The amygdala. An almond shaped mass located deep within the brain, is in large part responsible for the survival of our distant ancestors. It’s fire-alarm function is a warning system alerting them of impending danger, like potentially being an appetizer for some stealthy predator, or of the scary others from another tribe that might pose a threat. Those alarmist type impulses emanating from the amygdala are still alive and well within all of us today, and we need to be aware that it is a biased little bugger. It embraces bad news, and treats good news as an afterthought. As Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of, Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time, puts it,
The brain is like Velcro for everything negative and Teflon for the positives.
The amygdala served Homo sapiens well in primitive times, but can become a liability in the modern world as it affects our thinking, what we emphasize in our lives, and at worst, define our attitude about existence. So, let’s give this group of neurons in our brain a healthy dose of well needed therapy, step back, and look at the big picture for some good news.
We are living longer. But it gets better—we’re also living healthier, even the elderly. David Cutler, the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics at Harvard University and author of a study based on the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey said,
Effectively, the period of time in which we’re in poor health is being compressed until just before the end of life. So where we used to see people who are very, very sick for the final six or seven years of their life, that’s now less common. People are living to older ages and we are adding healthy years, not debilitating ones.
A recent Danish study also showed that today’s older people are more alert and cognitive than previous generations. Most likely, the heightened awareness of healthy foods, exercise and maintaining active brains are contributing to this trend.
This year, the FBI released statistics compiled from the first six months of 2013, reflecting a decrease in reported violent crimes and property crimes in America. It said murders are down 6.9 percent, rapes down 10.6 percent, assaults decreased 6.6 percent and robbery down 1.8 percent from 2012. And author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Had Declined, Harvard social scientist Steven Pinker says,
Violent deaths of all kinds have declined, from around 500 per 100,000 people per year in prestate societies [tribal rather than governmental} to around 50 in the Middle Ages, to around six to eight today worldwide, and fewer than one in most of Europe.
In the United States between 1993 and 2012, homicide, robbery, assault and rape dropped by an astounding 48 percent. Even more amazing, New York’s violent crime in that same period, dropped by 71 percent. What are some of the reasons that may be causing this? Probably the most obvious reason is there are far more prisoners than ever before. It’s estimated that about one-fourth of the overall decrease is impacted by incarceration. The law enforcement technique of hot-spot policing is another, where the great majority of crime seems to emanate from the same venues, and specifically placing police in those areas utilizing computerized maps has been very effective in reducing crime.
WWWSurprisingly, another reason for the decline in the crime rate is medical. People whose blood has been contaminated with lead tend to be more aggressive and violent. Protection from the Environmental Protection Agency came in 1974, when regulation prohibited big oil from adding lead to gasoline, and simultaneously, lead in paint was also banned. Lead in Americans’ blood then fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991, and economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes maintained that the absence of leaded gas led to violent crime being cut in half during the 1990s.
The really good news here is the 2013 Human Development Report that tracks the progress of countries using the Human Development Index (HDI), scoring countries by its standard of living, education and healthcare. It reports that between 1990 and 2008, the percentage of impoverished people declined by half, from 43.1 percent to 22.4 percent. It’s an historic drop in the poverty rate. The report states,
All the rated countries have improved their HDI score since 2000. The greatest gains came from China, Brazil and India. with excellent progress in countries like Uganda, Bangladesh, Ghana, Rwanda, Tunisia, Vietnam and Laos.
In the past three decades the number of people that live on less than $1.25 a day, decreased dramatically from half the developing world to 21 percent.
In the last fifty years the world has grown far better than the previous five-hundred. The following is a synopsis of some of the great things that are happening in our world.
- Global income has tripled in the last 50 years.
- There’s been a 30 percent increase per capita in food supply.
- We’re at the lowest time of homicide ever since the Middle Ages.
- Literacy rates across the world have increased from 25 percent to 80 percent.
- Infant mortality rates around the world have declined by 99 percent.
- In the same period, human life span has doubled.
- The number of major wars declined from 37 in the mid 1980s, to about 26 today. And Steven Pinker writes,“Today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.”
- For the first time in history, slavery isn’t legal anywhere on the planet.
Keep in mind as you read, watch and listen to some of the horrors of the daily news, that your amygdala is basking in it, favoring it, nudging your mind to be weighted in that direction. Below, you can view a short video with scholar Paul Astin, eloquently discussing even more ways in which our world is getting better. Enjoy.