Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Pessimism & Ignorance: The world of common people has never been better

The widespread ignorance about the great social and economic advances in the world coupled with misinformation on domestic trends, can trigger discontent when optimism is warranted — the question of whether the glass is seen as half-full or half-empty in deciding whether you're an optimist or pessimist, may depend on genes and William Shakespeare (1564–1616), the great English dramatist, has Hamlet, prince of Denmark, saying "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

However, ignorance is not bliss whatever the view of the proverbial glass maybe.

Even in a decade in the European Union road deaths in 2016 at about 26,000 were down 40%; in the US, according to FBI data, the violent crime rate fell 48% between 1993 and 2016. Using Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data, the rate fell 74% during that time span. In Dublin City, home ownership rose from 26% of households in 1946 compared with 61% outside the large cities, to 60% in 2016, down from over 70% in 2000, according to the Central Statistics Office.

In 1956 as the 6 founding states of what would become the European Economic Community were negotiating the terms of what they called a 'common market' (cited in Article 2 of the Treaty of Rome 1957),' Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, two of Germany's leading philosophers, who were members of the Frankfurt School, began their own debate on producing a contemporary version of the 1848 'Communist Manifesto' which had been written by their compatriots, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Adorno commented, as his wife Gretel recorded, "We do not live in a revolutionary situation, and actually things are worse than ever. The horror is that for the first time we live in a world in which we can no longer imagine a better one." 'Towards a New Manifesto?'— 62 years later it's still possible to imagine a better world.

The Treaty of Rome was signed in March 1957 and 60 years later Europe had achieved the longest period of peace between major powers on the Continent for at least 2,000 years. Economic prosperity, despite some setbacks was also a historic achievement: The World Bank (2012) estimates that of 101 middle-income economies in 1960, only 13 became high income by 2008 — Equatorial Guinea, Greece, Hong Kong SAR (China), Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mauritius, Portugal, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Singapore, Spain, and Taiwan. Most of the other 88 countries also prospered through years of peace, with improved health, education, jobs and material well-being.

In a March 2017 article, 'Pessimism Is Europe’s Only Hope,' Dr Eric Jarosinski, a columnist for the German weekly Die Zeit, argued  "The sense of the necessity and urgency of critique and self-critique — with little to no assurance of making any difference, and during times that seem to demand immediate action — is perhaps what the Frankfurt School can best offer Europe 60 years on."

The main battle cannot be left to the philosophers. It must be targeted on the pervasive ignorance of the masses that is being exploited for political ends.

Pessimism fed by ignorance must be countered and earlier this month, the Charlemagne columnist of the Economist wrote, "Pessimism comes easily to Germans. Gloom stalked their literature even before the traumas of the 20th century... 'Germany in Crisis: once upon a time there was a strong country' ran a headline in  'Der Spiegel.' Inside, the weekly diagnosed timidity and complacency in both the team (the national football team's World Cup failure) and the nation it represented... Pessimism, and the associated perfectionism, maybe a German strength — but in moderation. And that moderation risks succumbing to the latest bout of hyperventilating self-denigration, along with basic facts about the state of the country." 

Research shows that people tend to be more optimistic about their own futures than that of others, or their country. Over-confidence also had a cost as Irish people discovered a decade ago but low confidence is also a risk.

Daniel Kahneman (1934-) and Amos Tversky (1937-1996), the Israeli psychologists who are regarded as the fathers of behavioural economics (Kahneman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in the Economic Sciences in 2002), were longtime collaborators like the German philosophers cited above. Tversky was the optimist of the partnership and in the 2011 book  'Thinking, Fast and Slow,' Daniel Kahneman shows that it is more threatening to say that a disease kills “1,286 in every 10,000 people,” than to say it kills “24.14% of the population,” although the second mention is twice as deadly.

Even the choice of language can trump basic arithmetic.

The Frankfurt School has its role and during the Second World War Theodor Adorno who had taken refuge in the US, compared the role of what he called the "culture industry" in mind control with Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist. For example Donald Trump's image as a successful businessman, accomplished in making deals and firing incompetent people is a Hollywood creation  — the bully is a coward who hasn't the guts to fire senior people directly; there is no evidence that he is a good dealmaker; he had 4 big bankruptcies and he would have made more money if he had put his father's inheritance in index funds.

The Index of Ignorance

Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s blundering legal shill, said on Sunday (August 19) on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ that “truth isn’t truth .” This echoed a claim in 2017 that the Trump administration’s persistent lies were “alternative facts” — The Washington Post reported on August 1 that Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading claims in 558 days.

