Friday, February 26, 2010

How I Plan to Dismantle the World's Economy

I despise sneakiness. If people have agendas, I think they ought to at least be honest enough to admit them.

I started writing on the first barkingreed site in 2004, which means I've been at it for about six years now. I have spent a little time recently mulling over what all those words have been pointed towards, and I think I've finally got it and am ready to admit what I have been up to. So here is my agenda - up front, and in English:

I am trying to dismantle the United States Economy.

Mostly, of course, I have been writing to try to get people to love and affirm me. But as I look at the overall tenor and thematic direction of my work, it seems to me that my secondary purpose has been to get everyone else to spend their money exactly the way I do.

There are complicated reasons for this. Like, for example, the guilt I feel for being raised the child of wealthy missionaries in the middle of obvious, real poverty; and the belief I hold that the way I spend my money palpably demonstrates what my values are, and who I am as a person.  The result of these and other things is that I have struggled to always maintain an understanding of the difference between wealth and poverty that is based not on my socio-cultural circumstances (a rich whitey in America), but on the reality of the situation. While I have not always acted on that understanding, it has always nattered away at the fringes of my conscience, demanding to be taken into account.

This means that I do my best to vote with my wallet for the sort of world in which I want to live. For example, I spend extra money on food products that I believe have been prepared and packaged with the health of the earth in mind. I also make and eat a lot of rice, don't go out a lot, and think, think, think each time I pull out a fistful of dollars. Furthermore, I don't really buy toys that don't directly contribute to my conception of who I am and how I want the world to be, and I despise malls and consumer conformity.

So when I heard on the radio yesterday for the umpteenth time that the way to get the United States back on its psychotic train-from-hell track is increased end-market demand, it occurred to me that what I have been advocating for all these years has been the downfall of the U.S. economy. Because if the average American spent money the way I do, it would be kerplooie for us all.

There is a sense in which this is not a bad thing. We live in a corrupt, broken world, and we sit on the top of the heap in a country of ludicrous wealth that has been built on the backs of the poor - whom we continue to subjugate so that we can stay on top of the pile. Our culture is broken, and perhaps ought to be broken further so that it can be re-made into something better.

Except, it isn't that simple. If our economy tanked, we would definitely learn to recognize again the distinction between poverty and wealth, but a lot of us would starve in the process. We maybe deserve this - after all, fifty million people die of starvation and malnutrition globally every year while we blithely spend the resources they need on ipods - but that doesn't necessarily make our starvation a good thing. It makes it just, perhaps, but not necessarily good. Furthermore, there are a lot of people here who are very conscientious about how they consume, and who are much more heartbroken than I am about our wasteful selfishness. Their suffering would be yet another injustice.

The most sticky moral issue, however, comes from the fact that globalization has made it impossible to differentiate our own fate from that of the rest of the world.  Everything is so interconnected now. The United States is SO wealthy and powerful that if it were to irrevocably crash, so would everything else. John Donne's assertion that "no man is an island, entire of itself... any man's death diminishes me" has become, in our now for-better-or-worse economic marriage-of-souls, a literal and inescapable reality. If we get our just deserts, the rain of fire falls as well on the poor who - as a Christian with half a brain might say - are the image-bearers of Christ and the recipients of the favor of God.

So we are caught between a rock and annihilation. We crave economic justice on a grand scale, knowing that it would demand that our circumstances diminish, and feeling that in our current world such a justice has become impossible. It is in this place that we begin to feel most strongly the tug and pull of religion's promise for ultimate justice in the afterlife. We know that our world ought not to be the way it is, even as we contribute in small and large ways to the maintenance of the status quo. And so, as we begin to feel overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable evil that we perpetuate, we feel a straining in the arms of our souls towards some greater thing. We wrap these arms, then, around faith. We cling to the hope of a better - not tomorrow, but a "day after tomorrow."

I understand this need. I feel it and follow it. I am terrified, however, by the ways I see this faith turning us (and me) inwards, away from the brokenness that prompted it. As a result of our belief that the small justices we can work to enact in this world are not all the justice we will ever see, we turn our focus almost entirely away from them, circle our wagons, and wait.

To which, I say, "NO." This is, as a hair-shirt prophet would scream, a DAMNED-FOOL inaction, and I want none of it. I want action. I want change. I want the upside-down Kingdom, and I want it NOW!

But what am I to do? I can't fix the injustice of how wealth is distributed and consumed in this world with my own small actions, and I don't even feel I can wish that the actions I take were more broadly adopted. I am lost, small and alone, caught in cycles of faith and despair, yearning for the light. The only "answer" I have (if you can call it that) is one cribbed from the wisdom of the ancients, as transmitted by So-Crates in the movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," in which he says that "true wisdom comes from knowing that you know nothing."

I cannot heal this land. I cannot even heal myself, and as much as I believe in the love, faith and grace that give me hope to live on through the darkness, they are not enough. I believe in something more. I yearn and hope for it. I mourn for it, really, teetering on the brink. And just when I feel that it is too much... when I am sure that I will fall, someone speaks some small grace into my life and pulls me back, for another moment, from the edge.

Grateful for that, I will continue on in the excruciating mystery. I will follow my convictions and try to dismantle this broken world economy, but I will remember to laugh at myself even as I do it. I will try in my own small way to be that voice of love for someone else, hoping (and praying) that my weak words will not be the last.

4 comments:

  1. Your school's favorite pedant, here:

    The idiom is "just deserts," not "just desserts."

    Enjoy.

    [Posting anonymously because you know exactly who this is.]

    ReplyDelete
  2. noted and amended, notable and amenable pedant

    ReplyDelete