Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Meet Colonel Poppins

I told my class earlier today that I am forced to play the optimist in the classroom because I worry that all through the k-12 years, and in college classes too, it is more likely than not that students are presented only with the negative stories.  Like how population growth is a problem. Or about the polar bear. Or about the wars.  And how the country of Africa is messed up. How corporations have ruined lives. ... the list is endless.  I tell ya, if I were a college freshman, after listening to such stuff over and over and over, I will simply drop out and move to Montana and live in a cabin waiting for the end of the world as we know it.

My Major Buzzkill General Malaise personality is with a clear understanding that the world now is a much, much better place than the ones that the people who preceded us experienced.  Smartphones, internet, abundance of food, all the entertainment that Ramesh wants, long lives, eye glasses, varieties of food, ... why do we so conveniently forget that the world in which we live is a fabulous place?

So, yes, I actually told students that.  In fact, I even added this: "My alter ego's name is Major Buzzkill" and still I am an optimist.

I suppose whether it is in the news media or in college education, only bad news is sexy.  Nobody wants to talk about the number of planes took off and landed.  It is one crazy way we humans operate.

Consider, for instance, the following graphic of the progress in India since the time I was born:

In case the chart is not clear:
Life expectancy at birth: An increase of 56 percent
Infant survival: Increase of 76 percent
Personal income: Increase by 457 percent
Food supply: 23 percent increase

Notice a zero growth in democracy level.  Because the country was democratic even when I was born.  Only for two years was the country under a strong leader with individual rights suspended--the kind of a political system that Ramesh apparently loves ;)

BTW, income and food supply are all per capita numbers.

The following chart shows the improvement in life in the US, since my birth in the old country:

I complain because I want even better conditions and I want them to come about faster.  My complaints are not because I think this is a crappy world that is inferior to some good old days.  I hope you also see that Major Buzzkill is not an unenlightened doomsday warrior ;)

But, we humans are also fully capable of screwing things up.  The following statistic, for instance, should shock anybody with even a little bit of empathy in them:
In Syria, male life expectancy dropped from 73.9 years to 62.6 between 2005 and 2015.
How terrible, right?  Dropping by almost a fifth not because of a plague or AIDS or small pox, but because some of us humans can be monsters.  We have met the enemy, and it is us indeed :(

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