Monday, November 16, 2015

De mortuis nil nisi verum

From 30,000 feet, the mass murders in Paris are not significant.* The global trend has emphatically been towards less and less violence despite the media narrative to the contrary. The Islamists have not reversed the progress made in lifting most of the world out of povertypeople living longerbringing people together, and reducing violence.**

In terms of causes of death or injury, global jihad probably doesn't even make the top 100. It probably cracks the list if you are living in the MENA region, but even then, I doubt it's that high. Don't get me wrong, radical Islam, and yes, by extension, Islam itself, is a problem. But it's not such a problem that it requires trillions of dollars and persistent bombings and military intervention to "keep us safe". If anything, we are less safe - though the establishment darlings in the main US parties think the solution is ever more intervention.

It's a little depressing. No, it's very depressing that the default attitude in one of the most prosperous times in human history is fear. Maybe it's always been that way. Fear when electrification, sanitation, immunization, telecommunication, and all these wonderful things were spreading. The fifties nostalgia and science fiction might have just been a thin veneer hiding fears of the prospect of nuclear war. But microwaves, computers, and the jet-age weren't fiction. Dr. Strangelove or Leave It to Beaver? Neither. Zeitgeist is sophomoric. The optimism of an age, however, was probably with the kids who grew up during the time. Maybe they should be the ones running the news.

I remember when I was in grade school, there used to be a show called Nick News or Kidz News or something. We used to make fun of it, even though the show was aimed at us. Most fifth graders are smart enough to know when they are being patronized but that never occurred to the producers I guess. They probably had all sorts of experts involved who believed it was just the thing to address some deficiency in some metric in some study produced by some think tank somewhere.

How do kids see the future? I hope it's not Hunger Games and other dystopias. What is this generation's Star Trek? Not the movie, but the show. Or maybe there are no more unifying themes in American society. The Frontier is settled, the Cold War won and we're just muddling through. Even then, how many actual frontiersmen and cold warriors were there? Very few. The Indians and Russians, maybe they were all a distraction - though is it really a distraction if it gives you purpose? I'll grant the jihadis that. They have a sense of purpose, even if it is in aggression and violence. I mean, just look at the places where euthanasia is growing! Places like the Netherlands, Oregon, and Switzerland. Peaceful, prosperous places, and people want to die. If life is without meaning or purpose, then death is not peaceful; it stings.

* Personally I'm not a fan of the infographic kinetic typography style, but as they say, content is king. Speaking of which, the content isn't completely accurate but it's pretty good. Accurate statistics taking in a war environment is essentially impossible.

** We see in the data that tribal societies are amazingly violent. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto was probably underselling it. The author files these under "non-state" violence which can be disconcerting to people, like myself, who view the state monopoly on violence as a negative, but it would be a mistake to conflate libertarian advocacy for non-state solutions (e.g. Alternative Dispute Resolution vs courts for the provision of order; private security companies vs police, private schools vs. public schools, etc) with a desire to return to a pre-Industrial hunter gatherer state.

But I'm very grateful to the work of people like Max Roser and Hans Rosling whose data driven approaches are an antidote to the sensationalism that drives the media.

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