The World As 100 People

To better grasp just how much human conditions have improved only over the past two hundred years, consider the following summation, which imagines humanity as just a hundred people.

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Imagine if you were surrounded by abject poverty and misery, but only years later find most people lifted out of deprivation and living comfortable lives; imagine nearly half of all the kids around you dying before their fifth birthday, but over the span of just a couple of years, such tragedies are virtually unheard of.

When you consider that these conditions were the norm for most of our 200,000 year history, and that only in the last two centuries — a relatively small blip in the timescale — have they reversed so rapidly, it is astounding how so many of us fail to realize how incredibly far our species has come.

Learn more about human progress from the source of this infographic.

A History of Human Progress

It goes without saying that 2016 has been a rough year for a lot of folks. People can be forgiven for thinking that the world is going to hell in one way or another, but as economist Max Roser of Our World in Data points out in Vox.com, there has never been a time more worth celebrating in terms of moral progress. From poverty to literacy, the world is improving in so many areas, even if there is still quite a way to go. Continue reading

An Effective Ebola Vaccine Has Been Developed

Following a horrific epidemic in West Africa that claimed the lives of over 11,000 people — the deadliest the world had ever seen — we finally have a breakthrough vaccine against Ebola. As Vox.com reported:

Today, the same researchers — who hail from the World Health Organization, Guinea’s Ministry of Health, Public Health England, and other international partners — have unveiled their final results in the Lancet, and they’re just as remarkable. The vaccine was tested in a trial involving nearly 12,000 people in Guinea and Sierra Leone during 2015 and 2016. Among the 5,837 people who got the vaccine, no Ebola cases were recorded. By comparison, there were 23 Ebola cases in the control group that had not gotten the vaccine.

“This trial, confirming the 100 percent efficacy of the rVSV Ebola vaccine, is a simply remarkable outcome”, Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said of the research. “We’ve shown that by working collaboratively, across international borders and sectors, we can develop and test vaccines rapidly and use them to help bring epidemics to an end”.

You can read the published study here. It was one of fifteen clinical trials for an Ebola vaccine conducted around the world in a single year, and is a vindication of what collective action and responsibility by the international community — including the U.N., NGOs, and national governments — can accomplish. It is a shame it took so many deaths spanning a nearly three year period to finally come up with a promising form of prevention, although the vaccine is far from ready to hit the market.  Continue reading

Human Population Through Time

Humans began migrating out of Africa and across the rest of the world about 100,000 years ago. But it was only around 12,000 years ago, with the invention of agriculture, that large and permanent populations began to emerge. Continued improvements in agriculture and medicine, combined with the development industry, had contributed to an exponential expansion of the human race, as the video below by the American Museum of Natural History powerful visualizes:

While the human population is projected to increase to over 11 billion by 2100, the rapid decline in fertility across much of the world (including developing countries) may indicate — for the first time in history — a peaking of the number of humans, and much earlier than expected.

H/T to Aeon.

India Surpasses U.K. As Sixth Largest Economy

In an achievement as symbolic as it was substantive, India’s economy has overtaken that of the United Kingdom, its former colonial master, to become the sixth largest in the world by GDP, after the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and France. The last time its economy was larger than the U.K.’s was 150 years ago, when it was the second largest in the world after China. (Indeed, the two Asian giants were for centuries the biggest economies in the world prior to the age of European exploration and colonialism.) Continue reading

Female World Leaders By Country

The Economist has put together an interesting map, based on data from the World Economic Forum, a Swiss think tank, showing the number of years each country has a had a female head of state or government. You might find the results surprising:

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As with any data set, there are some caveats:

During that time period, just under two-fifths of the countries surveyed had a female head of state or government at some point for at least a year (excluding monarchs). In half of those countries, the total time served by female leaders falls short of five years, a common length of a single full term in office.

Like Hillary Clinton, who is the wife of a former American president, many female heads of state have hailed from political dynasties. At least a dozen are the wives or daughters of former presidents or prime ministers. They include the two women who, between them, have held the prime minister’s post in Bangladesh for 23 of the past 50 years—the longest any country has had women at the helm.

Moreover, the mixed bag of high ranking countries — ranging from developed democracies like Iceland and New Zealand, to more flawed democracies like the Philippines and Bangladesh — shows that greater representation for women in the upper echelons of power does not necessarily reflect, or translate to, more female empowerment and gender parity overall. (Especially if the women in power got there through proximity or political connections with men.)

 

Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives

The Economist recently featured a new book that aims to present a more nuanced and encouraging picture of the history of Islam and its innumerable, if now often understated, intellectual and cultural achievements. Chase Robinson’s Islamic Civilisation in Thirty Lives: The First 1,000 Years encapsulates Islamic history through the perspectives and experiences of thirty figures, who represent a cross section of Muslim society.  Continue reading

The Hermit Life of Modern China

The challenges of modernity — in terms of alienation, empty consumerism, and over-stimulation — are becoming a universal problem (which, in fairness, is in some sense a good thing, since it means more parts of the world are industrializing and being lifted out of poverty and deprivation). Few nations are struggling with these issues more than China, which has been thrown into modernity at remarkable speed, thrusting hundreds of millions of citizens into the bittersweet life of material abundance.

An eleven-minute documentary, Summoning the Recluse, by Beijing-based filmmaker Ellen Xu, follows several young, middle-class Chinese who are embracing  meditation, spiritual quests and monastic asceticism in an effort to find peace and meaning in a difficult and more complex world. They are tapping into a millennia of rich spiritual, philosophical, and lifestyle traditions — such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism — that have long sought to address these issues. Their relevance today speaks volumes about the inherent struggle of the human condition.

I can’t embed the video here, so click here to view it. I felt more peaceful just watching it. Plus, I’m reminded of how much amazing Chinese philosophy and thought I need to brush up on.

Credit: Aeon

Still Life: Vase with Pink Roses

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Still Life: Vase with Pink Roses by Vincent van Gogh. It was painted in 1890 while Van Gogh was preparing to leave the asylum in Saint-Rémy for the quiet town of Auvers-sur-Oise.

As his departure neared, he became increasingly optimistic about his future, as reflected in his choice of subject and colors: Van Gogh had a love for flowers of all kinds, and tended to paint them in his brighter moments. Vivid colors similarly reflected a more positive mood. Continue reading

The Globalized Origin of Thanksgiving

I know this post is a bit late contextually — sorry, I’ve had a busy holiday! — but I think it is an interesting enough point to explore at any given time.

Globalization and Thanksgiving are not two topics most people think to put together. But as Farok J. Contractor points out in a piece in Quartz, the context of the event — which loosely commemorates the success and survival of the early English settlers who laid the foundations of the United States — is indelibly tied to a newly emerging international order of mass migration, trade, and cultural transfusion across continents. Continue reading