“We Stayed Out till The Streetlights Came On. But Times Have Changed”


“Of course we ran around as kids. Happiest days of my life! But times are different today…”

To those who say that, here is this, from  in The Spectator:

‘We have fallen upon evil times, politics is corrupt and the social fabric is fraying.’ Who said that? Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders?…It’s difficult to keep track. They sound so alike, the populists of the left and the right. Everything is awful, so bring on the scapegoats and the knights on white horses.

Pessimism resonates. A YouGov poll found that just 5 per cent of Britons think that the world, all things considered, is getting better. You would think that the chronically cheerful Americans might be more optimistic — well, yes, 6 per cent of them think that the world is improving. More Americans believe in astrology and reincarnation than in progress.

Then, like Steven Pinker and others before him, Norberg goes on to list the mindboggling ways our world is getting so much safer  — like the statistic I just read that, globally, life expectancy is up 19 years just since 1960 (including a 5-year increase since just 2000!).

If you think that there has never been a better time to be alive — that humanity has never been safer, healthier, more prosperous or less unequal — then you’re in the minority. But that is what the evidence incontrovertibly shows. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. The risk of being caught up in a war, subjected to a dictatorship or of dying in a natural disaster is smaller than ever. The golden age is now.

We’re hardwired not to believe this. We’ve evolved to be suspicious and fretful: fear and worry are tools for survival. The hunters and gatherers who survived sudden storms and predators were the ones who had a tendency to scan the horizon for new threats, rather than sit back and enjoy the view. They passed their stress genes on to us. That is why we find stories about things going wrong far more interesting than stories about things going right. It’s why bad news sells, and newspapers are full of it.

Norberg, who’s got a new book coming out, then explains what I call the Google Effect — the way that, when we ask our brain a question, it brings up answers immediately. Unfortunately, the top “search results” are usually the weird, tragic, outliers, because those are the easiest stories to remember and retrieve. And since they are right there at our finger (brain?) tips, they seem relevant, the same way the top results in any Google search seem relevant.

In almost every way human beings today lead more prosperous, safer and longer lives — and we have all the data we need to prove it. So why does everybody remain convinced that the world is going to the dogs? Because that is what we pay attention to, as the thoroughbred fretters we are. The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown that people do not base their assumptions on how frequently something happens, but on how easy it is to recall examples. This ‘availability heuristic’ means that the more memorable an incident is, the more probable we think it is. And what is more memorable than horror? What do you remember best — your neighbour’s story about a decent restaurant which serves excellent lamb stew, or his warning about the place where he was poisoned and threw up all over his boss’s wife?

Bad news now travels a lot faster. Just a few decades ago, you would read that an Asian city with 100,000 people was wiped out in a cyclone on a small notice on page 17. We would never have heard about Burmese serial killers. Now we live in an era with global media and iPhone cameras every-where. Since there is always a natural disaster or a serial murderer somewhere in the world, it will always top the news cycle — giving us the mistaken impression that it is more common than before.

The same goes for the fears we have for our kids. It feels like kids are “constantly” getting snatched or dying in hot cars, when in fact, kidnapping is rare and hot car deaths are too (rarer, as I’ve said a million times, than parking lot deaths — which are also, thank God, extremely rare).

Meantime, who’s the gloomy grandstander who said, “We have fallen upon evil times, politics is corrupt and the social fabric is fraying”? It was an inscription from Mesopotamia, 3800 BC. (Emphrasis on the “Mes,” I guess.)

It may not feel that way, but that actually pre-dates this election cycle. – L.


Time to go inside, kids!

Time to go inside, kids!


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21 Responses to “We Stayed Out till The Streetlights Came On. But Times Have Changed”

  1. Rick August 19, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    Remember “It’s 10pm. Do you know where your children are?”

  2. JJ August 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm #

    Rick, I remember. I was about 14 and my mom and I would howl laughing when it came on.

  3. theresa August 19, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    It could of been trump. He is quite a loud mouth. Lots of small children know how to be nice.

  4. JulieC August 19, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    I’ve been recommending a great new Netflix series to my friends – Stranger Things. It takes place in the 1980s and involves a group of boys and strange goings on at a government research facility near their small town.

