U.S. vs. Them: 10 Comparisons for a Better Perspective

A common form of illusion occurs when content is seen without context. Take, for example, how we perceive the size of an object. When we see an image of, say, an apple, on its own, without another object to compare it to, we mentally assign a certain size to the fruit based on our past experience with apples. If it looks really ripe and juicy and colorful, then we see a nice, big apple. But place it next to an extra-large orange and we see a different truth: our apple may in fact be very small. Compare the apple and the orange and the illusion is shattered.

I remember the first time I visited Cairo. I was still in my teens, and coming from the Midwestern United States I was immediately stunned by, among so many things, the masses of people and the poverty relative to the States. I had the sudden realization that most of the world lived more like this and not the way I lived back home. Illusion shattered.

Think about how you live and then visit ifitweremyhome.com. We introduced this site to you last last year to give you some idea about the size of the BP oil spill (“The Oil Spill Next Door: Size Matters”). We told how, with a click of your mouse, you could place a template of the map of the spill over your hometown – voilà, context. (From where I sit, near San Francisco, the damage engulfs Lake Tahoe and reaches all the way to Reno. That was one big apple.)

The site, developed by Andy Lintner and designed by Annette Calabrese, now has more to look at with a robust system that allows for the comparison of where and how you live to the farthest reaches of our planet. (The “disasters” function now also includes last summer’s devastating Pakistan flood.) In just a few minutes you’ll be able to do some serious work on the get-some-perspective front by doing things like this: Click U.S. Click Egypt. Learn many things, like if you were born in Egypt instead of the United States, you would use an average of 89.64 percent less electricity.

Here are 10 more U.S.-to-the-other-guys comparisons (based on averages) that’ll take the shine off of some of your illusions:

  1. In South Korea, you would have a 55.91 better percent chance at being employed.
  2. In Russia, you would die 12.08 years sooner.
  3. In Morocco, you would make 90.09 percent less money.
  4. In Germany, you would have 40.64 percent less babies.
  5. In Romania, you would be 83.33 percent less likely to have HIV/AIDS.
  6. In Canada, you would spend 45.33 percent less money on health care.
  7. In Norway, you would experience 44.44 percent less of a class divide.
  8. In Australia, you would have a 23.94 percent less chance of dying in infancy.
  9. In China, you would consume 90. 43 percent less oil.
  10. In France, you would have 17.92 percent more free time.

“The lottery of birth is responsible for much of who we are,” says the site’s homepage. It then asks the questions: “If you were not born in the country you were, what would your life be like? Would you be the same person?” Good questions, to be sure. How about this one: If you are who you are, but become better informed about the experiences of others with whom you share the planet, would you do anything differently?

Image: Dano

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at scott@adelson.org.