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EL ESPECTADOR

Warming Up? Why The Best New Thinkers Are From The Third World

We may be witnessing the demise of the Western idea that climate determines how we think. Could it change the very way we look at the world, and ourselves?

The world's intellectual motor is rising from the south.
The world's intellectual motor is rising from the south.
Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

BOGOTA — The British magazine Prospect recently compiled its list of the world's most influential thinkers. Notably, three of the top five are from India, one is from China and the fifth from Latin America.

It's official. The world's intellectual center has moved from Europe and the United States to what we used to call the "Third World."

The history of this denomination was never clear. In my book Si Latinoamérica gobernase el mundo (If Latin America Governed the World), I suggested that the three-part division of the world during the Cold War era was really a belated, imperial and Christian version of the ancient, Aristotelian distinction between Asia, Europe and Greece.

Aristotle would have been inspired by the Platonic explanation of the relationship between soul and body, which ties the ability to think, and to do so constantly, to climate and the region in which one lives. In this ancient psycho-geography, excessively cold or hot climates prevented their inhabitants from using reason, and made them more erratic and less efficient.

The picture of the three parts of the world — cold, temperate and hot — and its impact on people's abilities in time became the framework in which continental hierarchies and their populations took shape, both in terms of their nature and their economic, legal and political capabilities.

A new way of thinking?

But the Prospect list may be a modest symptom of a fairly significant event: the beginning of the end of a picture of the world that has been dominant for some 2,000 years, and without which religion, gepolitics, the economy, international law and the global divisions in modern science and philosophy would be inexplicable.

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Topping the Prospect list, Indian economist Amartya Sen — Photo: NIH

If this is true, we face one of the most important transformations in history. Indeed, our understanding of what it is to be human may be entering into transition.

I have invited the Pensar Institute at Bogotá"s Javeriana University, alongside our friends in Brazil, the United Kingdom, India and the U.S., to join forces in order to observe this phenomenon and consider its implications. We have called this project "Transitions."

If, as Amartya Sen has said, tolerance of the intolerable derives from fallacious reasoning rather than humanity's supposedly selfish nature, then one should examine how the fallacy itself emerged from a worldview that says only one part of humanity is equipped to reason.

What if economic inequality were also explained in terms of such selfish prejudices born from this vision? Instead of selfishness, we might reason on the basis of compassion, as suggested by Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis), the fifth person on Prospect"s list of thinkers.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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