    What struck me in just the first episode is how well they captured childhood then. Kids playing Dungeons and Dragons in a basement, unsupervised by any hovering parents. When the mom calls downstairs, “time to go home” they all hop on their bikes and ride home, at night.

    And the parents don’t all become paranoid helicopter parents when some strange things start happening in the town! The kids still ride their bikes everywhere! They are allowed to hang out unsupervised!

  5. Papilio August 19, 2016 at 1:50 pm #

    So that means… The things that ARE getting worse, are (often) self-fulfilling prophecy effects…?

    ““We have fallen upon evil times, politics is corrupt and the social fabric is fraying”? It was an inscription from Mesopotamia, 3800 BC”

    Wasn’t that right around the time Jews starting their year numbering?
    “I feel like we’re not even living in the same YEAR anymore! :’-( “

  6. Lois Marshall August 19, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

    Yes, the world “feels” less safe. Why? Because we see or hear about a horrible tragedy/crime nearly every day. Many of us grew up in a time when news was primarily local. If you heard about a child being kidnapped and killed, it was either in your area or was from someone famous (like the Lindbergh kidnapping). It was rare. It was horrible, but we knew that it was unlikely to happen to our family just because it was so rare.
    So what happened?
    Now we hear about some horrible child snatching every other day, because the internet is reporting it in all the news outlets. If that wasn’t bad enough, it seems as though no one reads the dates on the stories they are passing on. And urban legends are reported as facts. I make extensive use of the snopes site, but it seems few others do. I read dates of publication. I tell people “This is 3 or 5 or 20 years old. The child has been found or not, but passing this on will do no good at this point.” Or I give the snopes article on it.
    The question is not so much how did it happen as how do we stop people from panicking uselessly!

  7. Ron Skurat August 20, 2016 at 1:22 am #

    I stopped reading newspapers & watching the news almost 15 years ago, and it’s done wonders for my attitude & blood pressure both. The media loves a crisis, and if there isn’t one they’ll make one up, and if something important happens I’ll hear about it from friends & family.

  8. Donald Christensen August 20, 2016 at 1:25 am #

    Murder on TV drama is up 1000%? in the last 50 years. Today I’m sure there is murder quota on the networks. However I don’t pin all the blame on TV. They are struggling to keep up with the internet. Facebook is like alcohol. Some use it moderately but others are unable to drag themselves away!

    Small wonder why many people think things are amazingly worse off. They are so convinced of this that they are unable to accept any information that the world is getting safer.

  9. Donald Christensen August 20, 2016 at 1:29 am #

    “Because we see or hear about a horrible tragedy/crime nearly every day.”

    If a murder didn’t happen today, then the news will repeat the story about yesterday’s murder or they will find a murder in another country.

  10. elizabeth August 20, 2016 at 2:48 am #

    Mandela effect: when someone swears something is or was a certain way other than the truth and sticks to it in spite of evidence to the contrary.

  11. elizabeth August 20, 2016 at 2:52 am #

    Or, to put it bluntly, when someone is too stubborn to accept reality.

  12. Warren August 20, 2016 at 8:42 am #

    Let’s face politicians wouldn’t get elected on a platform of


  13. Peter August 20, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

    I stopped reading newspapers & watching the news almost 15 years ago […] if something important happens I’ll hear about it from friends & family.

    Of course if they follow your idea then, pretty soon, everybody is ignorant. Which, I suppose, is bliss.

    One of the things I like about the Internet, versus TV & Newspapers, is the ability to filter information. I turn on the TV and it’s all the news that someone else has decided I need to know and their idea of it’s priority. So it will open with five minutes on the poor guy who was shot two towns over and 30 minutes later, there may be 1 minute on a bill working it’s way through the state senate that will raise/lower my taxes and/or improve/cut a program that I or someone I know needs. The second one is definitely more important than the first. But this information is now conveniently available through various websites.

    To me, it’s more about eschewing “bulk news” and finding sources that report on things that are interesting to you.

