Helga’s Heartlines: A Journal
Friday, March 1st, 2002.
Niagara Falls, New York.
A Confession: Prime Outlets shopping spree attended by pangs of conscience:
Feeding the Greed Gap....
You. Me. That’s what we’re doing, you do know that?
With an inkling of suspicion and a niggling of guilt you might well ask, “Whadda ya mean?” “Greed Gap?” Then intuiting the answer, retort “Speak for yourself!” and further respond defensively, “Why blame me?”
Yes, my friends, Greed is the operative word, here, but let’s be honest, it’s the Gap that makes us really uncomfortable. Pun intended. I mean the retailer, too, representative of and directly responsible for – along with we consumers – the yawning, widening chasm between the world’s Haves and Haves-Not. Were it not for the daily in-our-face reminders of the growing disparity between Us and Them, we could probably carry on quite comfortably in our reckless and indifferent self-aggrandizement. I’m not suggesting for one minute we shouldn’t wantonly flaunt our designer duds, if we so wish, but now that it’s no longer out of sight, thus out of mind, that the workers who make them are cruelly compensated, will we let ourselves live with it? How many millions does it take to constitute a decent profit along with humane treatment and a living wage?
Another for instance: our remarkable demand for more high-status energy-syphoning SUVs barely bothers us because it burns up non-renewable fossil fuels at an alarming rate and cumulatively degrades the environment. It does, however, stand in stark relief against the day-to-day evidence that confronts us in the media: millions can only afford to walk or bicycle, often barefoot; one billion children go to sleep hungry each night; the majority of human beings live in shacks, hovels and shanty towns, not monster homes and gated communities.
How quickly we forget! Was it only a few decades ago we had a serious energy crisis? Suddenly, effectively overnight, with concerted public and political will, we got conscientious and conservative and came up with smaller fuel-efficient vehicles, reduced speed limits, lowered costs and increased energy savings. For a while we turned the lights down at night in our urban centers. What happened? All too temporary, it was, though it showed us what could be done, if we so desired. We decided that sensible wasn’t sexy. Or sufficiently lucrative for some of us.
Why permanently reduce our dependency on Arab Oil and with it the whims of the Oil Cartel, the vicissitudes of mid-Eastern politics? Why develop and promote alternatives, or put longer-term priorities ahead of immediate profits? Thank goodness that scare ended! As in private life, however, we learn there is always a price to pay for everything, unwritten in our choices: that scare has translated itself today into a new and larger scare from the same part of the world: the Terrorism of fanatical Moslem Fundamentalists. I can’t help but think that Terrorism and the looming threat would best be diffused by addressing the legitimate grievances of its potential adherents, rather than putting so much effort into waging a traditional military-type War on Terror.
We know in our hearts what needs to be done. Recall the Biblical passage “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Invoke that song of the Sixties, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”. First, feed the hungry. Give them shelter. Assist the dispossessed to reclaim their despoiled lands. Help the world’s unfortunate have what’s most precious – clean drinking water, a piece of bread, a place to belong, simple human dignity. What we really need to do is forgive Third World debt. Why not? We do it routinely for Corporations and failing business propositions. That debt has been more than repaid; the Third World has been plundered in the name of progress. What we need, instead, immediately, for these countries is a new Marshall Plan. After all, we brought about their deplorable predicament through our unthinking choices. Let’s rethink and reengineer a more ethical and equitable World Trade.
Upward mobility and worldly success – Are they really meant to stand on the backs of unemployment and poverty and ecological degradation; exerting increased pressures for profit, grinding the practically prostrate into the dirt?
I’m here to tell you the whole business of Globalism, Neo-Liberalism, the New Capitalism, for some time, has been making me squirm. Bloated Big Business is making me sick! The Enron debacle – just the latest and largest abuse. Symptom of the free-for-all, yet not-so-free, Marketplace, with healthy competition swallowed up by monopoly. Be careful John Q Public: unbridled Capitalism will kill you, squash you like a bug! Who cares if millions lose their shirts as long as ‘Somebodys’ are making millions!
When profit and price are the only values that matter you have winners and losers, but you do not have “the greatest good for the greatest number”; you do not have democracy. You do not have the principles our Nations were founded upon. Instead, increasingly, large National and Multinational Corporations and those at the top of the pyramid have assumed political power, bought their way in, and/or dictate the National agendas. Big Business becomes the government and government becomes Big Business; each in the other’s pocket, and both in lockstep.
Thus, representatives regularly vote themselves pay raises and pension increases and offer tax breaks and incentives to Corporations, rather than assist able-bodied, willing and accredited working people to recover from the economic fallout of mergers and acquisitions, re-locations and layoffs. Corporate Executives scoop up huge annual bonuses while they scatter a mere pittance, a percentage or so, of employees’ salaries to them, as reward.
This System has evolved insidiously, yet irresistibly, like Continental Drift. All of a sudden the results are in, glaringly obvious, spotlight finally on the unnoticed ugliness. Look where we’ve moved! We got here one election at a time, one profit plan at a time, one interest or dividend income statement at a time, one stock purchase or sale slip at a time. Short-sighted. Always focused on the bottom line, one fiscal quarter at a time, one year at a time. There’s no such thing as a long term plan or looking ahead to see where we’re going, where we want to go, who we want to be, how we want to be remembered.
No One is to blame, specifically. It is all of us. Yes, I include me. Today, in celebration of my Birthday, I cross-border shop and find fabulous goods and fashionable attire with foreign labels, likely made in sweatshops, with slave and child labor. I must quit this! I must make more responsible and considered choices. I must use the power of my purse and my pen and my person. Thus, I look for and find quality material Made in USA: for example, lovely “Teatime” Heritage Lace for my townhouse. Work to rule, exercise my rights and such freedoms as I still have, to be sick when I’m sick instead of dragging my stressed, tired body to the office.
You really think there’s nothing You can do? The power of One is awesome. The combined power of We is magical. We must exercise it in every constructive way we can, lest we prove the inevitability of this observation and prophesy once again:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: "From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage."
-- Alexander Fraser Tytler (later Lord Alexander Fraser Woodhouslee), in "The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic,"
So, where are we now?
In my opinion:
"From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy"
Approaching the pinnacle of selfishness, with apathy kicking in....
Please--- Don’t be apathetic--- Do Your Thing!
As I endeavor to do mine.
~ Helga Marion Ross ~