Lies from a man considered to be the most powerful in the world, based on a military arsenal, and in 2016 from the leaders of the Brexit Leave campaign, have consequences. However, the significant ignorance in countries on the facts that agitate swathes of voting populations, is sobering despite the rise in the percentage of those who have had access to education in all countries — as distinct from being educated.

Common people here means the mass of people beyond elites/ aristocracies — think of the 1967 “Love of the Common People” song, or the British House of Commons (although in its early period knights were typically members of the landed gentry while the burgesses were mostly rich merchants or lawyers).

Bruce Springsteen, the renowned American singer, said in 2012 “Pessimism and optimism are slammed up against each other in my records, the tension between them is where it's all at, it's what lights the fire.” Here he sang at a concert in 1992 his song “Leap of Faith”:  

“It takes a leap of faith to get things going
It takes a leap of faith you gotta show some guts
It takes a leap of faith to get things going
In your heart you must trust”

In 2015 and 2016 Ipos Mori, the polling firm, carried out what it called ‘Perils of Perception’ surveys (2015, 2016) in 33 and 40 countries respectively.

In 2015, Argentinians said 30% of their population were immigrants (people born elsewhere), but the real ratio was 5%; Americans thought the immigrant ratio was 33% compared with the reality of 13%; Italy’s ratios were 26%/9%; France and Germany 26%/12%; Netherlands 25%/12% and Great Britain 25%/13%. Japan's were 10%/2% and Ireland’s rates were 23%/16%.

In the 2016 survey, the result in France for the number of Muslims was 31 for every 100 people in the population. The actual number was 7.5 and the number would be 40 in 2020 when the forecast rate was 8.5. South Africans said in 2016 the number was 22% compared with the actual rate of 1.7%. Germany was at 21%/5%; Sweden 17%/4.6% and Great Britain 15/4.8%.

In response to the question on what percentage of compatriots regard homosexuality as morally unacceptable, the liberal Dutch overestimated the number of bigots. The expected ratio was 36% compared with an actual rate of 5%; 33%/8% in Germany and 41%/19% in Italy.

Every country sample thought other residents are more unhappy than what they themselves said they are.

South Koreans guessed that only 24% declared that they are happy when the actual rate was 90%.

The ratios were 49%/90% in the US; 47%/92% in GB and 45%/84% in Germany.

In 2015 the Index of Ignorance was headed by Mexico, India, Brazil, Peru and New Zealand. South Korea, Ireland, and Poland were the most accurate.

In 2016, Ireland wasn’t included and the most ignorant were India, China, Taiwan, South Africa and the US.

The most accurate were The Netherlands, Great Britain, and South Korea.

The data, the facts, the truth!

In late 2015 YouGov, the polling firm, polled over 18,000 people in 17 countries, weighted for population, on the question "Is the world getting better?"

The chart on top shows the results: France was the most pessimistic country in the world, with fully 81% saying the world is getting worse and only 3% saying it is getting better.

Bill Gates says he's scared of mosquitoes and they kill more people in a day than sharks have in a 100 years. He writes "As long as Hollywood keeps making blockbusters about sharks, I’ll keep talking about why everyone should be more scared of a tiny bug than a 3,000-pound carnivore. Jaws is nothing compared with the flying terror that is a mosquito."

Dr Max Roser of Oxford University in 2011 launched the website OurWorldInData.org which provides details of the social, economic, and environmental history of our world up to the present day.

There is no excuse for ignorance whether you're a politician, journalist, or an internet user.

Health, education, life expectancy, wars, risk of personal violence, incomes, housing, environment and so much else have massively improved in most countries of the world.

Bill Gates asked Dr Roser to share some facts, "One of my favorite websites is OurWorldInData.org. Based at the University of Oxford, it uses statistics — on everything from health and population growth to war, the environment, and energy — to give you phenomenal insight into how living conditions are changing around the world. I asked its founder, Oxford economist Max Roser, to share three facts from the site that everyone should know. Here’s what Max had to say."

Fact #1: Since 1960, child deaths have plummeted from 20 million a year to 6 million a year;

Fact #2: Since 1960, the fertility rate has fallen by half;

Fact #3: 137,000 people escaped extreme poverty every day between 1990 and 2015.

In George Orwell's celebrated 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' dystopian novel that was published in 1949, he has the character Syme working on the definitive eleventh edition of a dictionary of Newspeak — a language of words that would not become obsolete before 2050. "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it," Syme says to Winston Smith.

Marx and Engels wrote in their 'Communist Manifesto' "A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism."  

Today the spectre of populism is haunting Western democracies, which is nourished by widespread ignorance, that has to be confronted. Whataboutery/ whataboutism is of course a lame crutch for the ignorant who reject facts and the truth.

No Utopia but are Nordic countries happiness superpowers?

Why Facts and Science Don’t Always Change People’s Minds