  14. Andrea August 21, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    I was working at Walmart last week when another worker walked up carrying a crying child. The little boy had lost his dad. Luckily he knew his father’s name and I paged dad. The other worker seemed as freaked out about finding a child as she would have been losing one. “That could have been my grandchild. He was here with his dad earlier today. It could have happened to him.” But the thing is, nothing really happened. The boy got scared, but he was never in danger. I was reflecting on my experiences shopping with my own children and how incredibly safe Walmart is. There are so many people there who are so hyper vigilant about children that it is probably the very safest place to lose a child, perhaps including their own home. (Said by a mother who has on more than one occasion searched frantically through the house, yard, and neighborhood, looking for a toddler who had fallen asleep in some strange location, usually in their own room.)

  15. MichaelF August 21, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

    My kids stay out until the street lights come on…that way I don’t have to worry. I know my neighborhood, and neighbors, so not going to worry unless I have to. And I don’t have to.

  16. sexhysteria August 21, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

    One measure usually ignored is that the majority of women in America today report some form of sexual dysfunction. Young people today report they have sex less often than young people reported in the past, even after age 18.

  17. andy August 22, 2016 at 1:11 am #

    @sexhysteria having less sex then previous generation is not necessary dysfunction. It might be that previous generation slept around too much. Or result of lifestyle differences that have nothing to do with dysfunction.

    I read that when one talk with teenagers openly about sex they have less of it – it is not that mystical thing they expect good knows what anymore and it cease to be the “proof of manhood” or rebellion thing. Which would be a good thing.

  18. Papilio August 22, 2016 at 9:21 am #

    @Andy: “I read that when one talk with teenagers openly about sex they have less of it” True. Less, safer and later teen sex in countries with comprehensive sex ed.

  19. Dean August 23, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Apparently I’ve been dead all these years, and didn’t know it.
    Born in East LA (“everyone” knows how dangerous THAT is), grew up on the South Side, selling newspapers on busy corner at at 10 or 11, bicycling with friends all over the LA basin–Pasadena, yes, to the beach, well, yeah. And at age 14 bicycled from South LA to San Juan Capistrano and back (more than 100 miles) in one day. On that last one, pedaling included passing a large farm tract south of the small town of Anaheim that later became a real Mickey Mouse operation.
    Parents. Are you sure that video game your child is using is safe? He/she might injure his/her thumbs, ya know.

  20. holocaust21 August 26, 2016 at 9:02 pm #

    @andy: “I read that when one talk with teenagers openly about sex they have less of it – it is not that mystical thing they expect good knows what anymore and it cease to be the ‘proof of manhood’ or rebellion thing. Which would be a good thing.”

    Would teens want to have less sex, by any chance, after the boys are told that if they do have sex then they may well be beaten in prison for the rest of their lives on some feminist AOC “rape” charge? Or telling the girls that a lot of men might be rapists/deadbeat dads? Or bringing up how bad teenage pregnancies are (despite it previously having been fairly normal)? Or mentioning the abysmal rates for relationship breakdown and divorce? Or, of course, pointing out to the boys how, in the event of relationship breakdown, the woman gets to keep the kids, the house, the car, their life savings and the boy goes to prison for rape/child molestation (as she’ll most likely to accuse him of it so to ensure she gets to keep everything)? And hey, if somehow the teen manages to skate past all that and get into a meaningful relationship and have children then Child Protective Services will undoubtedly sooner or later come to take their children away (who will probably be murdered in a foster care home).

    You know, after thinking about all that, I’m not liking the idea of having sex either!

    But really, I think @sexhysteria has a point. We may be *safer* but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are more happy. Relationships are far more fragile than they used to be, partly because of a concerted feminist campaign of hate to criminalise sex and break up families, but also because of economic pressures that result in people moving around a lot (which has helped the feminists to succeed in their campaign of hate).

  21. that mum August 31, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    my kids stayed out past the street lights last night (with permission) they begged to be allowed to play in the backyard 15 more minutes with their friends, I didn’t want them still on the street after dark… they had a great time and came in exhausted. just the way I like them. School starts in Tuesday– they are getting the last bits of summer in they can.