It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

Is civilization teetering on the edge of a cliff? Or are we just climbing higher than ever?Most people who read the news would tell you that 2017 is one of the worst years in recent memory. We're facing a series of deeply troubling, even existential problems: fascism, terrorism, environmental collapse, racial and economic inequality, and more.Yet this narrative misses some...

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Title:It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear
Author:Gregg Easterbrook
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It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear Reviews

  • Roxanne

    This is a Goodreads win review. This book is very relevant to the times we are living in. Every I see the news on any channel it is full of American politics, and what bad shape our country is in. We also see almost daily acts of terrorism, rascism, wage inequality, sexual harrassement, climate change, natural disasters from weather. So the state of things looks pretty bad. But despite these problems democracy is still the best form of government for the better world we want to live in. He state

    This is a Goodreads win review. This book is very relevant to the times we are living in. Every I see the news on any channel it is full of American politics, and what bad shape our country is in. We also see almost daily acts of terrorism, rascism, wage inequality, sexual harrassement, climate change, natural disasters from weather. So the state of things looks pretty bad. But despite these problems democracy is still the best form of government for the better world we want to live in. He states and I agree that we should banish the electoral college and replace it with the popular vote. I live in a block of states that the Democrats think we do not matter because we do not have heavy electoral votes so we were not campained much in and they needed our states as it turned out because they lost. The second part of the book is how we can make a better world. We need to address climate change. inequality with other countries, improve our public schools and teach skills for the labor market as every student does not go to college. and move the country forward with optimism.

  • Graeme Newell

    I loved this book. All of us are continually assaulted with a steady diet of fatalism and bad news. We are evolutionarily predisposed to scan the horizon for threats and it seems like everyone is pushing our buttons these days. New developments like social media and always-on news have provided us with an avalanche of pessimism.

    But what I really loved about this book is that it isn't just empty cheerleading for positivism. Easterbrook did some impressive research. He uncovered hard data to prov

    I loved this book. All of us are continually assaulted with a steady diet of fatalism and bad news. We are evolutionarily predisposed to scan the horizon for threats and it seems like everyone is pushing our buttons these days. New developments like social media and always-on news have provided us with an avalanche of pessimism.

    But what I really loved about this book is that it isn't just empty cheerleading for positivism. Easterbrook did some impressive research. He uncovered hard data to prove his points. I learned so many things about the long history of the world's biggest problems. I had no idea so many of these problems have seen substantial improvement or have been solved. Made me damned proud of mankind!

    Also I particularly enjoyed the way he managed to weave everything together into a solid narrative on so many issues that are in the headlines these days. I was intrigued by his take on thorny issues such as global conflict, welfare reform, climate change, immigration and numerous wedge issues. He brought wonderful pragmatism that cut through all the hyperbole and bluster of the theatrical world of political gamesmanship. He really made me think hard about my own biases.

  • Joseph A Oppenheim

    What first attracted me to this book by Gregg Easterbrook, is the testimonial by Walter Isaacson, since I respect his journalism.

    The book is a persuasive look at how, despite the dystopian look at America as presented by the 2016 campaign of the new president, things are actually not just pretty good, but are quite an advancement from the past for most, as the author states the arrow of history always points up. And as with all societal advancements, come disruptions to many who either can’t or

    What first attracted me to this book by Gregg Easterbrook, is the testimonial by Walter Isaacson, since I respect his journalism.

    The book is a persuasive look at how, despite the dystopian look at America as presented by the 2016 campaign of the new president, things are actually not just pretty good, but are quite an advancement from the past for most, as the author states the arrow of history always points up. And as with all societal advancements, come disruptions to many who either can’t or won’t adapt to the changes, and government is slow to provide help to those disadvantaged by the progress.

