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Generally speaking, we're clueless as to what happens in the rest of the world. For proof, try this experiment: mention in polite company that there are riots in the Ukraine where police are murdering protesters or US diplomats fueling the fires in Venezuela. Then wait. After about 10 seconds of motionless and blank stares (or up to your maximum patience threshold for an uncomfortable silence), ask if anyone knows where either country is on a map.

I'm not trying to make you lose friends after you embarrass them in public. We both know your friends are good people. If a murder occurred at a store a block away from where they live, it would be all the gossip in their neighborhoods. If they heard yelling outside their homes and looked out the windows to see a large group of people carrying signs, they'd want to know what's going on. People generally have kindness in their hearts. They are compassionate. They like to see others happy. It's human nature.

But when events appear outside their sphere (get it?) of familiarity? Meh.

The Internet makes the world a very small place. Yet one of the reasons our small planet is so unfamiliar is because what we are taught and what we are told are distorted from reality. As we learn more and more from Edward Snowden's heroism and courage (with appropriate accolades to heroic, courageous, and gallant reporters like Glenn Greenwald), we also now know that, oftentimes, reality is intentionally kept hidden. When people know the truth, their blood may not boil but, at least, it is stirred. What we see and hear shapes our perceptions.

Mercator projection of the world between 82u00b0S and 82u00b0N

Case in point: most everyone who ever had a bit of schooling has seen the Mercator map (even if you didn't know the name of it). Circa 1569, the man who termed the word "atlas" for a collection of maps, Flemish cartographer Gerard De Cremer (better known as Gerardus Mercator) released what is known as the Mercator projection: a mathematically derived view of the globe with equispaced, parallel vertical lines and horizontal lines that are spaced farther apart as their distance from the Equator increases. Cartographers call it a projection because it's not possible to accurately represent a sphere as a two-dimensional, flat surface. (The Earth isn't actually a perfect sphere - it's an ellipsoid.) The challenge with cartography is that any projection is always going to have some amount of geographical distortion, whether it be shape, size, distance, or direction.

The problem with the Mercator projection is that the scale is distorted. The more you move away from the Equator, the larger the distortion becomes. So you end up with places like Greenland (0.8 million sq. miles) looking to be the same size as Africa (even though Africa is about 14 times larger - 11.7 million sq. miles) and China (which is about 4 times larger - 3.7 million sq. miles).

As for the rest of the world? Meh.

While sailors can use a Mercator map for navigation, consider the psychology of looking at it without understanding its inherent distortion: depending on where you live, you might write-off the despair existing within other parts of the world because they look small and insignificant to you (if you even know where they are at all). "Why care about them? Who cares what happens in that small place? Where is it on the map? I can't even see it."

The Gall-Peters projection of the world map

Are there other maps that are better than those typically hanging in countless schoolrooms around the world? It depends on your standard - what's important to you? For example, Arno Peters who, interestingly enough, was a German filmmaker and received his doctorate by writing a dissertation on film as a medium for political propaganda, introduced his suggested equal-area map projection in 1974. There are many other alternatives.

Now imagine there is an alien invasion from another planet. They do not simply expel us from our homes, imprison us, slowly take our freedoms, and hide their malice and crimes. All of a sudden, people across the globe are being wiped out. To the aliens, humanity amounts to nothing. They are not interested in human values. They haven't any regard for human dignity. They haven't any consideration for what brings us joy or what makes us suffer. They don't consider the hell our families, friends, and neighbors endure from their attacks. They don't consider humanity in their actions at all.

As fellow human beings, what do we do? We exert the greatness of being human. We come together as one voice, and act appropriately. No longer are we quiet. No longer do we have separate voices. Thousands of miles become an immaterial distance to fight a singular enemy - an enemy whose purpose is to destroy humanity and the world we finally come to realize how much we love.

But, dear reader, I posit this question to challenge your world view: whether the joys of humanity are destroyed by an alien species or by a lack of concern, love, and respect for each other - no matter how many miles separate us - does it really matter?

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In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. - Carl Sagan

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