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Factfulness by Hans Rosling – Book Review

The world is hell, said Arthur Schopenhauer. Suffering is everywhere. With this in mind it is easy to see to world as something going down the rabbit hole straight to the deepest layers of hell. But what if, just what if the world is actually getting better, and better yet: getting better in a fast pace like we have never seen before in the history of humanity?

            Hans Rosling brings us his view on the world: Factfulness. Instead of mindfulness, where we focus on the mind, we focus on the facts. We focus on the hard data which the UN gives us. This is hard to achieve. It requires scientific thinking, which is quite a hard thing to do because we can’t pick and choose in science. When something is the case then it is highly probable that it’s the case. When science proves evolution, then (if you want to think scientifically) you have to accept evolution. If science proves there are differences between man and woman, then you have to accept differences between man and woman. There is (normally) no room for political ideologies in science (unless of course we follow the postmodern narrative).

            Rosling gives us 10 instincts which limit us from living the factfulness life. These are just human instincts which we need to pay attention to if we want to live with the facts. Let’s look at some of these instincts.

            The gap instinct is where we tend to see a duality. Mind versus body, rich versus poor, rationality versus emotion; but all these dualities are outdated. For mind and body there is now more or less the consensus that they are intertwined and influence each other. For the category rich or poor, the majority of people is somewhere in the middle. Extreme poverty has halved in the last 15 years. 75% of people in the world have the same living conditions as people in Europe in 1950. Instead of looking at two groups which is an oversimplification, Rosling propones that we should divide people on the level of income they are in. This will give us a better view on our progress.

            The second instinct is the negativity instinct. We as human beings tend to see things worse than that they in reality are. For example, many people might think that extreme poverty hasn’t declined at all, or, even worse, has risen. But instead, extreme poverty has declined by half in the last 15 years. Now “only” 9% live in extreme poverty, whereas in the beginning of the 1900’s it was about 80% of the world population. Because we see the world much more negative than it actually is, we don’t look at the positive things happening. This is also partly to blame on the media. Good news just isn’t sensational news. It doesn’t get the shock factor that negative news gets. People will click an article named ‘Man shoots woman down’ quicker than they will ‘gender equality at an all-time high’. Things can be bad but still better.

            Now there are many more of these instincts human beings have: the generalization instinct, the size instinct, the destiny instinct, etc. All of these instincts limit us. It might sound smart or look cool if you talk about everything that is wrong in the world. We all know there is a lot wrong in the world, but how can you improve the world if you don’t know the situation the world is in? Things are improving and we need to know what is improving. When we know the what, we can look for the how and keep doing the things that are improving the world.

            Many great dangers are still lurking behind the corner: climate change, possible world wars, extreme poverty. These are all serious issues we need to address, and wouldn’t it be sad if we didn’t give it the attention it needs, while we’re instead focusing on the things which are already improving? I would say it’s not something productive.

            So read this book if you want a new way of looking at the world. If you want to stop being the naïve optimist, become the rational one. You’ll quickly see that it’s far more rational to be optimistic about the future than pessimistic. You’ll be able to look at the world the way it actually is.

By elenchusphilosophy

I'm a Philosophy student in Belgium, trying to talk and write about ideas of all kinds of sorts.

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