    Though the progress might be hard to see by many in the US or Europe, the middle class is shrinking because most leaving are moving up, and since 1990, extreme world poverty has declined from 37% to 10%.. Sure, reform is needed along with the changes, and the author addresses the possible reforms needed while also pointing out how the disadvantaged can currently adapt. The author goes into tackling the following.

    Are we starving? No, high yield farming has not only solved that, but the world’s population growth rate peaked around 1960, dropping from about 2.3% to 1.4% per year now. Yet popular films like The Hunger Games portray a future of starvation.

    Why, despite all our bad habits, are we living longer? Better healthcare, better disability handling like telecommuting, plus there is a strong correlation between better education and longer life expectancy.

    Will nature collapse? Mt. St. Helens’ 1980 eruption was equal to about the power of 1,500 Hiroshima nuclear bomb explosions. Some predicted that needed farmland would destroy our forests, yet since 1980 our forest cover has increased about 15%. Plus, replacements for CFC refrigerants have improved the atmosphere, as have smog controls. 3D seismology, fracking and better car efficiency standards have erased dire warnings of peak oil,

    Will the economy collapse? No, basically market economics, with its distributed decision making, eliminated the situation of one leader causing a collapse. There never was a time when all jobs were secure, but there never were more US manufacturing jobs than in 2017. Despite claims that our workforce participation is down, it is about 63% compared to the low of 60% in 1966. Plus, those who complain that GDP growth is slowing, ignore that measurements of GDP are less accurate, like surgeries produce better results. The author does suggest GDP growth could improve with less regulation and public financing of political campaigns. Government efficiency and less debt can be achieved by replacing many social programs with a universal basic income or expanded earned income tax credits. And since a person’s intelligence is pretty much developed by age 6, extending paid work leave to parents of young children would improve population achievements.

    Why is violence in decline? Murder and war deaths per capita don’t even appear in the top ten causes of death. The greatest deterrent to crime is the more likely chance of being caught, thus just the cellphone has reduced crime. Less colonialism, more treaties and trade have reduced war. And as devices improve, so does morality.

    Why does technology become safer instead of more dangerous? Cars, ships, locomotives, etc become not only safer, but cleaner. Smaller and more accurate weapons reduce war deaths.

    Why don’t dictators win? Liberated people are more ingenious, democracies spread.

    How declinism has become chic. Research centers, government agencies and political interest groups seek funding. The media looks to grab attention with negative events, often overusing the term, crisis. As demographics age, there is the human tendency to glamorize youthful times. Human bodies are good at producing adrenaline and cortisol, thus a human tendency towards anxiety over future uncertainty, recently in the US and Europe when the white majority feels threatened by immigration. New, social media leads to more opinionization, clustering of ideas called the Big Sort, people only having relationships with people who think similarly, thus more susceptible to the Big Lie.

    The “impossible” challenge of climate change. Basically, see the above for clues to the future.......the Big Lie works, but there is reason for hope since not everyone believes the Big Lie.

    The “impossible” challenge of inequality. Progress does breed income inequality. Moving helps, like rust belt Midwest victims moving south and to the coasts. Again, a universal basic income might help.

    We’ll never run out of challenges. The author mentions future challenges like more robots, artificial intelligence and quantum computing

    I do recommend the book.

    #Amazon

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    I have many policy disagreements with the author, for example, his take on entitlements but I agree with most of the spirit of the book. Things are not as bad as they look and holding on to an overly pessimistic view of current events can lead to problems of our own making. Remember kiddies right-wing authoritarian ideologies thrive on fear. Things are not as bad as they seem and will get better more from an outlook that looks more for the positive than dwell on the negative.

