying. And on and on.

    So, tell me why I need to read someone’s excuse for work so he can collect a payoff from his sponsor?

  29. Makati1 on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 6:35 pm 

    Sorry, 8AM and my first cup of coffee. Please excuse my typos.

  30. Norm on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 10:26 pm 

    Makati did you say that depleted uranium makes people dumb? nuts I guess that explains it. I knew i shoulda stayed away from that stack of D U at the lab. :o(. I thinkin the Dow 18000 is the big fake. Now mom and pop buy at triple pric e, then it crashes back to 4000 and the house casino gets all the shares back and mom and pops money too.

  31. antiwarforever on Wed, 24th Dec 2014 3:00 am 

    Churchill used to say : “there are lies, damn lies and statistics” and this piece (of crap) is the perfect illustration of that fact : in my country for instance (an European country), the number of rapes, of cases of pedophilia, of theft, of violent aggression, of general misbehaviour (like duming one’s trash in the street) has exploded since 50 years, so much so that a lot of people don’t bother to report it anymore, and the police itsel doesn’t bother to collect complains (too much paperwork). And there is a general, diffuse feeling of anxiety , maybe linked to the urbanization, and the economical crisis, that no statistics will ever take into account.

  32. Taris4171 on Wed, 24th Dec 2014 3:59 am 

    Pure horseshit!
    The world is in decline and heading for total economic collapse, global famine and eventually a Third World War.

  33. Makati1 on Wed, 24th Dec 2014 4:56 am 

    Norm, maybe you were affected and don’t realize it? After all, the government keeps raising the “safe” levels to cover their asses when there is a problem. Even if some is truly safe, I would not trust my government to tell me it is ok. They also tell me that fluoride is ok. At one time mercury was ok too. It was in dental fillings and we played with liquid mercury in school bare handed. It was “safe”. Ditto for lead in gasoline and paints. Etc.

  34. rdberg1957 on Thu, 25th Dec 2014 1:19 am 

    There are good trends and bad trends. The ones discussed here are risks which may be lower in some areas of the world. Some of the changes are demographic. Just because there are signs of negative trends doesn’t mean that all is negative.

    The ones I’m most concerned about related to climate change, ecosystems, and extinctions are very negative. Most biological scientists are quite pessimistic because of the data they see.

    It is unclear to me what is happening with resource depletion. Jeffrey Brown’s export data tells me that the trends are not good with oil. However, we may be on a long plateau or fall off a cliff. I don’t know.

    I am not interested in being pessimistic, but am interested in a realistic assessment of data. There is a difference between news events (the world is always falling apart) and underlying trends.

  35. rdberg1957 on Thu, 25th Dec 2014 1:24 am 

    There are good trends and bad trends. The ones discussed here are risks which may be lower in some areas of the world. Some of the changes are demographic. Just because there are signs of negative trends doesn’t mean that all is negative.

    The ones I’m most concerned about related to climate change, ecosystems, and extinctions are very negative. Most biological scientists are quite pessimistic because of the data they see.

    It is unclear to me what is happening with resource depletion. Jeffrey Brown’s export data tells me that the trends are not good with oil. However, we may be on a long plateau or fall off a cliff. I don’t know.

    I am not interested in being pessimistic, but am interested in a realistic assessment of data. There is a difference between news events (the world is always falling apart) and underlying trends.

    People are really very bad at evaluating risks and fear things which are actually relatively low risk more than things which are very high risk based on a feedback system between the public and media which creates alarm about things which are less important and ignores what is very important.

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