Is there any research that seeks to quantify from year to year the degree to which humanity has grown more civilized or more depraved?
August 18, 2009 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Is there any research that seeks to quantify from year to year the degree to which humanity has grown more civilized or more depraved? Seems like futurists would do this, but I don't know where to begin to look. Negative factors would include crime, war, human trafficking, starvation, preventable disease. Positive factors would be access to affordable or universal health care, some form of freedom or democracy with a complementary bill of rights. What do you think are the factors that should be measured?
posted by jeffreyclong to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Life span, infant mortality, infectious diseases, electricity usage are a few things that initially come to mind. (Also obesity rate as it indicates a relative excess of food and reduction in required manual labor.)
posted by ruwan at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2009

The UN's Human Development Index is what springs to mind for me. It's on a country-by-country basis, however. There are a number of related, complementary and competing indices, however. I personally think they're all more or less crap, but they certainly exist.

Futurists, I dunno. Political scientists, sociologists and economists are definitely doing this, however.
posted by McBearclaw at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2009

Check out the Kingdom of Bhutan's system for calculating Gross National Happiness.
posted by johngoren at 12:12 PM on August 18, 2009

A History of Force
posted by decathecting at 12:35 PM on August 18, 2009

The problem is that there's no way you could ever get consensus on what should be included, and how the various factors should be weighted. Any given study will be rejected by many because "it has an agenda" due to controversial choices about how the quantification was done.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:36 PM on August 18, 2009

While this talk (incidentally also discussed in a MeFi post from a couple years ago) by Stephen Pinker isn't terribly quantitative in and of itself, it has some mentions of authors who've presumably done more quantitative studies addressing this question that you might want to look up.
posted by Kosh at 1:46 PM on August 18, 2009

Two books that have data and have references to where the data comes from are:

The book A farewell to Alms has lots of data on wealth and crime that include data from the Middle Ages. There are references in the book for where the data comes from.

The other book that would be worth looking at is The Skeptical Environmentalist. That book is based on data from UN and other official sources. There is a graph in there for deaths due to disease by type of disease that shows the deaths due to communicable diseases. There are also graphs and numbers on the numbers and percentage of people starving and in poverty. Be aware that it violates metafilter's politics however. There are rebuttals and counter rebuttals on the book on the web.

If you can stick to relatively easily directly measured figures, they are less easily manipulated. Life expectancy, infant mortality, murder rates, education level, literacy and so on.
posted by sien at 4:40 PM on August 18, 2009

Depends if you're asking for qualitative or quantitative data. If this is purely out of interest, I think there many aspects that contribute to deciding if we have become more civilized or depraved (happiness, number of hours worked per week, number of paid days off per year, number of hours a city's recreational facilities are being used, number of hours the average person volunteers etc.).

I agree with sien that sticking to directly measured or quantifiable data would be best if this is for a project of some sort though.
posted by variella at 6:14 PM on August 18, 2009

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