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Name: Tyler
Location: Mountain View, California, United States

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

a measure of civilization

civilization = opportunity available to every individual

It might be good to have a way to measure civilization, since it's certainly something we want to improve throughout the world, and (a fact which I think is often overlooked), things are not always improving. If you compare the enlightened advances made by Greek polymaths and efficient Roman administration to the backwards thinking and atrocious living conditions of the dark ages, you might be able to imagine how such a relative change might still occur from our current seemingly-secure quality of life. It's not an Orwellian dystopia or world war III we should fear so much as it is a gradual and subtle shift of cultural and moral attitudes toward dogmatic, authority-based, or mystically-inspired modes of "thinking".

The point is that we should keep our eyes open to how well the world is doing.

Of course, there are too many factors and subjective terms to immediately quantify "civilization" as if it were some kind of test score. Nonetheless, numbers, as objectively defined as is reasonably possible, are less likely to fall prey to misinterpretation.

So how can we quantify opportunity? As any engineer is likely to suggest, when you're trying to improve the overall performance of a complex system, it's a good idea to start with the bottlenecks - the pieces that are holding everything else back.

With that in mind, I propose that we could currently use the number of years of wasted life as a number for how much the world could be improved. It will be a great day when we can pragmatically measure opportunity and civilization in some more optimistic terms, such as average years of education per individual, or amount of nutrition practically attainable to anyone. For now it seems that preventable (by education or otherwise) diseases, conditions, or circumstances (such as war or human-created accidents) is certainly the most significant reason typical for an individual to be deprived of a great deal of living opportunities.

To list just a few major preventable causes of death at large today in the world:

causedeaths per year (approx)source(s)
HIV/AIDS3 million1
vehicular accidents1 million1
malaria1 million1
measles1 million1
malnutrition/bad drinking water1 million2
war1 million (est.)3, 4, 5, 6

Current (very rough approximation) civilization score (in #deaths / year): -8 million


Blogger Jean said...

cool definition!

12:25 AM  
Blogger t said...

thank you!

10:53 PM  

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