A glimpse of life in the `global village'

In the quarter century since Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase ``global village,'' the term has become an indispensable shorthand to describe the shared destiny of earth's far-flung communities. What is life like for the inhabitants of what Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman cosmonaut, says she saw as a ``fragile and defenseless earth,'' while she circled the planet in a Soviet space capsule about the same time Professor McLuhan expanded our vocabulary?

The community's profile might surprise even the best informed residents.

If this metaphorical village consists of 100 families, according to Raimon Panikkar of the University of California at Santa Barbara, then some 90 do not speak English and 65 cannot read.

Some 80 families have no members who have flown on airplanes and 70 have no drinking water at home.

About 60 families occupy 10 percent of the village, while seven families own 60 percent of the land, says Professor Panikkar. Seven families consume 80 percent of all available energy, and only one family in the village has a university education.

The inequities of our village have worsened in the past generation, says Panikkar. Many observers now doubt that the majority of the world's population will ever share in the wealth of the privileged minority and say that future generations must lower their material expectations.

``It is difficult to convince people in the South [the developing countries] that they can't have the glittering affluence of those in the North [the industrialized countries],'' says Wangari Maathai of the University of Nairobi.

Journalist Tarzie Vittachi recalls that he once asked advice from India's Mahatma Gandhi about this problem. Mr. Vittachi says his advice now applies to the whole world and not only to the people of Asia.

``Reduce your wants and supply your needs,'' Gandhi told the journalist more than 40 years ago. ``Our needs make us vulnerable enough. Why increase our vulnerability?''

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