Why do we ignore social progress?

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The 2017 edition of the Social Progress Index report came out this week. Ever year, it scores nearly every country in the world on a variety of measures that indicate it’s level of development, especially: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity.

Some sampling of headlines on this year’s report:

Pretty bleak, eh?

The news stories that jump to the top of the feed are those that either: 1) find some way to claim a country is going back or “flat-lining” or 1) compare countries as either good or bad in relation to one another. Basically, the top stories are the ones that make us feel bad about ourselves and our countries.

Look closer.

The data in the report actually show that, like nearly every year in the recent memory, humanity as a whole has advanced substantially with regard to social progress. The global score in 2015 was 61.00, in 2016 it was 62.88, in 2017 it was 64.85. This year, 75 of 129 countries improved in social progress. Things are quite obviously getting better.

This is outstanding news! The headlines should read in big bold letters “Humanity continues long history of improving conditions!” Without forgetting the many challenges and injustices that still exist in our world, we could take this moment to acknowledge our progress. We could congratulate ourselves for continuing to move forward and make life on the whole better and better.

Yet, not one news article I’ve seen points this out. Not one seems to even see the positive trend for humanity.

It’s newsworthy that the United States is “flatlining” and is a “second tier” country. It’s newsworthy that New Zealand and Sweden are the best and the Central African Republic is the worst. But it’s not newsworthy that the majority of countries in the world progressed, stepping into greater levels of well-being for their citizens.


If you look, you can see progress and growth everywhere. Why do we wish to ignore this? Is it simply because slow, gradual, consistent progress isn’t sexy enough? Is it because we don’t care to see humanity’s progress as a whole, but rather prefer to pit individual countries against one another?

Or could it be that we are just addicted to the story that things are getting worse, everything is fucked, and there is no hope, despite strong evidence to the contrary?

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