By Neale Donald Walsch.
When playing by the rules is unfair
Have I been overstating the facts here? I’ve been saying that when one sector or sphere of our Collective Life dominates the other two (as the economy is now dominating politics and culture), nothing can result but a dysfunctional society where the desires of the few are met at the expense of the needs of the many. Or where, if you please, the economy is served, but the mass of the people that the economy was intended to serve are not.
So, have I been overplaying the problem?
In late May, 2011 the Internet site Truthout published an interview of Thomas Pogge, who holds a PhD in philosophy from Harvard University and is the director of the Global Justice Program at Yale University. In the interview Dr. Pogge provides an introduction to the world economic situation for those who may not be articulate in this area.
The interview was conducted by Keane Bhatt, an activist and musician in New York. Bhatt served in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2008 to 2010.
In their exchange Dr. Pogge pointed out that the collective income of half the world’s population is less than three percent of global household income. Or, to use Dr. Pogge’s exact words, “there is a grotesque maldistribution of income and wealth” on our planet.
When I discussed this recently in a small group one person said…
We all know that. I’m not sure I’d use the word “grotesque,” but we all know there’s a disproportionate distribution of income in the world. That’s the nature of the beast.
Is it, now…? Hmmm. Well, that the very point we’ve been trying to make here. Yet you would not call this disproportion “grotesque”?
Look, life’s not fair.
I agree. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be. At least, insofar as human-caused unfairness is concerned. “Acts of God” and all that are one thing, but we’re talking here about stuff that human beings do. But okay, life’s not fair, as you put it. Shall we see just how unfair it is?
According to Dr. Pogge, the bottom quarter of the human population has only three-quarters of one percent of global household income. This is about one thirty-second of the average income in the world. On the other hand the people in the top five percent have nine times the average income. So the ratio between the averages in the top five percent and the bottom quarter is somewhere around 300 to one. How’s that for unfair?
It’s not the ‘fault’ of those at the top, if that’s where you’re going.
Nope, I’m not going there at all. Because you’re right. Responsibility for this situation must be carried on the shoulders of us all. And it’s not a matter of “fault.” How can we be faulted for living out our own culture’s story? It is the story that’s the problem.
“Given the total income and wealth available in the world today,” Dr. Pogge says in the Truthout interview, “we could easily overcome poverty, which would require raising the share of the bottom half from three to roughly five percent.”
Now you would think that wouldn’t be so difficult, right? Not, I mean, in a caring society. But, says Dr. Pogge, “Unfortunately, the trend is going in the opposite direction.”
At one point in the exchange interviewer Keane Bhatt posed this question…“We’re all familiar with assigning blame to an individual for hitting someone’s car, but not with assessing the morality of the speed limit or lack of a stoplight. Are you saying that the rules themselves can be moral or immoral?”
Dr. Pogge offered an emphatic yes. And he used two well-known examples from human history to illustrate his point that the “rules of the game” (what I call our Old Cultural Story) are the problem. A case could be made that people are only playing the game according to the rules they’ve been given.
Slavery, for instance, is something we have all come to condemn. But were the people in America’s deep south who owned slaves unethical? Or is the law that instituted and enforced legal property rights in persons where the lack of ethics lies?
States should never have passed such laws, Dr. Pogge asserts, and “should not have been in the business of returning runaway slaves to their ‘rightful owners.’ The whole institution of property in human beings was an unjust social institution and should not have been maintained in existence.” (Italics mine)
The second example Dr. Pogge offered was feudalism, an economic system where a few people own all the land and the others have no option but to be serfs on such a feudal estate. We now condemn feudalism, he goes on, and we condemn “the whole structure of rules that sustained feudalism.”
Dr. Pogge urgently invites people to think similarly about the world economy.
“We should condemn as unjust a global economic order that leads to ever-increasing economic disparities.”
But you said that responsibility for this situation is carried on the shoulders of all of us. Yet if we’re “playing by the rules,” how is that so?
I’ll let Dr. Pogge answer, straight out of the Truthout interview:
“Governments and their hired negotiators are designing these supranational rules and pressing for their adoption and for compliance—and the US government first and foremost. These governments are elected by us, funded by us, acting on our behalf, sensitive to our will, and so, we are not mere bystanders observing the injustice.”
Ah, so we circle back to a statement I made earlier.
The first belief we’re going to have to change is the belief in our own “bystanderness.”
Says Dr. Pogge: “To be sure, one citizen, or a few, may be powerless if all the rest are determined to benefit from the imposition of unjust supranational rules. But this excuse cannot work for large numbers. Just imagine 10 million US citizens saying in unison: ‘I am just one powerless citizen. There is nothing I can do to change my government’s policies’!”
That deadly poison–and the antidote
In the Truthout interview above (which is much longer in its original form–source: http://www.truthout.org/yale-philospher-thomas-pogge-past-and-future-global-poverty/1303930954) we see the perfect deadly mixture of two of the three spheres of human Collective Life: economics and politics.
So just what can a society that is so bound up in this paradigm do? Is there an antidote for this poison?
Says Dr. Pogge: “The key insight here is organization. Ordinary people like you and me can achieve very little on their own. We need to build support. Even if you are a thought leader and have some good ideas on how to make the world better, and even if you write five or ten books—that won’t have much effect unless you have people who are willing to support your ideas.”
Well, now…does Thomas Pogge start to sound a lot like Nicanor Perlas? (“…political and economic powers often need to be awakened by a demonstration of cultural power.”) And so we have come full circle again. Everything that we are talking about here can be changed—if there are people who are willing to support new ideas.
In this case the ideas are going to be your ideas. You will be co-writing our New Cultural Story.
POINTS I HOPE YOU WILL REMEMBER…
* There is a grotesque maldistribution of income and wealth” on our planet.
* We could easily eliminate abject poverty in the world.
* Sadly, the trend is going in the opposite direction.
* We must lose the idea of ourselves as powerless citizens.
ACTION I HOPE YOU WILL TAKE…
* Build support in your community for the idea of searching for new solutions to humanity’s problems.
* Start a discussion group around this notion.
* If starting such a group is not easy or convenient for you, be sure to at least pepper your conversations with others, wherever they might take place, with the thought advanced by Nicanor Perlas that political and economic powers often need to be awakened by a demonstration of cultural (and I’m going to add, spiritual) power.
* Again, bring all these ideas and thoughts to your places of interface with the Internet.
* Include in that not just social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook, but The Conversations Movement site at www.TheGlobalConversation.com
10 Nov 2015.
© Neale Donald Walsch.
The Storm Before the Calm: Book 1 in the Conversations with Humanity Series – by Neale Donald Walsch. Paperback published 1 October 2011, Emnin Books, Oregon, USA; ISBN-13: 978-1401936921