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 :(


Ramesh said...

Hey - You've wandered all over in this post. Starting with a plea for optimism and ending with Syria :(

You are very right in how negative even education is. Lots of problems, but not much optimism. We live in a world that would seem magically heavenly even to somebody who died just 50 years ago. If you had made that chart for China, the bars would have been off the page.

Perhaps this is why people turn to entertainment more and more. There's nothing negative about the Super Bowl or the various pieces of music you routinely feature in your posts.

Mike Hoth said...

The world (most of it) is definitely better than it was 50 years ago, but news outlets have spent those 50 years discovering that negative news sells like crazy. American soldiers became "baby killers" in Vietnam, where 25 years prior anybody saying such a thing in the United State would've been beaten bloody by a pro-US mob because America was a force for good. Bill Clinton became "that guy who did that thing with Lewinski" because that news was more interesting than any good he did, while the horrors of Saddam Hussein's rule (which the US had just ended) took a back seat to George Bush's "war for oil".

We don't have news outlets in this country any more. We have whining outlets that ignore actual tragedy because nobody cares what happens to poor people.

Sriram Khé said...

I wonder what made you write that I wandered all over the place. Yes, the point was about the optimism. But, as much as conditions have improved over time thanks to human efforts, it is also humans who have caused a terrible reversal in Syria.
BTW, is baseball pretty much the only sport you don't follow? And is it because of cricket? ;)

The news media are governed by ratings. Both as a reality show guy and as a candidate, Trump always bragged about ratings. He knew well that the media loved to cover him because of ratings, which meant money for the media. It is a sick, sick world :( And advertisers figured out a long, long time ago that sex sells. Sex equals ratings. Wait, it is not a sick, sick world, but that we humans are sick, sick, sick :(

Anne in Salem said...

Yes, an amazing world. I have an aunt who died young from pneumonia because penicillin had not been discovered yet, and I have a brother who just finished a grueling seven week course of chemo and radiation with an excellent prognosis. Unbelievable.

I wish some human's preference for tragedy and sex in the news was the only symptom of our sickness. Murder, tyranny, slavery, and, and, and. There are multiple reasons my news source is NPR not television.

Sriram Khé said...

"There are multiple reasons my news source is NPR not television" .... whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?
A hardcore Republican listens to NPR when Republicans line up quickly to attack NPR and the little bit of taxpayer money that goes to it?
Wait ... who are you, and what did you do to Anne? ;)

How awesome, right, that we now have the kinds of medical advancements that add so much value?

But, don't be fooled into thinking that Colonel Poppins will be a regular in this blog; he has to always stand aside for the four-star General Malaise ;)

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