Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Does it matter if you are an optimist or a pessimist? As we say goodbye to 2016 with it’s terror attacks, horror headlines from Syria, a tide of hatred and resentment poisoning our politics the world looks pretty grim. But what about the actual facts? If you step back and examine the data, it’s clear that life is better today for the majority of people than at any previous time in history. And we’re not just talking about the developing world, where progress has been remarkable. Here in the West, most of us have never had it so good. Just look at the improvements in health and longevity, the breadth of entertainment available, and the opportunities to travel that we blithely take for granted.

Debating this for intelligence² will be, in the optimists’ corner, prolific science writer Matt Ridley, author of the prize-winning The Rational Optimist, and Johan Norberg, whose latest book is Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. They will argue that the progress that has been made over the past centuries – whether in education, child labour, poverty or violent deaths – is now running at an unprecedented pace and that there is every reason to think that it will continue for decades to come.

But on the other side is the gloomy corner and arguing against the rationalists are the Eeyores,  those who try to interpret the darker side of human nature such as Rousseau and Dostoevsky or behavioural economists such as Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler. For these latter thinkers, rationalism will always fail to give a full account of human behaviour. Exploring this line of thought, and bravely going solo, will be the acclaimed political scientist David Runciman. And steering the discussion will be the BBC’s star political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

intelligence² debate on Thursday, 12th January, 7pm, Royal Geographical Society, tickets £30 or £15 if you are a student. You can buy them here … intelligencesquared

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