Everybody knows the children’s story about Chicken Little who gets hit on the head by a falling acorn and immediately assumes the worst, i.e. that the sky is actually made of some sort of solid matter and is beginning to rain down upon the inhabitants of Earth. Chicken Little undertakes to spread the news of impending doom to all his (her?) friends, most of whom are barnyard fowl with goofy, rhyming names.
The origin of the story is unknown but its roots are apparently ancient. Some say a version of the story may have been circulating in Jesus’s day. The ending of the story, and thus the moral it attempts to convey, differs depending on the version being told and the storyteller’s purpose, but one element remains the same in all versions. Chicken Little has misinterpreted the data. The end is not near. Doom is not imminent. The sky is emphatically NOT falling.
And that, my friends, is the note on which I wish to begin this month of posts I’m calling my “October Journal.” The doomsayers and predictors of destruction are wrong. Things are not only not as bad as some would have us believe, when viewed from the perspective of the “big picture,” the world is really in pretty good shape—and getting better!
So cheer up, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling. The world is not coming apart. There really is no need to panic. Sure, things always need to improve, but the good news is that, on the whole, things are actually getting better. Here are some reasons why.
- Extreme poverty has fallen sharply in recent decades.
- The levels of hunger and undernutrition are falling.
- Child labor is on the decline.
- People in developed countries have more leisure time.
- The share of income spent on food has plummeted in the US.
- Life expectancy is rising.
- Child mortality is down.
- Death in childbirth is more rare.
- People are getting taller, reflecting better nutrition and living standards.
- More people have access to malaria bednets.
- Guinea worm is almost eradicated.
- Teen pregnancy numbers are down dramatically in the US.
- Far fewer people are smoking.
- War is on the decline worldwide.
- Homicide rates are falling in Europe.
- Homicide rates are falling in the US.
- Violent crime in the US is going down.
- The supply of nuclear weapons has been reduced.
- More and more countries are democracies.
- More people are going to school and for longer.
- As a result, literacy is up.
- The US unsheltered homeless population has fallen 32% since 2007.
- Moore’s Law (“The number of transistors on a chip will double roughly every two years.”) is still in effect.
- Access to the Internet is increasing.
- Solar power is getting cheaper.
[If you’d like to see this list as a video presentation, along with the documentation for every claim, click here.]
It’s true there are hot spots and problem areas yet to address, but we are making progress. Racism continues to plague us, but we are debating the issue and seeking solutions in an environment of awareness and openness unknown a generation ago. Worldwide terrorism poses immense and complicated challenges, but I submit they are not insurmountable and will be addressed. In the meantime, we will need to be diligent in caring for those who are victims of this scourge. Global climate change is a real danger as well, but I’m confident we will meet the challenge.
This is not pie-in-the-sky, rosy-tinted-glasses, irresponsible and unwarranted optimism talking. It is the reality to which I have come in the past few years and the ground of my conviction is theological as well as sociological. If that piques your interest, stay tuned to future posts.
For now, take heart. Equality is on the rise. Discrimination is in decline. Things could be better, but we are moving in the right direction. And again I say, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was right. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.