I read ‘Factfulness,’ by Hans Rosling. Rosling was a Swedish doctor who did a ton of work with the UN in what we used to call ‘third world countries,’ which is a term and a mode of thinking that Rosling takes issue with. I have a theory about Swedes: I think that due to their relative geographic isolation, they tend to be either unconventionally original or batshit, depending on your perspective. (I used to work for a major Swedish manufacturer, and I tend to favor the batshit side of the equation.) Witness the Saab. Every other car manufacturer in the world puts the ignition switch more or less where it belongs, but Saab put it between the seats. Why? Up yours, that’s why.
Anyway, what Rosling writes about is the negativity bias that afflicts almost every human being. Collectively and individually we are far, far more likely to believe negative stories than positive ones, and this is not theory or opinion, it is something that has been quantified and studied over and over. Supposedly the reason for the phenomenon is that, in the distant past, individuals who were happy and well-adjusted tended to get eaten before they could procreate, whereas the ones who were anxious, suspicious and xenophobic were much more likely to survive long enough to pass along their genes.
I grew up in a family that belonged to one of the more rabidly apocalyptic protestant denominations, and it was an article of faith that the world was getting worse all the time. Growing up in the sixties and seventies it was easy to go along with that way of thinking. Armageddon had to be right around the corner, because, look around! Disco music? Disco? Really? If disco could not induce God to pull the cosmic flush handle, then nothing would. To me that mode of thought always carried the sharp stink of escapism. After all, why bother with school if the world is going to end any minute now? Why worry about a career, or about making any kind of meaningful contribution to society… don’t get me started. I always had the sneaking suspicion that, like Sisyphus, we were very slowly getting the boulder shoved higher and higher up the hill, that the human race was making improvements in things like health care and education. My problem was that it was only an opinion, and a minority one at that, I had nothing to back it up with. And couple all that with the more recent substitution of opinion and bloviation for news and with the bullshit that passes for political thought in America, shit, man, it’s easy to be negative, we’re all going to hell.
At least your friends will be there.
Rosling attacks this all with facts, hence the title of his book. What’s the truth about health care? What are the real facts about the population bomb? What are the real numbers for life expectancy? How about this for a concept, how about we look at the truth instead of simply reacting to Faux News and Facebook posts?
Rosling tells the truth, and he backs it up with numbers, facts, science, despite their current lack of popularity, and he does it in convincing and extremely readable fashion, and guess what? Reality ain’t what you’ve been led to believe.
Everybody needs to read ‘Factfulness.’
EVERYBODY needs to read ‘Factfulness.’
Seriously, if you read nothing else this year, read this book. It will blow your mind.