C17: Day 132 – The anxiety of information

by Suw on

Yesterday, I wrote about how having more information can make things less stressful, specifically, how I find modern buses much easier to deal with, simply because you always know where you are and what the next stop is.

But unfortunately, the opposite is also true. We have access to more information now than we ever have before, and it can make us needlessly stressed, not least because a lot of it is either not true, or not representative. At the moment, for example, politics is moving worryingly towards the right. Brexit and Trump are just two examples – the far right is gaining traction across much of Europe and countries like Turkey seem to be slipping backwards into an alarming authoritarianism.

There’s no doubt that the American and British governments, amongst many others, are doing some really terrible things, particularly to the most vulnerable people in our societies. Nationalism, populism and isolationism are the order of the day, and anyone with progressive values is shaking their head and wondering what the everliving fuck to do. It’s worst in the UK, with a general election coming up and no credible opposition to Brexit, indeed, no credible opposition full stop.

But for all the awfulness ahead of us, the information we are consuming on a daily basis is a little misleading. Yes, Brexit and Trump are awful, and yes, terrible things are happening to the poor, elderly, sick and those in minority groups. When we look at worldwide attitudes, the trends are actually heartening, as Ipsos Mori finds in their latest global trends report. They have found that, globally:

  • We are increasingly liberal in our attitudes towards gay rights (globally 74%, up from 70%)
  • We increasingly believe that “things would be better if more women held positions of responsibility in government and companies” (57%, up from 53%)
  • We want to be “personally autonomous and depend less and less on any kind of external authority” (76%)
  • And over half of us believe that “we have a greater opportunity to be free and true to ourselves than our parents did” (52%)

Of course, there are still areas for concern:

Modern liberalism embodies new ideas, a tolerance for individual choice, and an acceptance of a diverse society. The data suggests that this vision hasn’t entirely extended to our own backyards. Seventy-two percent of us want to live in a community among people who share the same views and values as us.

And there’s still an alarming number of people who support the death penalty, believe the world is more dangerous (it’s not, it’s safer than it’s ever been), and that there are too many immigrants (there aren’t, people grossly overestimate how many immigrants there are in their country).

But generally speaking, the world is becoming more liberal, and peoples’ concerns about safety and immigration are largely ill-founded and whipped up by a media and political system that thrives on outrage and fear. Putting the current awfulness in perspective is important. We are constantly bombarded by information that seems to show that the world is going to the dogs, but we’re in better shape than we think we are.

I honestly believe that the current swing to the right is a blip, a last gasp from a generation that fears losing power and sees everyone and everything as a threat. But the underlying liberalisation of attitudes cannot and will not be halted by a bad president, a terrible prime minister and some appallingly ignorant governmental decisions. No matter how long it takes, our increasingly liberal attitudes will prevail. Our job, right now, is to encourage such liberal attitudes in those around us, especially younger people who need to see that, actually, we do care about them and their future, even if the government doesn’t.

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