Part 5: Is Pronoia Just for Rich, Comfortable People?

(excerpted from the revised and expanded edition of
Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia)

Is pronoia an attitude that only makes sense in the privileged enclaves of the Western world? Or is the developing world experiencing bounties and blessings that remain under-reported in the mainstream media? In the last four weeks, I've been exploring these subjects. This week, I continue the exploration.


Since 1973, Freedom House has evaluated the global state of civil liberties, democratic institutions, and independent media. Its research suggests that the world is steadily becoming more free, and is now the most free it has ever been.

In 1973, Freedom House said that 29 percent of the world's countries were free, 25 percent were "partly free," and 46 percent were "not free."

By 2009, the figures were dramatically improved: 46 percent of the nations on the planet were free, 32 percent were "partly free," and 22 percent were "not free." In 36 years, the percentage of "not free" countries had dropped by over 50 percent.

Of the world's 193 countries evaluated in the most recent report, 151 were judged to be free or partly free. This group accounts for 94 percent of the world's gross domestic product. Freedom House concluded that the majority of the planet's economic, technological, and military resources belong to electoral democracies.


(Some progressives have complained that Freedom House is not sufficiently strong in reporting the abuses of freedom perpetrated by the U.S. and its allies. I think there may be some merit to their arguments, and I don't mean to imply that Freedom House is the ultimate and sole authority in the assessment of global freedom. However, it's also true that the organization assailed the Bush Administration's policies on interrogation and detention during its so-called War of Terror, and has over the years given low rankings to countries the U.S. considers friendly, like Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Chile, and Guatemala.)

(There's also this: In 2009, Forbes magazine named Fareed Zakaria as one of the 25 most influential liberals in the American media. Here's his opinion about Freedom House, published in Newsweek: "While there are many sources of economic data, good political data is hard to find. Freedom House's survey is an exception. For anyone concerned with the state of freedom, or simply with the state of the world, its 'Freedom in the World' is an indispensable guide.")


Richard Falk is a professor of international law at Princeton, and has served on the editorial boards of The Nation and The Progressive magazines as well as on two different United Nations human rights organizations. Writing in the magazine Foreign Policy, he said the following: "Every reliable human rights indicator suggests progress in the direction of self-determination and democratization in all parts of the world."

But then what about the observers who theorize that human rights are in alarming decline? "As with cancer and other diseases," responds Falk, "the ability to identify human rights abuses more accurately and treat their symptoms more effectively creates the illusion that the disease itself is more prevalent."

Read Falk's essay here.


The United Nations organization UNESCO tracks literacy rates. Its latest news is very good. In 1950, 56 percent of the world's population could read and write. As of 2009, that figure had risen to 84 percent. The most dramatic improvement has occurred among young women. For example, not quite half of South Asian females were literate in 1990, while 75 percent are now. There were 10 million East Asian girls who couldn't read in 2000, but that had fallen to a million by 2009.
More here.

"There is a strong current of thought in the field of development economics," wrote Andrew Leonard in, commenting on this report, "that the single most important factor in improving a variety of outcomes in the developing world -- whether it be overpopulation, economic growth, violence against women, public health -- is increasing female education levels."


Read Part One of the series.

Read Part Two of the series.

Read Part Three of the series.

Read Part Four of the series.