We live in strange times, our fruit comes from South America and our clothes from Pakistan, our electronics from China and our Cars from Germany or Korea, we don’t see the people who create what we surround ourselves with. We drive past the guys building our street so fast that we don’t ever see their faces and our grocery stores are enormous warehouses staffed by people we wouldn’t recognize 5 minutes after we first notice them, (if we ever notice them at all). My wife Cara used to be a barrista at Starbucks where they have a strict dress code, she had to wear a black shirt, khaki pants, a green apron and a visor or hat. I used to wait for her to get off work and was amazed at some people’s jerky treatment of Cara and the other employees, but she once told me that when she would “forget” to wear her hat that all the sudden customers got more polite. Suddenly she was a person and not an automaton delivering their goods, if they could see her eyes the customers had a harder time treating her poorly.
It comes as no surprise to me, therefore, that a surprising number of people in the U.S. believe and act as though their world could and would be better without all those faceless “others” in it. The far right decrys the poor and those not born into wealth as “lazy” and “welfare cheats”, the fundamentalists wish to punish and ban gays, and the angry white suburbanite fears and hates people with darker skin partly out of ignorance and partly out of the current myth that racism is “behind” us and its OK to let those historically fucked by the system stay that way. There is a lot of fear from these folks. Fear of change, fear of losing their inherited place at the top of the power structure, and fear of having to give their fair share to the rest of the world. We live like kids at the playground hording all the action-figures even if we couldn’t possibly play with them all we just don’t want the other kids having even one that we, maybe, might want to play with later.
In Sweden there is a concept called “Lagom” which roughly translates into “just enough“, it is a concept where everyone in society can exist at a reasonable level without leaving half the population to fend for themselves in an unbalanced “free” market. This sort of concept does not refer to people doing with less, rather it seeks for everyone to have an optimum of comfort. If you have a house full of junk and two storage spaces full of unused furniture (as a 2005 article pointed out , one in 11 of us has off site storage) then you do not have “enough” you have too much. We act as though we could never have enough, we want more and are ever unsatisfied, no matter the size of our television we want a bigger, louder one. A car that is 5 years old is now considered a dinosaur, we are living like the “hungry ghosts” of ancient china, where no matter what we eat it falls though us and we are ever unsatisfied. The old adage says “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” yet we keep buying that next new thing with the hope of it satisfying us when it time and again we see that it doesn’t.
The truth is that satisfaction comes from sharing. From taking care of our fellow humans. There is a reason that charity work feels good and hoarding feels sickening and it is one of the basic tenets of Buddhism. We are, literally, all connected to one another. You are your neighbor and he or she is you, this is why a society works even when half its members foolishly think they can exist without the rest. They can’t, and sadly, neither can we dispense with the childish, churlish, entitled selfish fools who swell the coffers of politicians and corporations who couldn’t give two shits about them. The fact is that we need each other, we are each other even though we are still individuals with our own thoughts and ideas, the fact is that we are all in this together. There is no perfect state of equilibrium, but there is the concept of “just enough” and we are living in an age when I believe that will happen.
I believe that the world is changing, we are aware as never before of the state of the world as a whole, we know what is going on on the other side of the Earth moments after it happens, we see, with tragic clarity, what happens when we ignore our fellow humans in their time of need and I believe that we are all moving towards that sort of awareness that leads to equality. I can see this and so can the selfish scared folks and it really freaks them the fuck out. Scared people get loud and right now they are screeching like a sack full of cats, it’s a little sad the lengths that people will go to avoid taking any responsibility for the world (and their fellow-man) but its going to happen whether they like it or not. Like a glacier the truth pushes forward sweeping away religious dictatorships in third-world countries and blind self-interest in ours, they can fight it, but its going to dawn on them sooner or later that the guy working down at the corner store is someone they need as much as he needs them.
It’s just a shame that they cant see it for themselves and we can start fixing the real problems sooner than later.