  • D.L. Morrese

    From the title, I expected this book to be much like those by Steven Pinker, showing how human life has steadily improved from generation to generation, about how we've reduced things like hunger, disease, poverty, crime, and war by implementing the ideas of the Enlightenment. There is some of that in these pages, but Easterbrook isn't really looking at the broad scope of history here. He is more focused on today, or at least on the last century. His main point is that things today (in general)

    From the title, I expected this book to be much like those by Steven Pinker, showing how human life has steadily improved from generation to generation, about how we've reduced things like hunger, disease, poverty, crime, and war by implementing the ideas of the Enlightenment. There is some of that in these pages, but Easterbrook isn't really looking at the broad scope of history here. He is more focused on today, or at least on the last century. His main point is that things today (in general) are far better than politicians, social media, and most news reports might suggest.

    Humans, he states, are predisposed by their evolution to suspect threats and be wary of the unknown. Even though most shadows are harmless, treating all as if they are bears hiding in the bushes has survival value because, every once in a while, there really is a bear. Politicians and the media exploit our inherent fears (sometimes intentionally) for their own benefit. His take on how current politicians have done so abound.

    This isn't an objective or scholarly work. There is little statistical data, no graphs, no detailed analysis, and he freely shares his personal opinions and value judgments (such that Western ideals are moral and that a well regulated market economy is the economic ideal). Despite these differences, he comes to much the same conclusions as Pinker does in

    and in

    . Things aren't only not bad; they are better than they ever have been. That doesn't mean we don't have serious problems. Disease, crime, poverty, and hunger have been reduced, but they haven't been eliminated. Challenges such as climate change and wealth disparity certainly need to addressed. But history shows that humans are quite good at overcoming challenges.

  • Sid

    If you can ignore the politicians (they want your vote) and the news media (if it bleeds it leads), one can objectively see that never before has civilization looked this promising. Disease control, food production, peace and prosperity have been at record highs. This is the fundamental thesis that Gregg portends.

    That said, the situation around the world (especially in the US) is far from perfect. Wealth disparity continues to widen. Our nation's debt levels and future social security is dubious

    If you can ignore the politicians (they want your vote) and the news media (if it bleeds it leads), one can objectively see that never before has civilization looked this promising. Disease control, food production, peace and prosperity have been at record highs. This is the fundamental thesis that Gregg portends.

    That said, the situation around the world (especially in the US) is far from perfect. Wealth disparity continues to widen. Our nation's debt levels and future social security is dubious at best. Our children's lack of drive and emphasis on learning marketable skills can be questioned. Even still, one cannot question the rise in the quality of life across the board, especially in developing countries.

    The US struggles in some of the above areas. Regulations such as Universal Basic Income and investments in transportation can help ease some of the challenges we face currently. Regulations in fact served us well in the past, just look at ending slavery, regulating CO2, eliminating CFC's etc.

    Ultimately we are better off today than life was 50 or 100 years ago (World Wars, working in mines, racism etc. all things of the past). Gregg urges us all to embrace Dynamism, for each day and each challenge we face is different and requires a problem solvers mindset. By embracing and relishing in the desire to improve a situation, we will continue to propel mankind forward.

  • Roozbeh Daneshvar

    This book is a must-read, especially with the current pessimist and nostalgic good old days mood all around us. It was one of the books that changed my view significantly towards many aspects, e.g. climate change, economy, violence and poverty. A large portion of the optimism is based on a myriad of facts and numbers, which are convincing. Yet, I have the impression that sometimes they are also based on some wishful thinking and not as concrete as the other sections. I felt that sometimes the ar

    This book is a must-read, especially with the current pessimist and nostalgic good old days mood all around us. It was one of the books that changed my view significantly towards many aspects, e.g. climate change, economy, violence and poverty. A large portion of the optimism is based on a myriad of facts and numbers, which are convincing. Yet, I have the impression that sometimes they are also based on some wishful thinking and not as concrete as the other sections. I felt that sometimes the arguments were not as solid and accurate as they could have been.

    The book was very recent with references to a lot of recent developments in the world (and it felt good to read a book this much up to date). It was very well polished and well written. Yet, it seemed that The last chapters were written in haste. They did not have the clarity and flowing narration of the previous chapters. This book could have ended better.

