Characters

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 493

The characters in Hans Rosling's Factfulness are what the author argues are once-useful instinctual habits of thought that are now counterproductive because they lead to an "overdramatic worldview" that can be stressful and counterproductive. He finds these emotional thought patterns prevalent around the world regardless of levels of experience, expertise,...

(The entire section contains 493 words.)

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The characters in Hans Rosling's Factfulness are what the author argues are once-useful instinctual habits of thought that are now counterproductive because they lead to an "overdramatic worldview" that can be stressful and counterproductive. He finds these emotional thought patterns prevalent around the world regardless of levels of experience, expertise, education, and power.

When reinforced through media and education systems, these typically negative emotional biases become roadblocks to understanding the world correctly and, consequently, to acting more rationally.

The first of these is the gap instinct, by which people seem to naturally want to divide the world into binaries like haves and have-nots. This is reflected in language such as the "developed" and "underdeveloped" countries. This language shows that people imagine a huge gap between these two types of countries. The author's solution is to look at statistical majorities, which shows that seventy-five percent of the world's population is now middle-income—vastly better than ever before. The improvement since 1965 has been dramatic and just as dramatically underreported.

The negative instinct is similarly widespread, with most people thinking the world is getting worse. Rosling argues that this is mainly due to people misremembering the past, selective reporting by journalists and activists, and the feeling that as long as things are bad somewhere, it would be heartless to focus on the overall improvement. His recommended solution is to simply expect the media to overemphasize bad news and don't expect them to report on the bigger, more positive, picture. The fact is the number of people living in poverty has been halved in the last twenty years. Such a remarkable improvement of living standards for the world's poorest is unprecedented.

The straight-line instinct is another common misconception. Because the world population has been rising dramatically, especially among the poor, many people imagine this trend continuing or even accelerating when, in fact, it has already leveled off, with rising levels of prosperity leading to fewer children. Fear is often intentionally triggered by political and media elites to manipulate the population for their own narrow power objectives. Rosling's solution is to rationally calculate risks to avoid being subject to this manipulation.

Rosling applies his statistician's eye to other mental distortions caused by faulty generalization. He recommends getting categories correct. Common misconceptions of size can be corrected by getting things in their correct proportions. The destiny instinct can be overcome by understanding gradual change is the rule. The single-perspective instinct is corrected by multidisciplinary analysis. The blame instinct should be resisted, and the urgency instinct should be moderated by knowing the best changes come in small graduated steps.

Hans Rosling's "characters," or misguided emotional instincts, are widespread roadblocks to an accurate assessment of where the world is today, and where it might be going. Factfulness is highly recommended for leaders and students that want to remove their emotional blinders, as anyone that wants to change the world for the better must first see the world as it actually is.

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