World getting better, even if it’s hard to tell
The thinking of Dr. Hans Rosling is a tonic for this book group, even if there are doubters
These are dreary times. Not just because it’s November and we tighten our shoulders against cold winds, but because the global news is worrisome.
Almost everywhere, climate disasters and suffering, human greed and stupidity. People generally are unhappy.
I chuckled when I saw the T-shirt of my hairdresser last week: “I am Happy, and It Drives Everyone Crazy!”
I remind myself that people in other historic times endured great grief and loss. The study of human history is always instructive. So is an investigation into antidotes to glumness, such as political activism and spirituality. Mindfulness, gratitude, a sense of the sacred, can be increased and deepened. It is crucial today.
Twenty-five years ago, a German Jesuit priest named Karl Rahner wrote: “In the world to come, we will be mystics, or we will not be.”
Also of help is a bracing dose of Dr. Hans Rosling, of Sweden, who served 20 years as a physician in rural Mozambique and then committed his energetic self to enlightening the world with facts.
His thesis is that the world is getting better but no one will admit it.
Rosling draws his facts from United Nations statistics. That body is assiduous about collecting facts, and a good thing, too.
His son, Ola and his daughter-in law, Anna, help him get the message out. They are technically hip, and have designed a “Bubble” technique to go with his TED Talks, preserved now on YouTube and well worth a look. Rosling is dedicated to “helping people carry only opinions for which there are strong supporting facts.” He says, “I fight against devastating ignorance.”
Misconceptions abound, he finds. Playfully, he asks every reader to take a 13-question quiz about the state of the world. For example, what percentage of the world’s girls finish elementary school: 20 per cent, 40 per cent or 60 per cent? The answer is 60 per cent, but fewer than three in 10 people get it right.
Rosling is a fan of the ability to keep two facts in one’s head at a time. Things can be bad, but still getting better. He takes as his reference point the year 1800, and he uses as a framework “Four Levels” at which the world’s population lives.
At Level 1, people live on less than $2 a day (extreme poverty) and total one billion people. At Level 2, three billion people live on $8 a day. At Level 3, two billion live on $32 a day, and at Level 4, one billion live at $64 and up.
“People such as you and me must struggle hard to grasp the reality of the six billion people with much less than us,” Rosling says.
In 1800, 85 per cent of people lived at Level 1. Now it is 12 per cent.
“We can now drop the term ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ and use the Four Levels more accurately.”
We skew our views toward negativity because “there is more surveillance of suffering,” than ever before, and there is “selective reporting.”
Also, we have 10 habits of mind that need to be challenged. These, Rosling calls “instincts:” The gap, negativity, straight-line thinking, fear, a misunderstanding of size, generalizations, blame, urgency, a single perspective and destiny. To illustrate generally, he reminds us there are 54 countries in Africa, a billion people all with differences.
Rosling’s 2018 book, completed just before his death from the cancer he had lived with for 40 years, entitled “Factfulness,” is our book group’s second study. One of our members brought a refutation of Rosling’s “optimism” (though he calls himself a “possibilist”), with an essay from www resilience.org. It argues he does not pay sufficient heed to climate change. It is going to be a case of holding two different ideas in one’s head, I think.
Dr. Hans Rosling, known for his animated lectures, uses rolls of toilet paper to illustrate world population growth for a standing-room-only audience.