The headline for my town’s local newspaper reads: “Grant secured, library looks toward construction.” Do you think that this news makes me happy? No, it actually makes me glum.
The reason is that we do not need bigger, better, more of everything at the expense of the natural world. Our library is fine just the way that it is. It doesn’t need expansion and more glory. It serves perfectly well in its current form.
Ditto for our town’s high school before being revamped. We do not need a Taj Mahal fused with a five star luxury hotel to serve in the best way students’ educational needs. Besides, why should taxpayers have to pay for it, especially the ones living on very limited budgets?
The scoop is that it cost $73 million USD to construct. Obscene!
Isn’t quality education just about that – quality education and not about pumping the wealth-factor into it? How is learning greatly dependent on physical adornments and largess rather than the capability of highly qualified teachers and exceptional educational materials?
So in my view if we are all to pay for some town’s and other peoples’ desire for excess, then we should be made to help out people, who have way, way less. Especially if you live in the USA that has five percent of the world’s population, but uses fifteen percent of energy supplies and creates something like twenty percent of the various sorts of pollution, then there needs some adjustment. In short, we need to get “out there” and make reparations to others, who got harmed by unequal opportunities through no faults of their own.
Put another way, people should be obligated to help others if privileged themselves due to their having been born into opportunities that give them a mile-high leg’s up in the overall scheme of things. After all, why not? It’s no skin off of their backs if they do.
As a prelude to this following writing by a relative of mine, which she wrote in her undergraduate years, I’ll add the following:
She had to use rubberbands with socks around her hands and feet hitched up over her other clothing — shirt and pants — every night before sleeping so as to keep hungry vermin away from her body. She slept in a bed on the floor composed of straw, old grass as it was, covered in a sheet. To honor her service to the community in which she helped to build one small school, a chicken was killed.
Its death was a communal loss since it would no longer be available to lay eggs and every part of it was eaten during the meal celebrating my relative – the feet, the eyes, the brain and so on except for the feathers and pinions carefully plucked and scrubbed off by hand since meat eating was a luxury for these people engaged in school building.
Now as you read the description below, I want you to compare it to this obvious sign of wealth and possible greed that my town exemplifies. The contrast between my own town’s rapacious ways to gobble up the natural world and the severe need in other parts of the world should, then, become quite obvious.
Years ago, my relative wrote:
This past winter, I participated in a Service-Learning Project traveling to Nicaragua. This event was by far one of the best experiences of my life and it was, in many ways, a life changing one, too! Indeed, it has profoundly altered the way that I view the world, other cultures and our common humanity despite that the Nicaraguans and Americans live many miles apart.
I have currently been home for a month and even now it is hard to put into words the many ways in which this project was an incredible happening. All the same, I would like to try to do so by describing the trip:
Our project begin in Manogua, where we spent several days learning about the history, as well as the current political situation of Nicaragua. This was done primarily through lectures led by both American and Nicaraguan organizations. I think it is possible that I learned more about political science during this time than I could ever learn in a semester taking a political science course.
As part of this learning, our group had the opportunity to travel to a ‘maquila’ factory. A maquila is somewhat like a sweatshop. The maquila that we visited was manufacturing jeans for Wal-Mart. Visiting the maquila was a very profound experience.
It was hot, dirty and loud. And it was jammed with workers, who were (frantically) working very fast and hard so that they wouldn’t be replaced by others who would want to take over their jobs. Given this situation, no one dared to complain, take a few extra minutes for breaks, nor take much time off — even if they or a family member were gravely sick or dying.
These workers worked nine hours a day with only two very small breaks, and only had the small income $1.50 per day. This is not a lot of money because, while food is relatively inexpensive in Nicaragua, other items such as housing, deodorant, toothpaste, soap and other necessities can be quite pricey. Yet, this low wage is considered competitive since the unemployment rate is so high in Nicaragua.
After visiting the “Wal-mart” maquila, we had the uplifting experience of visiting a worker owned maquila. This maquila was quite inspiring since it was entirely built, owned and operated only by females. This is the only worker owned maquila in Nicaragua. The slogan of the maquila was “our sweat, our work, our profit.” In addition, it had much more humane labor conditions than the dreadful WalMart factory and it had a friendly, inviting atmosphere.
After leaving Manogua, we traveled into the mountain region to a coffee growing co-operative in the town of X. While there, I lived with a coffee growing family and participated in many facets of their daily life. I made tortillas with the mother of the family, washed coffee beans with the father of the family and sorted coffee beans with the children of the family. (Everyone worked — even the smallest child!)
This was by far one of the most unique experiences of my life. This is due to the coffee family living a life completely different from my own and, subsequently, looked at the world in almost a completely different fashion.