  • Anna

    I am so steeped in the culture of fear-mongering that even though this book espouses optimism at every turn I found myself more afraid on some of the issues presented after I read the book than I was before! This is why it took me some time to finish the book. Having finally finished it I am glad I read it and will try to be more hopeful about what might happen in the future. Perhaps I can learn to fact check those politicians and news media that spew out the pessimism.

    Popsugar 2018 (advanced):

    I am so steeped in the culture of fear-mongering that even though this book espouses optimism at every turn I found myself more afraid on some of the issues presented after I read the book than I was before! This is why it took me some time to finish the book. Having finally finished it I am glad I read it and will try to be more hopeful about what might happen in the future. Perhaps I can learn to fact check those politicians and news media that spew out the pessimism.

    Popsugar 2018 (advanced): A book about a problem facing society today

  • Scott Lupo

    Well, this was quite the read. First and foremost, as a reader, you will have to decide what the word optimism means to you. If the standard is 'Hey, some people die unnecessarily, some people live in miserable conditions they can't control, some people are just greedy and don't care about others. That's life. You can't save them all and it's unrealistic to really try', then this is the book for you. If the standard is 'We should always be trying to make the world better for people, we should fe

    Well, this was quite the read. First and foremost, as a reader, you will have to decide what the word optimism means to you. If the standard is 'Hey, some people die unnecessarily, some people live in miserable conditions they can't control, some people are just greedy and don't care about others. That's life. You can't save them all and it's unrealistic to really try', then this is the book for you. If the standard is 'We should always be trying to make the world better for people, we should feel compassion for those who are born into inconceivable living conditions, and we should reign in the greedy and the uncaring individuals of the world', then this book will get you hot under the collar. If your standard is closer to the second one, stick with it and read it through. There are important points in the book. For one, I totally agree with the author that every problem and issue the media covers is over dramatized, hyperbolic, and purposefully loaded with emotion. This is on purpose. All political persuasions do it. I know it's all about getting attention in a world filled with so much attention grabbing headlines, but it's out of control. Especially in a country that is emotionally stunted like the US. Some reason and logic is in order in my opinion. He's right about how not too long ago the world had awful wars that killed millions. Many super powers of the day were run by dictators, oligarchs, and authoritarians. Having a democracy where citizens had a say in government was new and experimental. And it won those wars and much of the world has now followed suit. But, let's be honest, that is NOT what we are doing today and even though death by war had declined, it is still much too high considering all the democracies in the world.

    My biggest criticism is that the author cherry picks statistics to fit his narrative or refuses to ask the next question, to go a little deeper. This is especially true in his environmental outlooks. While it is true that most air pollution is in long-term decline, it's the easy ones that are in decline like carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. He's pretty quiet on the ones increasing, like methane, benzene, and other cancer causing agents. While it is true that there are more trees now in the US than the turn of the 20th century, globally we lose 10 billion trees each year (we think there are 3 trillion in the world) and he never asks what type of trees we are losing and what we are replacing them with. We are losing old growth and Amazon forests much faster which leaves only saplings and young trees in its wake. Again, what is the standard. Will nature collapse tomorrow? No, it will not. But we're heading towards it and doing nothing to change the path. He has one paragraph on water. One! He knows this is a huge issue but didn't want to add fear into his book of optimism. I want to give him a little credit because he was a human caused global warming denier not too long ago and has since changed his mind. But he has a lot of learning still to do.

    This book is a mixed bag, just like life. For every anecdote of doom, you can find one for optimism. Anecdotes are a dime a dozen these days. I like that the author uses research, numbers, and long term trends to bolster his arguments but he tends to stop much too early before coming to his conclusions. Maybe optimism is the wrong word. There are definitely reasons to be positive that the world will not end tomorrow, or next year. Endings of civilizations rarely happen overnight. Instead, it's a long, drawn-out process that takes decades with lots of suffering in between (how cheerful!).

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