By Jesse Richards, Special for US Daily Review
Even with today’s roller-coaster economic news, it’s not difficult to see that most Americans are still well-off by the standards of history. The bigger news is what’s going on in the rest of the world. Vast swaths of our world have already reached a relative peace. Many developed countries—Australia, Canada, Japan, and European countries, for example—are doing better than the United States in categories such as healthcare and decreasing crime. The rest of the world—the developing world of Africa, Asia, and the Americas—is growing toward peace as well, through fits and starts, but at a remarkable pace. Most amazingly, China and India, which together hold half the world’s people, have lifted millions of their citizens out of the worst poverty.
Let’s step back and look at the big picture of what we have accomplished. Each of the following achievements was inconceivable to our ancestors 200 years ago. Most were unthinkable 100 years ago, and some, such as the fall of communism, would have seemed preposterous even 30 years ago.
1. We have near-eradicated some of the worst plagues in human history: smallpox, leprosy, polio. We now have vaccines, treatments, and cures for hundreds of other diseases and illnesses. Every day, child mortality rates get a little lower and the average life expectancy gets a little higher.
2. Slavery and child labor, though still dire issues, are illegal in every country and universally condemned. Child labor has plummeted worldwide in recent decades.
3. Having once been the system of government for 36 nations, communism completely collapsed in Europe and has declined globally as an influential political theory. North Korea and Cuba remain holdouts, but the more common brand of communism that remains, in China, Vietnam, and Laos, would be barely recognizable to Stalin or Mao because it is so liberalized.
4. Though far from perfect, the equality of women and men is established as the de facto standard in every arena in every developed country: business, society, education, the arts, government. While some parts of the world are far from these goals, barely a handful of countries do not at least pay lip service to gender equality. In some countries, women make up half of the parliament, half of the workforce, and over half of the college graduates.
5. Inter-state conflicts between major global powers remain incredibly unlikely, thanks to both nuclear détente and interconnected world trade.
6. We have seen the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the colonial empires of Britain, France, Spain, Holland, and Belgium, the Napoleonic Empire, Hitler’s Reich, and the Soviet Union.The age of empires and colonialism has ended, and self-determination in forming independent countries is a right achieved, to varying degrees, by most people on Earth.
7. The majority of the world’s countries have some form of democracy, even if it is limited. The remaining true monarchs and dictators can be counted on two hands: Togo, North Korea, Burma, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Zimbabwe, Belarus, and Cuba, to name some. Even countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia claim democratic trappings, even if these are so far laughable.
8. Basic education and literacy have spread faster than ever expected. The total world literacy rate rose from 63 percent in 1970 to 83 percent in 2005.
9. Technology has brought us all closer together, especially in the fields of transportation and communication. With these innovations, world trade has become increasingly interdependent and dynamic. With the Internet, communication and the arts are reaching heights of creativity and individual empowerment never before seen in history.
10. Not everyone has to be a farmer today. This might seem obvious, but remember that before the twentieth century, the vast majority of humanity labored in the fields. In America today, only three percent of our population is employed in agriculture. Thomas Jefferson envisioned the ideal American citizen as a “gentleman farmer,” but centuries of agricultural advancements allow us to specialize in a million other jobs that are less physically punishing and better-suited to our individuality.
11. The world has drastically reduced its poverty rate, especially in the last few decades, with India, China, and other Asian nations pulling themselves out of poverty at lightning speed. In 1820, less than five percent of the world’s population was in their own time period’s middle class. Today, 50 percent of the world is—even with a population seven times larger.
12. Finally, an accomplishment that we have taken a little more for granted in the last decade is the fact that we haven’t blown up the world in a nuclear holocaust. For a while during the Cold War, no one thought the human race would make it to the twenty-first century. While nuclear terrorism remains a threat, the chances of an all-out nuclear war are slim.
The 12 achievements above are some of the biggest triumphs of humanity’s recent past, but what we are accomplishing today may well dwarf them. The items above are not secrets, but that’s the problem: they’re so obvious we take them for granted. It’s easy to get caught up in daily minutiae and forget these big-picture accomplishments. But realizing the positive direction in which society is flowing places everything we do in a brighter context. To say the world is approaching peace is not to encourage us to rest on our laurels. Rather, my hope is that by seeing how much humanity has accomplished, we can be inspired to achieve even more. A global peace is almost upon us—we just need a final effort to reach out and grab it. By studying these under-the-radar trends, and why they are happening, we can discover how to help speed up the process. The areas of the world that have reached relative peace can learn how to spread it. By pointing out the positive interconnectedness of seemingly disparate world events, we can see the bigger picture of the world’s increasing unity, and help guide it along the path to peace.
Jesse Richards has always worked at the intersection of culture, design, writing, and technology. For over a decade, he has examined thousands of sources to research the world’s positive trends. Jesse is now the Director of Product for IAC company Proust.com, a place for families to share and preserve their life stories. Prior to Proust, Jesse worked as a Product Manager with Meetup.com, a site that helps millions of people self-organize into local community groups. He is the author of The Secret Peace: Exposing the Positive Trend of World Events, and an experienced public speaker on topics such as critical thinking, democracy, peace, and technology. A member of Mensa and also a professional artist, Jesse is the organizer of the Central Park Sketching Meetup, one of the largest art Meetups in the world. He lives with his wife in Manhattan.