In times such as these, it is difficult to imagine that world is becoming more peaceful. The war in Syria rages on while politicians slowly and painfully debate the best way to bring all sides to the negotiating table, indicators demonstrate that inequality is on the rise in most parts of the world, the tides of nationalism and religious extremism ebb and flow across continents, and homophobia and racism seem loathed to cease the rearing of their ugly little heads. However, despite all of the dismal data, the number of people fighting to make the world a better place continues to grow. While cynicism and disappointment may be the default responses after any night of news consumption, some less sensational statistics suggest that the world actually is becoming more peaceful.
Here are five signs that will make us believe that the work of citizens, activists, and policy makers may just be paying off and making the world a more peaceful place to live in.
Throughout the past 15 years, attitudes about domestic violence have changed dramatically around the globe. Most countries today have laws against domestic violence, and the list of governmental and non-governmental projects that aim to educate people about the harmful nature of partner-partner violence goes on and on. However, sometimes it is difficult to gauge just how effective these measures are. A study conducted by the University of Michigan sought to change that by analyzing data from 26 low-middle income countries. The study succeeded in proving that globally, more people have a negative attitude about domestic violence than ever before, and that as a result fewer people around the world are perpetrating this type of violence. A perfect example of this shift in attitudes can be found in Nigeria, where 65% of men reject domestic violence, 13% more than just 5 years ago. The United States is another success story. Partner-partner violence decreased by 64% in the U.S between 1994 and 2010! If ensuring that the home is a safe haven isn't making the world more peaceful, then I don't know what is!
Last year a sociologist from Brunel University came out with a new book that demonstrates how attitudes about gay people are changing among youth. The book The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality claims that the negative connotations associated with gayness in the 1980s and 90s are disappearing, and that the "coming out" narrative is being altered as gay teens become less isolated and parents more accepting. While the book is based on the sociologist's observations in the United Kingdom, a similar phenomenon can be observed in many developed countries. As a video on the Upworthy webpage pointed out, many homophobic comments that were considered completely normal ten years ago would be viewed as outrageous and unacceptable today. While homophobia is still a grave problem in many countries around the world, factors such as the legalization of gay marriage in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, France, Spain, and South Africa and the popularity of many gay pop-culture icons internationally, pave the way for a new generation of tolerant youth. One can’t help but feel optimistic when imagining a schoolyard free of homophobic bullying!
Vegetarian Times published a study demonstrating that 3.2% of adults in the United States follows a vegetarian diet, and the numbers are growing everyday. Globally, 1% of the population (excluding India, where 40% of the population maintains a vegetarian diet) is vegetarian. As vegetarian and vegan food became more readily available throughout the past 10 years, vegetarianism also became more popular among youth. So how does vegetarianism make the world more peaceful? Many vegetarians would argue that the way we treat animals is a good indicator of how we treat both the earth and each other. By refusing to inflict pain, suffering, and death on another species we are taking the first steps towards a more peaceful lifestyle and worldview. However, for those who are sceptical of the philosophical and moral undertones of this argument, a vegetarian diet is better for humans and for the environment, full stop.
A UN report published in 2010 urgently stated that a switch to a vegan diet is imperative if humans are going to avoid starvation, poverty, and the detrimental effects of climate change. As the population grows, meat and dairy consumption becomes unsustainable. Luckily, however, as people stop consuming meat we also cut more carbon emissions and use crops to feed people instead of livestock. Keeping this in mind, the growing number of vegetarians suddenly seems like a huge indicator of peace on earth!
In 2010, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that the number of Americans who volunteer grew exponentially during the economic crisis. According to the report, 63.4 million Americans (27% of the population) volunteered to help a cause during that year alone. Additionally, volunteering has become more popular among youth from around the world who often take a year off to volunteer overseas after they finish their education. Volunteering makes the world more peaceful in a variety of ways. Not only does it provide vital work experience for youth, but it also promotes an active and cohesive civil society and maintains social integration in communities. More importantly still, volunteering makes it possible for non-governmental organizations to spend less money on salaries and administrative duties and more resources on the plethora of good causes to which they dedicate their time. The fact that people are becoming more involved in these types of activities is a sign that the world is becoming kinder, more compassionate, and generally more peaceful as people choose to get their hands dirty and give back to society.
Contrary to popular belief, political violence is actually diminishing. According to a paper written by Professor Havard Hegre from the University of Oslo, war has become less justifiable throughout the years, just as torture, duelling, and the death penalty have become less prevalent around the world. Hegre is convinced that not only is the world a more peaceful place today than it was in previous years, but that it will become even more peaceful by 2050. While some may be skeptical, the data seems to support this argument. Most regions except for the Middle East are improving, with Africa demonstrating the most marked progress. Military spending is falling and world leaders are increasingly turning to diplomacy over armed conflict to settle disputes. Currently, only 1 country out of 100 is at war, and less than 1 million people have been killed in war during the 21st century. Of course we would all be a lot happier if there were no wars on earth and no unnecessary deaths, but if we believe Professor Hegre's theory, we may just be heading in the direction of a world free of political violence!