And What We Should Do About It
The world is a difficult place for most of its inhabitants. They say we’ve broken the 7 billion mark of people, and the number is so staggering that we tend to not really have a concept of what that looks like. But as a person who has lived in one of the densest neighborhoods of Asia, I can tell you what it looks like.
It feels dangerous, not because you think you’ll get robbed, but because there are so many things to avoid to stay safe – fast scooters, sickness from water or dirty hands prepping food, street dogs, and in my case, a lack of understanding the cultural norms and standards.
Living in a neighborhood like that was an eye opener to me. There is nowhere to go to “get away from it all” and take a breather or get some space. There was no fresh air, except the day after a typhoon blew through, and I kept wondering why it felt so much brighter and lighter, until I realized that peeking through the six-story buildings around me was actually not a layer of smog but sunshine.
And the shocking reality is I was actually still living pretty well compared to much of the world’s population. I had food, a roof over my head, money in my wallet, and something to focus on and be productive with my time. Many, many people just don’t have those things. They’re starving, and dying, and it’s not a pretty sight.
I was shaken awake recently by watching that old movie from the 70s about Woody Guthrie, called Bound for Glory. In it, we see America during the Great Depression, and how Woody left his family behind to ride trains and try to make it in California. What amazed me was seeing all those good folks, those hard-working Americans, just trying to make it, and yet there was nowhere for them to go, not enough work, and rampant sickness.
It was a hard chapter in America’s history, and sadly, a lot of the world is like that today.
I want to do something about it. I want to help these people. I don’t want people in the world to be suffering. And the more I’ve looked into it, the more I’ve found that lots of people want to do something about it.
But we all come to the same issue. There are just too many. It’s too overwhelming. Although over 1 billion people in the world are overweight while 1 billion starve, the answers aren’t straightforward. We can’t just pass our leftovers to someone around the world. If the answers were simple, somebody would have probably succeeded by now. Read Stuffed and Starved to get a sense of the global food situation in the world today.
One can blame many different factors for world poverty. Whether it’s the old colonial argument about geography (folks in hot places are more disadvantaged), or looking at more sophisticated arguments like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. Or even more insidious, looking at John Perkins’ book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, where the big banks in essence forced developing countries to borrow money, thus creating bonded entities.
Living in debt is tough. I should know – right now I’ve got quite a lot of debt. Every time I think about it, I feel burdened and stuck. It’s like chains, holding me back from all sorts of potential and ideas. When you look at the debt of countries, it’s even worse. These entire nations, who are already poor, continue to lose their money to overseas banks, straight into the pockets of the world’s wealthiest, never to go toward helping rebuild their own land.
Money is an interesting dynamic – on the one hand, it’s created out of thin air by massive banking systems, mostly consisting today of digital 1’s and 0’s (over 95% in fact). On the other hand, being the item that we use for purchasing and trade, it is supremely important to understand and use properly, so that we do not end up in debt bondage, and so that we can afford basic human necessities, like food, water, shelter, and sanitation.
But money isn’t the answer, nor has it ever been. The good news for the poor isn’t money. In the words of Jesus, “If you can’t take it with you to the grave, don’t make it your focus in life.” (okay, I paraphrased, but he did say something like that)
Money isn’t the answer, but understanding it, and working within the current Domination System, is absolutely critical to the issues of global poverty today. I appreciate Lynne Twist’s book, The Soul of Money (which I highly recommend), because she speaks from decades of experience with this issue.
As she has poured her life into trying to help poor people around the world, she’s come to understand a fundamental issue at stake, and that is the one of “inner resources.” We need to change our perception and approach to money and wealth in order to thrive as humans. Poor people don’t just need money, they need an educational encouragement that redirects their focus and paradigm.
For those of us living in America today, this message of global poverty can feel out of place. We’re in a recession. Many of us are unemployed, in debt, and struggling financially. Yet we are still wealthy compared to billions of people. The fact that we have food, a roof over our heads, and money in our bank account places us in the top 10% of the world’s economy. Don’t think I’m right? Go to globalrichlist.com and input your yearly income. I put in $55,000 and came out in the top 0.24% richest people in the world by income! That makes me the 14,436,713th richest person on earth by income.
