Hope Part 1: The News

In a world so full war and famine and disease and other problems it is hard to have hope. Even the most optimistic people sometimes struggle with seeing a good future ahead. But some closer investigation reveals this to be a product, primarily, of media culture. One can’t blame the news for all the doom and gloom in the world but they can be blamed for delivering it.

Why does the media bring primarily bad news?

Research shows news stories that are ‘shocking’ in some way results in more viewers. Higher ratings allows news programs and newspapers to charge more for advertising, more viewers equals more profits. This is where the media can be blamed for succumbing to greed. No one individual news outlet can be blamed because they are , for the most part, just trying to stay competitive in a capitalistic economy but the industry fighting for ratings can be a problem that can most definitely be boiled down to greed.

So why do people prefer bad news?

There are at least two psychological processes that can be blamed for why people prefer bad news:

  • Negativity Bias: This is the name given to how our brains react more strongly to negative stimulus then positive. Psychologists believe this is leftover from our evolution. We are wired to react quickly to negative stimulus and to learn what potential dangers there are in our environment
  • Superiority bias: This is the feeling that we are doing better then the average person. People most often feel this way without any good reason. Seeing bad news is surprising and reassures us we have it good.

The addition of speedy communication via satellites, the internet, cellphones…etc. makes shocking news more readily available. Even fifty years ago no one would have guessed you could find out about a shooting in a far away country within minutes of it happening.

All of this makes it seem, for many, that things are more bad then good but this is not necessarily true.:

  1. Violence and crime is slowly declining: In 2011 Stephen Pinker argued that violence is actually on the decline. Wars, when they  happen, are often short lived. Global crime rates are on the decline, with the exception of areas where income inequalities are the largest.
  2. Space exploration is more ambitious then ever.  We have sent countless satellites into the cosmos, Hubble and other telescopes have revealed countless stars, galaxies planets..etc., we have people living on an international space station regularly and have sent 7 rovers to Mars and plan to send people to live on the planet by 2030, NASA and SpaceX hope to make space travel realistic even for civilians within the next few decades.
  3. Electric cars are becoming more and more common. They are are now over a million on the road worldwide
  4. More and more countries are becoming affluent. The Human Development Index continues to list more and more countries as high or very high human development
  5. People are living longer and healthier. Improvements in medicine, sanitation and quality of life have steadily increased life expectancy and the number of years that can be lived in good physical and mental health.

So the constant bombarding of bad news is a result of the human condition and until both flaws in our psychology and greed are conquered we can expect to be flooded with crime, war and politics. The news and media are also notoriously guilty of bias and ignoring corporate crime. However by knowing the news and other media bring only profit driven doom and gloom we can start to understand that things are not as bad as they seem.

More Reading:

Why Bad News Dominates The Headlines

Our Brain’s Negative Bias

Our world in Data: Homicides

What’s Behind the Decline in Crime?



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