The general store

November 23, 1994

Comment by Del Cassidy

With airplanes carrying passengers half way around the world in less than a day, the technological revolution that began in the last century has compressed the world in time if not in actual distance.

Rapid travel, however, is only one of the building blocks in the creation of the emerging "global village". Today, widely separated places and peoples are linked through a web of trade and dependence, while television carries events around the globe in the blink of an eye. Occurrences in any part of the world can have repercussions thousands of miles away.

Like a well-stocked general store, the earth contains everything we need for survival. Daily, each of us goes into this store to fill his/her needs. We don't all enter at once, however, but in a predetermined order. In effect, we must show our ticket at the door, and that ticket is money. The more money one has, the nearer the front of the line one is permitted.

If everyone who entered the store left with only what he or she needed, there could be enough for all. Unfortunately, we have not evolved to such a point of altruism. Many of those toward the front of the line take more than necessary. Indeed, while each of us could easily carry all he/she needs, some haul supplies away by the truck load.

By the time those toward the end of the line enter the store, its shelves are empty. In this terrible game of musical chairs, 60,000 people are left out each day. Unable to secure the necessities of life, more than 22 million of us, mostly children, die each year from hunger and hunger-related causes, while millions more are left to eke out a miserable existence on the edge of survivability.

The World Watch Institute estimates that each child born in a so-called "developed nation" puts a strain on the world's resources comparable to about 40 or 50 born in the poorer nations. North Americans, Europeans, Australians, Japanese and a handful of others take as much as 50 times more supplies from the village's general store than absolute necessity requires.

While we tend to blame ignorance, high birth rates, warfare, and poor planning in the Third World, a significant factor in international poverty lies in the wasteful consumption patterns of the richer nations. Those nations exist as huge sinks, draining away the world's resources. My own consumption of food, energy, lumber, even coffee and flowers, contributes directly to those 60,000 deaths each day and to a world awash in suffering and pain.

I believe people are basically "good". Few humans can remain untouched by the sight of suffering. The outpouring of love and concern a few years ago resulting from television pictures of starving children is indicative of true "human nature". I don't want to hurt my neighbour, even if that "neighbour" lives half a world away and speaks a language incomprehensible to me. It is difficult though to see the connection between my own desire for "the good life" and the cost it may force on that neighbour.

The general store's resources are finite. If the 45:1 ratio is correct, then to bring the rest of the world to the standard of living I enjoy would be equivalent to a world population in the neighbourhood of 180 billion, while each child I have increases that relative number by another 45.

Those of us who are "rich" need to recognise that much of our wealth is at the expense of others' poverty. There is a direct connection between my life style and the 60,000 people who died yesterday, those dying today and those who will die tomorrow.

Those of us living in throw-away societies need to redefine "the good life" to reflect those things that actually improve the quality of our lives. That doesn't include 1600 hours a year in front of the television set; nor ever bigger, fancier, cars, houses or clothes. Nor does it include "make-work" jobs that turn our energies to producing ever more "consumer goods" that simply provide some sort of scorecard for "keeping up with the Joneses".

We do live in a "global village" and that village has but a single store. While our "human nature" pushes each of us to struggle toward the head of the line, the "spark of the divine" that also resides in us whispers, "Be fair. Don't push. There's enough for all."

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