Rejoice Ye Poor! Prosperity Beckons – Rosling – TED

9 April, 2009 at 16:00 8 comments

Master statistician guru Hans Rosling has a couple of TED talks titled “Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen” (points poor world is no longer worlds away from the west and most are on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, moving twice as fast as the west did) and “New insights on poverty and life around the world” (cool data tools to show how countries are pulling themselves out of poverty). He puts forth a very convincing hypothesis. Poor countries today are actually better off than the West of 150 years ago. In fact, the poor countries have better technology than the West had 150 years ago. So, all things being equal, the poor countries have a better chance to prosperity at a better rate than the West had. So, say, in the next 50+ years, we will have Swedens all over the planet. Lands of milk, suicides and moose. This is how a slum area 3 steps away from where I live reacted…

Enough of sunshine optimism which does not suit a dark and broody conflicted scientist/artist like me. Really, Rosling. Really? To paraphrase some words from my comic friend, Mike Slacknerney, these TED talks are like donuts. Sure, its all fluff, have no intrinsic value and there are big gaping holes in the middle… BUT, if you make it sweet enough with mass media hype, intellectual tripe, chequered academic accomplishments, conjectured reality and market forces, sugar-glaze it and importantly, add little coloured sprinklers and graphs to it, people will lap it up – while cheering in dunce hats. Humans are suckers that way.

    Developing world is developing for the better and faster than the West of yore? Puhleeze. I will not even go into the epistemology of “development” (air quotes) but here is what I see all around me in no particular order – poverty, traffic, pollution, unemployment, disease, violence, indecency, scarcity, waste, dust, starvation, illiteracy, death, oppression, conflict, malnutrition, famine, cheating, stupidity, abuse, cheapness, exploitation, debt, slavery, greed, corruption, sleaze, vulgarity and just about every conceivable ill that has been documented and jogging for the worst at an alarming rate. I tend to think am a cynic extraordinaire but could factor that maybe, I have been looking in the wrong places. Or taking the wrong samples. Or accessing the wrong data. But I doubt it for 5.5 billion people who have to face such putrid facts of life by direct in-your-face observation and the 4.5 billion who actually have to experience it on a daily basis are hard to miss.
    I do miss and dont see a lot though. Free roads like Sweden. Summer houses for all like Norway. Free health like France. Luxury SUVs for all like USA. Free education like UK. Public-art architecture like Spain. Freedoms like Netherlands. Sports facilities like Australia. Green energy like Germany. Cleanliness like New Zealand. Water security like Denmark. Oil independence like Canada. Milk surplus like Switzerland. Robot gadgetry like Japan. Intellectual culture like Italy… yada yada yada. Believe me, I have been to a lot of places and there is no parallel or progression from ‘survival’ to ‘drudgery’ to ‘life’ for the 90% of the world. Hence, such statistics and talks anger me.
    The theme is that most developing countries today have similar development metrics (child mortality rate, life expectancy etc.) to western countries in the early part of the century – a world ravaged by war, rampant apartheid, legalized slavery, fuelled by imperialism and in general a shitty era to be a human unless you are not an aristrocrat. But poor people should rejoice. They are comparable and statistically better off to the poor in the West 150 years back. Ah, the thrills of schadenfreude. Yes, the West developed to where poor countries want to be but we all know they had a headstart with occupied wealth and zero competition of planetary resources. They were environmentally superior and had a clean slate to rape the Earth but now the poor countries inhabit an impoverished planet. And yes, the West back then did not have the West to strangle any indigenous development and shove complicated models. In the duration of the talks (36 minutes), I can dole out numbers of how many people must have died out of sheer helplessness and hopelessness due to a combinatorial lack/scarcity of food, water, clothing, shelter and health. But enough of my words. Let us see what Alan Kay has to say in one of his writings now taken out of context and yet made a bit more contextual to this discussion.

