Not too long ago I was sitting at the table writing, one ear keeping tabs on the news from Sri Lanka where a coordinated set of bombs shattered the peacefulness of Easter Sunday. At the moment, the death toll is over 300, ISIS is claiming responsibility, and people around the world are wondering why memos detailing names and places related to the bombings were not heeded. The terrorist attacks were devastating not only for Sri Lankans but people around the world as citizens of at least 12 different countries were killed in the blast.
Naturally, such a disaster invites all manner of news reporting and in one set of interviews on NPR an English speaking woman told the reporter, “I’m sad but I can’t really be too angry. This is just where we are now. These things happen.”
The woman’s statement caught me short. While my nature is to react to events like this with a mixture of shock, anger, and disgust, the reality is that such events are happening around the world with such frequency that we’ve begin to normalize them, accepting that no matter where we are at any given time, something bad could happen. There’s nothing we can do about it.
On one level, this direction of thinking bothers me deeply. I don’t want to believe that there’s nothing we can do to stop terrorists from attacking innocent people. At the same time, however, looking over the course of my lifetime, even if we just limit it to the period starting with the 1972 Olympics in Munich and coming forward, one would have to logically assume that no, we cannot do anything to stop terrorists. Not only are we not successful at stopping them, since September 11, 2001, the number and frequency of attacks has only increased. Global intelligence and security agencies are, collectively, lousy at protecting people from terrorists.
Yes, I know that is a gross over-generalizations. Police and security agencies don’t talk about the hundreds of plots that they foil because of the level of feel that information would likely incite among the general public. When someone like the FBI or Secret Service does give us a glimpse of their secretive work, the numbers are mind boggling. They are stopping a lot of attacks.
But the agencies cannot stop all the terrorists and the volume of attempts has been so great that while the ratio of planned terrorist attacks might have gone down, the real number of successful attacks has increased. Then, we see instances such as Sri Lanka where the warnings were there, the people responsible were named, and still, nothing was done to prevent that horrible atrocity from occurring. While officials in some countries may be doing their best to prevent terrorism, others obviously are not.
I sit here deeply bothered by the statement, “This is just where we are now.” Is it, really? Among the many pieces of information to which I subscribe is a service called Statista. Statista does exactly what its name implies: compiles statistics. For people like me who want to see the real numbers, it is both a valuable resource and, occasionally, a rabbit hole consuming massive amounts of time. I looked through some of their recent works and found this snapshot of “where we are now.
Statistics We’d Rather Ignore
Looking further than just the matter of terrorism, which is no small issue, we find that the state of the entire world really is quite a mess. I’ve assembled a set of statistics here across a number of troubling issues. Any of them could be a lengthy conversation if we had the time.
For those of us who like breathing, air quality is an increasingly alarming issue both globally and in the United States. Remember these statistics when a certain president talks about how “unfair” air quality regulations are on certain businesses.
From Plato forward, the world’s greatest minds have agreed that a free and public press is a critical element in maintaining freedom. Yet, increasingly, and most noticeably in the United States and Europe, those freedoms are eroding. Yell “Fake News” all you want, the news media in many cases is the only reason more people are not slaves to their governments.
The amount of debt incurred for the sake of education has reached a level that we cannot sustain. This isn’t new information, but perhaps a graphic representation of the severity of the problem might help us focus on the need to do something to reverse this trend.
Earth Overshoot Day is the point at which we’ve spent the world’s entire natural resource budget for the year. This is how severely out of balance the earth’s population is with natural sustainability, leading to famine, disease, and natural disasters.
Measles is a disease we can eliminate. Completely. All that’s required is taking a shot. Funny how that becomes a difficulty for a lot of people. The United States isn’t on this list YET, but just wait, we’re not that far from reaching the numbers of less developed nations.
While most of the developed countries of the world recognize that capital punishment does not achieve any practical purpose, there are still a number of places where execution of prisoners is disturbingly high. And yes, the US is on this list.
Infrastructure is likely to become a significant issue in the 2020 campaigns, or at least it should be. The country’s roads and bridges have been neglected to the point they are a matter a national security in many places. Remember, the whole purpose of the Interstate System was to facilitate rapid movement of the population in the event of attack. We can’t do that if roads and bridges are falling apart.
In addition to the places on this map, the ILGA, an international federation campaigning for LGBT rights, homosexuality is punishable by up to eight years in prison in 31 countries and 10 years to life in prison in another 10 countries. Understand, these people can be imprisoned not for doing something wrong, but because they were born different from the status quo.
From Statista’s report:
Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election by spreading misinformation via social media have been well documented and widely discussed. While the investigation as to whether the Russian government coordinated its efforts with the Trump campaign is still ongoing, Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom of the Net report reveals that the United States wasn’t the only country whose election has been meddled with over the past year. According to Freedom House, online manipulation and disinformation played a key role in the elections in at least 18 countries between June 1, 2016, and May 31, 2017.
And if all that isn’t depressing enough, let’s get back to what started this whole conversation: Terrorism. Sure, all the expected players are there such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but scroll down. Just below Kenya, barely above Ukraine, sits the United States. We don’t like calling the most recent synagogue shooting an act of terrorism, but it is. We don’t like calling our daily mass shootings terrorism, but they are. We are the highest developed country on this list. Shouldn’t we be doing more to stop this problem?
Statistics That Should Be More Positive
Okay, so all those statistics are depressing. If we only look at the world through such a dark lens, depression is inevitable. Surely there are some more hopeful statistics somewhere, something that says we’re not all doomed. Right? There’s some positive news out there, somewhere …
Let’s start with paid leave for Dads. That sounds like a wonderfully progressive issue that has really gained a lot of steam among working parents around the world. These numbers are encouraging … until one gets to the bottom and realizes that the United States has none. Zero. Zilch. Although, the same applies to women in the US as well. None. Uhm …
Okay, that one maybe didn’t work out so well. What about health? Aren’t Americans supposed to be all consumed with how healthy we are? Sure, if we totally ignore the statistics earlier about air quality as it relates to health, most Americans are pretty health conscious. Well, up to a point. Apparently, being interested in healthy food doesn’t translate to actually being healthy.
Okay, so we’re not all that healthy. At least we’re happy, right? Don’t most of us have that going for us, being all happy and stuff. Sort of. Happiness seems to rely dramatically upon where one lives. One can make the argument that it is easier to be happy when one is around other people who are happy. In that case, perhaps we should all move to Finland. Although, that might make the Finns unhappy.
This is totally not going the direction I expected it to go. I’m asking about topics that should totally be positive and encouraging and that’s not what I’m getting.
How about education? Okay, there was that chart earlier about education and debt, so we know that’s a problem, but at least our kids are learning, right? Isn’t there something positive in those numbers? Well …
Now I’m just frustrated. There has to be some good news somewhere. We’re not totally living in a dystopian world without any source of hope, are we? There’s good news somewhere, right? What about technology? Everyone loves technology and it’s doing great things to improve our lives. At least, that’s what I thought.
Statistics That Don’t Matter Until They Do
When we look at the condition of everything in the world, it becomes difficult to find things that are positive to say about “where we are now.” Sure, there is some encouraging progress in some areas, but the closer we look the more we realize just how far we still have to go to reach things such as gender and racial equity, things that most of us know should be default by now. We’ve been working on this whole equality thing over 60 years. We should have this figured out!
I’m not inclined to leave this topic on a dark note, however. I can’t. So, in the absence of truly positive news, here are some statistics that may not matter to you at all, unless they do.