It’s a definite. Fat is the new thin. Remember when you parents told you to finish the food on your plate because of all the starving people in China? Times have changed. One sign of its extent is the new World Health Organization warning of a new scourge stalking the world — the scourge of obesity. “Once considered a problem only in high income countries, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings.”
Once the narrative consisted of blaming Americans for gorging themselves on the world’s resources. Unfortunately, as the New York Times sources are forced to admit, the fattest people on the North American continent are now the Mexicans. This posed serious problems for the writer, who gamely tries to emphasize the exceptionalism of American greed by casting it as the sinister number two. “As you can see, in rates of overweight and obese residents, the United States is second to only one industrialized country: Mexico.”
But fats are facts. Pancho Villa has now become Paunchy Villa. There’s been an outbreak of rising standards of living the world over. Even the WHO’s poster boys have changed. It now tells the heartbreaking story of childhood obesity in Africa. So it’s eat your argula kids, just remember the fat children in Africa.
None of this is to say that the world’s problems have ended. But it does make undeniable the fact that the character of the world’s problems have changed. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker tries to explain another puzzling aspect of the last 70 years: the Long Peace.
Violence may seem to be wherever we look, but the perception that we live in violent times is wrong, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said Tuesday evening during a talk at the Boston Public Library’s Honan-Allston Branch.
Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology and Harvard College Professor, said we’re actually in a period referred to by scholars as “The Long Peace,” which began at the end of World War II, and which is marked by the absence of war among the world’s great powers.
What could account for it? The answer, according to the article describing Pinker’s talk says, is “the rise of civilization, with centralized governments and disinterested third parties like police and court justices to resolve disputes.” This plus a surprising tendency among recent great powers to behave in a civil manner. “Nations that might be considered great powers, which once warred regularly, have had an extended period of peace.”
The whole problem of explaining the present is so nettlesome that the European Union’s “House of European History” museum decided to omit the mention of World War 2 altogether by the simple expedient of declaring 1946 the Year Zero for European history. “It celebrates the creation of the EU with barely a nod to the crisis raging all around. France’s recent history is marked by a picture of the Tour de France, and Germany’s by the famous Berlin address by Barack Obama in 2008.”
Farcically, it’s been decided to omit any exhibit on which agreement cannot be reached. And because of their differing views about World War II, the museum will begin with an EU ‘year zero’ of 1946.
But of the unpleasantness of 1939-1945 it will only say that there was an event called the “European Civil War”, which presumably was fixed by the European Union, without the slightest input from things called the United States, the former Soviet Union, China and the Empire of Japan.
Yet these absurd naming conventions are only further signs that the Narrative is now developing yawning gaps. For the current world crisis, like almost every other crisis is caused as much by what went right in the last 70 years as what went wrong. And the problem with the Narrative is that what should have gone wrong went right and what ought to have gone right went wrong.
What should have gone wrong is exemplified by Paul Ehrlich, a collaborator of President Obama’s current science adviser John Holdren. Ehrlich claimed on the first Earth Day in 1970 that “[i]n ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.” He predicted in 1971 speech that: “by the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”
It didn’t happen.
What should have gone right is summarized by Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. The Blue Model was supposed to have taken over the world. “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
It didn’t happen either.
The world is now going through a period in which among other things, the public mind is trying to get around what parts of the Narrative are still true; and how much has been falsified by history. The New Narrative, if it is to emerge, must be a sync with Reality. And in these cases the merge conflicts are where the action is. Naseem Taleb once observed that the really significant information in a given situation lies in what doesn’t fit the theory, for that indicates more precisely than in the conformities where the system needs to change.
Cosmologists have recently been debating what the failure of a survey to find Dark Matter signifies. “A survey of the galactic region around our solar system by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has turned up a surprising lack of dark matter, making its alleged existence even more of a mystery.” The good news is that when they eventually do find something, it may not be Dark Matter at all but a new and better way of understanding our universe.