Thursday, January 22, 2015

Good news and hope in 2015

The media leave us with an impression of doom, because good weather and good people never make the news. But there are new great things happening this year. I found four, and I am grateful to have lived long enough to see this.

1. On line education: another Year of the MOOC

More and more people follow free courses on the Internet, especially with the emergence of the MOOCS. 
MOOCS stand for Massive Open Online Courses, free college level lectures delivered by some of the best institutions on earth (so far from 45 different countries).  2012 was already tagged as the year of the MOOC by the New York Times, but since then, their progress has been incredibly fast.
For instance, I am following a French sociology course today, just for the fun of it, and there are participants in 174 countries. There are only 195 countries in the world, this participation is really amazing. 
I am well aware that a great many people have no access to a computer, that some countries impose a tight control on the web, and that there are illiterate people everywhere.
But also anywhere in the world, imagine what one person can accomplish, with the right access to democratic ideas, irrigation, medicine, art or good information on climate change!
Ideas are very hard to stop.

2.  Our health, ourselves

Half a century ago, the only hard-core medical idea that was well transferred to the general population was the necessity of a good hygiene and the fear of invisible pathogens. Nowadays, we have been elevated to a new level: if we don't smoke, watch what we eat and are active enough, we will live longer and be in better health. It is not just about seeing the doctor anymore and being told what to do. Our health has become our responsibility: we are in charge of most of it.

3. Medical justice

The human right to health is a recent idea. It was proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights but neglected by many world organizations including the World Heath Organization (you can Google and read the thesis of Benjamin Mason Meier 2009 if you want to know how it happened). Nowadays the WHO has changed its mind: "In the 21st century, health is a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defense against transnational threats." Influential medical journals like The Lancet have evolved also from a world of medical charity to the notion of the right to health.
One good news is that life expectancy has steadily increased in developing countries in the last half-century.
One of the troubling discoveries of these last years is that even in countries (like most of Europe) where access to health is free to all, there remain large disparities between social classes.
Look at what happens if you follow the metro (or Tube) in London rich and poor neighborhoods: your life expectancy can be over ten years shorter depending where you live. I think that ten years ago, we didn't even know that there was any difference. But there is a 10 to 15 years difference of life expectancy between white-collar and blue-collar people in Germany and in France as well.

SOURCE: Google "Lives on the Line" to see the full map produced by James Cheshire, UCL CASA, June 2012. Journal article reference: Cheshire, J A. Lives on the Line: Mapping Life Expectancy Along the London Tube Network. Environment and Planning A 44(7). Doi: 10.1068/a45341. 

How is this good news?  It is an opportunity to better understand how we relate to our own health.

4. We recognize the dangers of corruption
For a very long time after World War 2, corruption was considered as a "necessary evil". It was, for instance, common to the US government to protect dictators in place against democrats during to Cold War. In Spain for instance, from Eisenhower to Nixon, General Franco did benefit from the help of the US (General Franco was a loyal friend and ally of the United States, President Nixon). After the coup d’état in Greece in 1967, Senator Metcalf criticized the US administration for aiding a "military regime of collaborators and Nazi sympathizers."
American businesses had the same practical ideology (realpolitik), giving bribes to obtain contracts. 
Nowadays, most courtiers recognize that corruption is hurting everybody. It is all very new!
For instance back when the Berlin Wall fell, in 1989, businesses from developed countries rushed to the new markets, without wondering first about how to cooperate with corrupt officials and corrupt institutions. As a consequence, they inadvertently created the most dangerous and powerful mafia in the world.
The USAID - The U.S. Agency for International Development now says:
"Countries weak in government effectiveness, rule of law, and control of corruption have a 30 to 45 percent higher risk of civil war and significantly higher risk of extreme criminal violence than other developing countries.
In 2012, 97 countries were considered very or highly corrupt."
 See also the International monetary fund Search on Corruption  (start ≈ 1997)
Corruption is “Public Enemy Number One” in Developing Countries, says World Bank Group President Kim December 19, 2013
 The OECD - Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  (start ≈1999)


1 comment:

Cerulean Bill said...

French Sociology in French?

I liked all that you wrote here, by the way....