0.54 percent. Negligible, in most contexts. Any number that leads with a zero is practically doomed to be lost in the pool of insignificance. And is that a bad thing? No, not usually. Our mind cannot possibly retain every number that we read, every detail that we hear, every graphic that we observe. If we did, those numbers, those details, and those graphics would all be shoved in the corners of our brain, reduced because of their lack of abnormality. So either way, 0.54 gets registered as worthless.
0.54 is the number I calculated when I wanted to know what percentage of the population is stuck in modern-day slavery. In a world of 7.6 billion people, 40.3 million¹ are victims of contemporary slavery. 40.3 million people. That number appears more important, dressed in its massive units. 40.3 million people is the number I read first before calculating what decimal of the population that equated to. And when I found that the number was less than one percent of the population, what thoughts did my brain turn to?
0.0054. That’s smaller than I had assumed. I wonder what the margin of error is.
I don’t know what drew me to want to calculate a new number. Was a decimal or percentage somehow more tangible than a count of people? No. So why then did I feel the need to create some new statistic? Maybe I just wanted to analyze the data in several possible ways. Maybe I was motivated by some hidden need to thrust my own value into the number by calculating something myself.
The seemingly worst part of it was that immediately after I realized the number was smaller than I had expected, I felt slightly disappointed. Of course, I am against slavery and hope that one day it will be permanently extinguished, but for whatever reason, I had depended on this number to carry some degree of weight that I did not feel it amounted to.
Do you know what the actual worst part of it was? That the number is not 0. That means there is at least one person in the world that is victimized by a practice they don’t deserve to be a part of. It doesn’t matter whether you think of the number as 40.3 million people or as 0.0054 of the total population. It doesn’t matter what the margin of error is. The point is that the number that exists is more than zero, and any number more than absolute zero is too much.
¹This statistic is from the 2016 data by the International Labour Organization (ILO).