Glass half full?: The world is getting better, says U of S philosophy professor

Is the world going to hell in a handbasket? One University of Saskatchewan professor says no — by almost every measurement the world is getting better.

Prof will give his reasons why things are better at a talk Friday night at The Refinery in Saskatoon

U of S assistant professor Dwayne Moore is giving a talk Friday night at the Refinery on the topic, is the world getting better or worse? (CBC)

Is the world going to hell in a handbasket?

One University of Saskatchewan professor says no — by almost every measurement the world is getting better.

Prof. Dwayne Moore will outline his argument at a community talk Friday night at The Refinery.

Moore said most polls show only about five per cent of the population think the world is getting better.

He said despite real problems like climate change and rising income inequality he'll present data supporting his case. Here are a few of his arguments:

Worldwide, people are living twice as long as 200 years ago. (Michal Mrazek/Shutterstock)

Life expectancy

"Since the year 1900 life expectancy has doubled across the world from age 35 to age 70 now," said Moore. "This is important because I'm over 35. If I was living in 1900 the end would be near for me. But now I have hope to see my grandkids some day."

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Alleviating poverty

Moore said data shows that every day for the past 35 years society has been lifting about 128,000 people out of extreme poverty across the world. 

"The UN has a technical definition of extreme poverty, which is [earning] $1.90 per day. That seems quite low, but that's extreme poverty and people are just rising ahead of that line."


Many more people around the world have access to education.

Moore said 46 per cent of the world's population has access to the internet. and literacy rates have gone from 12 per cent of the population in 1800 to 86 per cent today.

"When you combine the ability to read with access to information, many people can now learn about anything, which is a new phenomenon."


More people have access to health care and governments are spending more on health care.

Moore said a stark example of this is infant mortality (children dying before the age of five), which was around 36 per cent in 1900. Now it's just four per cent.

Shorter work weeks and less time needed to do chores mean far more leisure time. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Leisure time

It's not just about being healthier and living longer. It's also how we are living, Moore argues.

"We have more leisure time in the world today," he said. "The average work week has gone from 60 hours to 40 hours since 1870. And the average amount of hours spent doing household chores has gone from 58 hours to 15 hours a week."

Modern conveniences such as dishwashers and washing machines have dramatically shortened the burden of those household chores.

"These things have allowed us to spend time playing sports, chatting with friends, et cetera."

Technology continues to improve our lives in many ways. (Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock)

Technological advances 

Most will think of cell phones or computers, but Moore said there are mundane examples that dramatically changed the way we live that we now take for granted.

"In 1860 only one per cent of the population had toilets," said Moore, adding electricity is a staple for Canadians, yet even today not everyone has it.

"If we realized the amazing things that we have, then we can be sort of thankful for where we are at this stage in history."

Negative bias

Moore said there are reasons why people tend to default to thinking things are worse.

"One is there is a negativity bias in the human species and this is from our biology," he said. "We tend to zero in on dangerous or negative things because it could affect our survival. And when a good piece of news comes, we brush it off."

He said news media and politicians feed into this by focusing on stories like plane crashes and violence.

"Today 128,000 people lifted out of extreme poverty in the world could be the headline. But that doesn't grab people as much, so it's not as urgent for people to know about."

Another is known as the hedonic adaptation trait.

"This is the tendency when a major life event happens, for good or for bad, we immediately react. But then six months later we've reverted back to normal," Moore said.

"So for example let's say you have a relationship breakup and you think, 'Oh I'll never get over it. This is terrible.' But a year later you've moved on and things are back to fine. Or, the reverse when you meet someone new and everything's great. But a year later you're nit picking on all the problems ."

You can hear Moore speak at 7 p.m. Friday at The Refinery located at 609 Dufferin Avenue.