    Shakespeare had Puck say, “What fools these mortals be!” He meant not so much the modern meaning (that we are idiots and simpletons), but that we are all too easily fooled about almost everything. Anthropologists tell us that modern human types have been around for 40,000 years (perhaps as long as 80,000 years). But the “real science” that has revealed so many surprising and powerful things about the world is only a few hundred years old. We have been fooling ourselves about most things for tens of thousands of years. Now theater, TED talks and other forms of fiction work because we not only are easily fooled, but we *like* to be fooled.
    For example, a TED talk is a dark place with lots of rich people watching clever looking people on stage say good sounding words embellished by entertainment so that we are able to pretend that the scenery is not cardboard and that they are really immersed in somewhere great and worldchanging. Another good metaphor is Marshall McLuhan’s: “I don’t know who discovered water but it wasn’t a fish!”. He meant we are the fish and the water is our beliefs/assumptions, most of which have been with us so pervasively as to have disappeared from view. The only way for a fish to keep doing what it is doing is to continue living in water – even in an acquarium with things like TED the fake rocks and external food to keep the myth that all is great with the artificial world. For those who want to come outside (like me), there are slim pickings of survival unless a random mutation kicks in to develop lungs and ultimately, become an ape. It is all up to chance.

    [edit] This post and accompanying cartoon have been commented by none another than the uber-analyst Hans Rosling. So, all references to 50-years/half-century have been replaced by 150-years/century – even in the cartoon. This makes my argument all the more striking. The poor world is where the West was 150 years ago but yet, there must be much rejoicing with the state of affairs and the impending progress. It is just a matter of time and would take only about the next 50+ years or so to get Mozambique and their ilk to be a Sweden of 2009. Good times ahead. It also reminds me of concepts of entropy, Zeno’s paradox and I wish I could do a Rip van Winkle but let us not digress…

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    Entry filed under: Arts, BoP, Citizen-Journalism, Climate, CWorks, Deesha, Economy, Energy, Glasgow-Travails, Health, India, Life-Theories, MCe2, News-Media, Politics, Poverty, Research, WebXP.

    Off The Shelf # 02 – Party Food Science Experiment Roullette – Research Life

    8 Comments Add your own

    • 1. Poor People Rejoice - Prosperity Beckons - Rosling in TED  |  9 April, 2009 at 16:04

      […] Original post by sriks6711 […]


    • 2. Rejoice Ye Poor! Prosperity Beckons - Rosling in TED  |  9 April, 2009 at 16:07

      […] Original post by sriks6711 […]


    • 3. Hans Rosling  |  9 April, 2009 at 18:37

      Downgrade your cynical mind and upgrade your analytical mind! I have tried to estimate the daily income of the slum dwellers in your cartoon based on the following three observable facts:
      1. None wear shoes, not even adult males!
      2. All small dwellings have grass roofs.
      3. All five adults have worn out dresses.
      This reflect deep poverty at or under the poverty line of 1 dollar per day (purchasing power).
      In the background you display high modern houses reflecting a society with extremly low GINI index, i.e. wealth disparities.

      The poor community in the front do absolutely not live at a socioeconomic level that correspond to that of west Europe or north America 50 years ago, it is rather 150 years ago and would reflect a child mortality of 150 per 1000 born.
      The inequity in many middle income countries, i.e.between the richest 20% and the poorest 20% often correspond to 50-100 years of change of the average of the country.

      Do not despair in cynic, to grasp the contemporary world is to simultaneously grasp the impressing progress and the unacceptable and grim disparities! Both coexist but it is rare to find people able to see both at the same time!
      Kind regards Hans Rosling!


    • 4. » Rejoice Ye Poor! Prosperity Beckons - Rosling in TED  |  10 April, 2009 at 01:48

      […] View original here: Rejoice Ye Poor! Prosperity Beckons – Rosling in TED […]


    • 5. fhgjljfh  |  20 April, 2009 at 15:33



    • 6. DenkaOlssen  |  24 April, 2009 at 06:35



    • 7. Garamoff  |  29 April, 2009 at 20:54

      Well said.


    • 8. erereephype  |  2 May, 2009 at 20:14

      It’s the old adage, don’t put all your eggs into the ever-changing Google basket or you’re probably turn your site and yourself into one desperate basket case.



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