Most of us, especially those of us living in the west, tend to have a distorted view of the world. That view is heavily shaped by the dominant media platforms, which overwhelmingly reflect ‘western’ perspectives and obsessions. 

Very, very rarely do the views of the majority of the world’s people impinge on our thinking, except perhaps negatively. Our obsession with personal economic wealth, ever-expanding growth and narrowly defined ‘security’ routinely blinds us to the realities of the current and future shape of our world.

We ignore or deny this reality at our peril for, like it or not, we all share this profoundly unequal,  unjust, and deeply interconnected world. 

There are 8.1 billion of us in the world. Most of us do not live in the ‘West’ and, as a result, do not share our worldview.  Recognising and reflecting on this reality and its implications for our future is vital to everyone’s well-being.

Knowing and understanding that ‘we’ are not alone in this world is fundamental to moving forward together. The stories we repeatedly focus on and the events and patterns we report, and debate are those happening within the richest of nations.  It is often as if the rest of us (and alarmingly the planet) did not really exist.

All too often, our focus is extremely narrow, routinely ill-informed, and ethnocentric. 

When teaching, I often do a simple exercise of inviting participants to imagine a world of 100 people. I ask how many live in Asia, Africa, Europe and so on? The results are often quite staggering – routinely, popular perceptions of the world’s geography are hugely distorted. The consequences of such distortions can be immense economically, politically, socially, culturally, and of course, environmentally.

In 2023, 59 of those 100 people lived in Asia, 18 in Africa, nine in Europe, eight in Latin America and the Caribbean, five in North America and less than one in Oceania. 

The other side of the equation, the distribution of the world’s wealth shows a similarly uneven pattern but in reverse.  In 2022, Africa shared just over 1% of all wealth, Asia 38%, North America 32%, Europe 24%, Latin America and the Caribbean 2% and Oceania about 1%.

Structured and sustained (and increasing) inequality in wealth is now a dominating characteristic of our world.  It will have a determining influence on all our futures.

The vast majority of the world’s people remain very poor, with the poorer half of the world (some 4 billion people) living on less than US$6.70 a day.  Those of us living on US$30+ a day, are part of the richest 15% of the world (US$30 a day is roughly equal to poverty lines set in high-income countries). 

The poorest 10% of people continue to try to survive on less than US$2 per day.

We like to believe that our wealth (in world terms) is due to our hard work, our innate skills, and our creativity.  Conversely, ‘their’ poverty is somehow vaguely due to their lack of hard work, skills, and creativity.  Or so it is politically and culturally convenient for us to believe.

Yet the vast bulk of serious and sustained research indicates something entirely different. In a world with such vast inequalities between (and within) countries, it is not who a person is that determines whether they are well-off or poor, but where they live. 

People’s personal traits and characteristics matter much less than the one factor that is entirely outside our control - whether we are born into a large, productive, and wealthy economy or not.  Where you live isn’t just more important than all your personal characteristics, it’s more important than everything else. 

The random roulette game of birth remains inordinately cruel and unfair, even if so many of us refuse to recognise this and even attack those who have lost out to its capriciousness. 

Geography (and history) matter and matter greatly. They are key elements in the underlying logic of past and current migration stories as Malta knows well from its own history and geography.

Recognising that our standard of living and consequently much of our linked well-being depends heavily on that roulette game should matter significantly for our self-understanding and our view of others, especially disadvantaged others.

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