Posts filed under ‘MCe2’
One has to understand the problem (read the documents) of appalling state of schooling in India to understand what am talking about. So, I will take an analogy. Imagine this scenario. You are aware of a potholed stretch of road and complain about it. One day some outsiders come and start resolving this issue. What would you do? I would do as it says in the figure. Try to join them and try my best to spread the word. The former will take time but this is me doing the latter. Go support GMC.
The hands-on work, the thrill of gathering data, the excitement of discovery, the work ethic, the long hours, thinking about solutions to hard problems, buried in work, too poor to fly home for holidays, playing solitaire with no idea how to play… Ah! to be a student again. Good times. I think sometimes, it is hard not to look back at your life and wonder if all the hard work, pressure and sacrifices have been worth it. Aww humbug, who cares? I got a job and things to do.
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.
 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…