An example of this is evident through an exchange I had with my host father. I joked with my host father that I thought the rooster’s clock was broken since the rooster started crowing at 3:00 AM. My host father did not laugh and did not seem to understand the joke. Instead, he replied “no, no, the rooster is a great clock. It crows at 3:00 AM, at 4:00 AM and then, a bunch at 5:00 AM to wake us up.”
For my host family, the rooster was an object that served a function — nothing more. From staying with this family, it became evident, just how little is needed to live a happy life. Indeed, my family was happy, although they did not own many of the items commonly found in American homes, nor eat meat except extremely rarely when they are honoring a guest. Then, they would eat nearly everything of the animal — every part possible to consume.
The last place, we visited was a town called El Chague. While there, we lived with host families and worked alongside of community members to help with the construction of a school, the first that the town would ever have! Working along with the town members was an extremely inspiring and rewarding experience. El Chague is one of the poorest towns in Nicaragua and as a result, they sometime receive financial grants. For example, they received a grant to build the school that we were helping construct.
The majority of our three days working on the construction involved moving rocks and foundation materials. Indeed, this could have been completed by a bulldozer in around one hour. However, since we only had shovels, bare hands and wheelbarrows, it took much longer.
I enjoyed the time working with this cheerful community since it gave our visiting group the chance to get to know its members better. As a result of doing so, I became extremely impressed with their spirit of cooperation, as well as, especially, their hard work and dedication oriented towards improving conditions for all. So, they worked together joyfully without the self-centeredness, sense of competition and egocentricity that one can sometimes find in more affluent communities.
I could really ramble on for hours about my Service-Learning project and all that I have gained from this memorable time abroad! It has truly touched my life, and I feel so fortunate that I was able to participate!
Yes, we all need to feel fortunate to participate in serving the world. It’s far better than sucking up the natural world for one’s own voracious community whether in building lavish schools or excessively wealthy library extensions. Both sorts of self-serving advances in my view are unwarranted and repulsive, especially when the difference between the haves and the have-nots across the globe is factored into the mix.
People with visions of progress — meaning the take-down of more forests to supply lumber for building extensions and paper for books, the pull-out of the earth of more metals and minerals to build the substructures for building extensions, and a self-serving and relentless need to make further human developments — are dangerous. They are dangerous to the natural world, which has limited resources. They are dangerous to me as I watch deterioration of the world around me and they are dangerous to future generations as more and more of the world is gobbled away now that will no longer be available to future people. Frankly, they scare me and make me angry for further impending losses that self-serving humans propel forward in their desire for ever more in a world that can only take so much assault from us without ecological collapse.
Go ahead. Take it all down. Slam this natural world away to oblivion to build library expansions and more. However, you will not do so without a strong protestation from me and others of my moral ilk.
Frankly, I don’t want much from life. I don’t want to become a multimillionaire and suck up more resources for myself and my family. I don’t want my country trying to control other countries in resource wars that get “goodies” for corporations that some government leaders, subservient to big business, foster to indirectly line their own pockets and rise to power.
I’d just like limits in taking. Can we accept something at close to the bottom of the barrel to subsume in terms of that which we have cut back? If not, watch out about times to come as we scoop up more of the world for libraries and ever more that we think that we need and want, way more than an intact natural world can supply for our growing population.
Kenneth Boulding — ‘Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.’
Yup, this world is literally and figuratively coming down around our knees and our desire for ever more is to blame. So don’t blame me for wanting reasonable limits.
The Earth has been stripped of up to 90% of its species five times before in the past 450 million years. Now it’s happening again. … As increasingly accepted theories have argued—and as the Science papers show—we are now in the midst of the sixth great extinction, the unsettlingly-named Anthropocene, or the age of the humans….
It oughtn’t take appealing to our self-interest to get us to quit making such a mess of what we’re increasingly coming to learn is an exceedingly destructible world. But it’s that very self-interest that led us to make that mess in the first place. We can either start to change our ways, or we can keep going the way we are—at least until the Anthropocene extinction claims one final species: our own. – From Sixth Great Extinction: We’re to Blame | Time.com
As it is, humans already use a landmass the size of South America for agriculture and one the size of all of Africa for the animals that we use to eat. How much more do we need?
Frankly I don’t like these following images and the trajectory to go forward that they represent except for the last two pictures, which seem impossible to take place. Do you? If so, I pity you for your lack of vision about the future that will be dumped upon us all as we keep gobbling up the world around us since we equate structural development, such as a bigger library or high school, with improvements in our lives.
Sally Dugman is a writer from MA, USA.