Monday, January 5, 2015

the hard questions

It is often said that we ask far fewer questions about the world as we get older. That we settle into complacency and begin to feel less curious about this big, wondrous universe of ours. And in some ways, that’s true. I personally no longer throw a barrage of questions to those around me about every single sight, sound, touch and taste that I experience. However, I am also finding that as I age, I am starting to ask the bigger questions, and to ask them far more forcefully.

When we are little we are quickly taught how the world works: the sky is blue, you cannot fly (trust me, I tried for years), if you do something bad you will be sent to your room, if you do something really bad you will be sent to prison, and that you should finish all of your vegetables because there are starving kids in Africa. But we are never taught why there are starving children in Africa, or why it is predominantly the poor and mentally ill filling our prisons.

Instead, it is all told to us very matter-of-factly, as if that is just the way the world works. And for a long time, I thought that was the case.

It has only been over the past year that I’m really starting to wonder: what is wrong with us?

We teach our children that money, and the possessions that it buys, are everything. We are constantly bombarded by images of things that we don’t have, but which the advertisements promise will make our lives complete. We chase dreams that we don’t want in order to make the funds necessary to buy things that we won’t ever use. We exclaim in glee over five dollar dresses that are made by children far away; children who are slaving away in factories for twenty hours a day for a wage that isn’t even enough to feed them. We idealise fancy looking people in suits and dresses, equating their money with success and goodness, no matter how they came about it. We praise business owners who make their profits by taking advantage of the aforementioned children, while vilifying the poor who break the law in order to get a taste of what we throw in their faces everyday as the ideal.

We treat money as a god and then get angry when people sacrifice their compassion, empathy, and sometimes even humanity, in order to bask in its light.

And the worst part of all is that the majority of society’s problems; the gap between the rich and the poor, the 800-900 million people going hungry worldwide despite the world producing enough food to feed everyone, and the fact that approximately three million children die annually due to malnutrition; are 100% manmade, and will only be changed when we all start to ask the hard questions.

The system is broken. It relies on the exploitation of the poor by the rich in order to keep this capitalist world of ours spinning. Poverty is not an unwanted or unnecessary by-product of capitalism: it is the very heart of it. It is what keeps it alive.

Despite this beautiful world of ours providing enough for everyone to have adequate food, clothing and shelter, we have set up a system, in our greed and folly, that denies these basic human rights to so many. As Jack London states in his book, The People of the Abyss (a brilliant read by the way), poverty comes down to one thing and one thing alone: mismanagement.

'It is inevitable that this management, which has grossly and criminally mismanaged, shall be swept away. Not only has it been wasteful and inefficient, but it has misappropriated the funds. Every worn-out, pasty-faced pauper, every blind man, every prison babe, every man, woman, and child whose belly is gnawing with hunger pangs, is hungry because the funds have been misappropriated by management.'

People do not have to go hungry. People do not have to freeze to death from lack of adequate shelter. Despite what we are taught from before we can even speak, it is not the natural state of things. It is not simply another sad fact of life. Rather, it is the outcome of humanity’s greed, and something that could be changed in a moment were we to stop treating it as if were anyone else’s fault other than our own.

Charity, while I would never advocate stopping it, does not suffice. It is nothing but a Band-Aid, and an inadequate one at that. While we like to say that the richest man/woman in the world could feed the hungry masses if they weren’t so greedy, that is simply not true.

One person cannot change a world that relies on poverty in order to function.

This is not to say that humans are naturally cruel. I personally have not met anyone in whom I haven’t seen at least a hint of kindness. In fact, and pardon me for quite possibly being na├»ve, I do believe that people are inherently good. Kindness, compassion, and empathy are an intrinsic part of us: we aren’t born craving money or thousands of possessions. It is something that is taught to us from a young age, and it is through these lessons that we begin to lose touch with all of the goodness that we were born with, and we begin to turn a blind-eye to all of the world’s problems that don’t directly affect us.

We need to start looking closely at our values, and ensuring that the way we live our life is in line with them. If you don’t condone animal cruelty, don’t buy cosmetics that are tested on animals. If you find it horrifying that many workers overseas aren’t paid a living wage, buy fair trade products. And if you too are starting to find the mass starvation and poverty in our society abhorrent, begin asking the hard questions. Stop waiting for other people to fix things, while you live a life of excessive consumerism and thus feed into the idea that money is worth far, far more than the millions of human lives that are taken because of it.

Who knows, if you begin to ask the questions, you may even be the person to come up with the answer that we all so desperately need.


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