Let’s bring it down a notch – if I have a family of four and I’m at the poverty line in the USA for 2014, that means we’re bringing in a household income of $23,550. That puts us in the top 2.35% richest people in the world.
We are all rich in America when we look at the big picture.
Not that this helps us, when we are truly poor by the standards around us. But we need to have a fundamental paradigm shift in our approach to wealth, as Lynne Twist encourages, and recognize that we have so much to offer the world. We can, in fact, make a difference. We can reach out our hands to help save the drowning people.
But it’s not so simple, because we have enemies. If all we had to do was give others a hand, we might stand a chance, but they, and us, are being beaten down constantly by an evil System so corrupt and so all-encompassing, that we are overwhelmed. We win one battle for justice only to realize that we’ve lost nine others while our backs were turned.
Any example will work. Let’s take saving the Grand Canyon from getting a dam put in the middle of it. That was a big deal in the 50s. It had passed legislation, and was going to happen for sure, until environmental activists got it splattered all over the press and the people of America cried out. So, the Grand Canyon was spared – meanwhile, another dam was built just down the river, and numerous other environmental firsts were happening like chemicals dumped, nuclear weapons tested, not to mention human rights trampled on around the world. Countries were forced into debt. The world’s poor grew in number.
Or take the human rights fight that we celebrate today with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Now there was a serious victory. A pedestal we can all stand on – all people are equal, no matter their race. Going back to the late 1800s, we see the beginnings of this fight with the 14th Amendment. It was written to give black people the vote. Yet in the 20 years after it passed, 288 of the cases regarding it were for corporations using it to claim personhood, and only 17 were for black people.
We are under attack, and it isn’t pretty. We need an action plan – a plan of attack to help us navigate these treacherous waters. For that, I turn to the brilliant work of Walter Wink, in his book Engaging the Powers. He says we need to look at the bigger picture when dealing with injustice – it’s a battle that’s been raging behind the scenes for centuries, in fact millennia.
As it says in the book of Ephesians 6:12, in the Bible: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
For those who may be skeptical, just look at history. There has always been repression. There has always been a vast majority of people who are decent, down-to-earth folks, and those who would rule over them. Yes, I know I’m generalizing, and that some native cultures may have been more innocent, but overall, this is a trend that is truly dominating our world, especially today.
All one has to do is read the news headlines for two minutes to find numerous instances of injustice on a massive scale. People today are fed up with the injustice, and fighting back in their own way, whether violent or peaceful. And that begs the question: How do we do battle with these forces of evil?
Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. I’ve come across many ideas which are captivating. I see success when looking at the lives of people like Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr, or Oscar Romero. These people stood up for humanity, even in the face of death.
Maybe it’s just because we’re in the information age, and know so much more now, but it seems like that isn’t enough anymore. The Domination System is much too pervasive. It takes over and crushes every resistance, oftentimes by doing nothing more than “business as usual.”
But there is hope. And if there’s anything I can leave us with, it is this. There is hope. There is goodness in this world. There is light. As a Jesus follower, I find my source of light there, and I believe that the light is all around us – we can find it anywhere we go, even in the darkest prison, because it is wired into creation, wired into our very beings, and nothing can take that away.
Yes, we have that light, and the people of this world are all tremendously important. It is time we do something. it is time to let the light shine more brightly against the darkness.
For everyone, this battle may take on different forms, depending on your gifts and passions. I’ve felt compelled to investigate cheap energy and wholesome agriculture as two integral components of what everyone on our planet needs to thrive, but there is much, much more.
The problem is when we sit on our couches and watch TV with what little free time we have. We can’t allow ourselves to be governed any longer. We need to stand up and seize the freedom that we deserve. In the powerful words of Michael Franti, “You’ve got to let go the remote control!”
And so this is my challenge to all of us. Let’s ease up on entertainment, and put more energy into fighting for truth and justice. Let’s seek together to end some of these ills that are prevailing our planet today. Yes, I know the powers and the Domination System will always fight back, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile battle. It is worth our very lives.
And I, for one, want my life to be worth something.