a skewed view of normalcy.

Okay, a more serious post today.  (I’m not in a very sarcastic mood, I guess.)

Two weekends ago, I led my 8th grade Religious Education class.  I really like the class because it’s for people of any or no faith – part of the Unitarian Universalist “congregation” – and it’s the perfect coming-of-age group to open up discussions that challenge their world views and how they perceive each other, peers, and strangers.  This last Sunday, the curriculum called for a new chapter titled “Abundance”.  The theme?  Abundance vs. Scarcity.  I get to pick lessons from the guidebook for the program (K-12) and alter them if necessary.

For this particular class, I opened with a question activity.  These questions made them consider things like the definition of material wealth, “enough”, and whether abundancy is always positive and scarcity is always negative.  They seemed pretty convinced that there is one American “dream”, that electricity is a need, and that starving people live in Africa – for the most part.  I then read them some statistics about Indian Reservations to give them a perspective on how entire populations in the US live differently than they do, and they seemed shocked that the majority of folks on the Navajo Reservation don’t have electricity, as one example.  Our last activity was a “feast”: I assigned each of them a role in the world as either one of the 1/3 starving, 1/3 underfed, or 1/3 fed enough.  1/3 had to draw empty plates and no water, `1/3 had a piece of bread and a glass of water, and 1/3 had several pieces of bread, an apple, and water.  One girl drew the 2% card and could draw anything she wanted.  We held a “feast” and shared our plates, then discussed how we would feel eating at the same table if it was Bring Your Own Meal.  I told them this is what the world’s eating looked like and asked them to realize they likely fall in the fed enough category, but also experience enough luxury to sometimes feel like the 2%.  In other words, these middle to upper class kids relative to the majority of kids in the world have so much freedom.

I wanted the kids to realize their skewed view on normalcy.  That was a large part of the exercise.  But in doing my preparation, I realized even my view was skewed.  What did I view as normal?  When you realize how skewed your view is and adjust it, doesn’t it change everything?

The fact that made me change my perspective was when I was writing down those electricity stats.  I knew those stats.  I’ve read and repeated and discussed them a thousand times, the disparages between communities.  On Indian Reservations, sometimes it’s a choice to live a more “traditional” life without those services being provided to the “public”, meaning the tribe or residents on the Reservation.  However, sometimes those conveniences just aren’t feasible.  Whether or not the Navajo Reservation, for example, would like to provide its whole community with electricity, it’s still an enormous land tract with the largest Reservation population within US boundaries.  Houses are far apart, sprawled across a rather unforgiving desert-scape.

Traditionally, people in the Diné community lived in hogans with fire and coals to heat their living spaces.  I tried imagining myself on that Reservation today.  I’ve traveled before and lived in some interesting conditions, like in Ouidah, Benin when the government would periodically pull the electric plug on a city and we’d have hours of darkness.  I’ve roamed all across India, trying to keep up with my travel blog while my Internet key kept up a shaky, hit-or-miss connection.  I’ve always felt connected while still subjecting myself to some of the conditions of the folks around me, but I’ve never lived without electricity as a permanent lifestyle.  With my career in engineering, I began to wonder how that was possible.  I imagined all the things that would be different: Maybe I’d have a trailer, but how would I heat it?  Without it burning down?  Without it being too cold for my cats?  How would I heat water to bathe and be presentable for the workplace?  To cook dinner?  How would I store food?  Where would I get my food?  What about the Internet and electricity to charge my phone?  It’s a luxury, I know, but what about someone who is trying to lead a “normal” work life and career?  What if I had an emergency?  If my car broke down?  If I didn’t have a car?

Then I kind of laughed at myself and realized, people do this every day.  The people on that Reservation don’t have those conveniences and they just live life.  Sure, expectations in a “modern” career are much different, but surely people do it.  This idea of a “traditional” life – it’s just that.  It’s how people have lived forever.  I know I’m tough and I can go without a lot, but I figured I would be the grumpiest “traditionalist”.  Mostly because a heated house, space heater, and steaming water are still not hot enough to get me into and back out of a shower.  I’m ALWAYS freezing!  That would be the hardest part for me, and I already live with my heat turned way down or not on at all.

But I realized my lesson kind of opened my own eyes and brought me full-circle on something I had already begun to realize.  I was now realizing my skewed view of normalcy, the skewed views of others (like these kids who think you need electricity to live a wholesome life),  rather than just noticing the “skewed” view those without so many things have.

I saw “skewed”, because whose view is really skewed?  Wouldn’t it be the non-traditionalist’s view that is the skewed one?

Things that initially made me consider how others view the world:

– In Cameroon, I was considered poor because I’m a healthy weight.  Overweight women were considered the healthy, rich ones capable of feeding themselves.  I had many long conversations in French while traveling West and Central Africa, explaining to my hosts that, in America, fattening food is often cheaper and the rich people tend to spend a lot of money to work out and buy “health” food to stay skinny.  They were dumbfounded and called Americans crazy.

– In Benin, a restaurant owner and my language teacher told me people in their village enjoy their lifestyles.  They said motorcycles and nice cloth are more of a luxury than anything and they do like having them, but they don’t want all the complicated things that come with the “modern American way of life”.  They don’t want the stress, the pressure to come to work on the minute, the need to be available all the time.  As they put it, they loved the relaxed, African life and wouldn’t trade it for any of our luxuries.

– In India, I watched folks sleep on the highway medians, carry water long distances, and even wrap themselves in more clothing against the hot sun in a 120-something-degree weather.  To them, it’s just the hot time of year.  They don’t have fans or air-conditioning.

– In most of these third-world kind of conditions, food was local, in-season, natural, just completely normal food.

So this brings me to my last point:

In considering all the things in our lives we do that we think are “normal” and how our view of normalcy is skewed and affects the way we perceive the world, our daily lives, and our opinions on the kinds of poverty the rest of the world is facing, you’ll see that our food and “product” habits are incredibly toxic.

Why do we import foods we don’t need?  (Why can we buy citrus in any state, all year round?  Why can someone in New England find coconuts in any large store?  Why is buying “local” the new trend when it used to be “OMG it’s IMPORTED”, like back in the old days when Chinese tea and West Indies sugar was a luxury?)

Why do we think we don’t have time for food?  (Are our lives that incorrectly prioritized that we think gardening is pleasure or a hobby?  Why has an urban lifestyle become normal when it’s not sustainable?  Why do we accept eating at a chain restaurant as being a normal habit – when we have no idea what’s in our food?)

Why are we okay with GMOs?  (Why do we let the industry feed us fruit, for example, that has been grown larger, sweeter, and sprayed a prettier color?  Why do we think it’s normal to eat food that has been made cheaper and/or artificially?)

Why are we okay with supporting certain industries?  (Why is it radical to say you don’t want to eat a certain thing or you want to buy only US-made stuff?  Why do people just turn a blind eye to industrialized food and working conditions that they support when buying certain foods?  Is it because it’s more convenient to ignore?  When we already live this life of insane convenience?)

Why do we accept chemicals in our food and products?  (Why do we accept food companies who fight labeling?  Why do we think it’s normal to use pesticides which clearly are toxic enough to kill small organism and which have been proven to accumulate in the environment and in our own bodies?  Why do we think natural remedies are the “alternative” solutions when in fact they are the origins of medicine and the purest, most ancient forms of healing?  Why do we buy lotions and use shampoos that have chemicals that absorb directly into our bloodstreams and don’t think anything of it?  Why do we think it’s normal – or even necessary – to bathe every day and dry out our skin and hair just to satisfy some social construct or modern idea of acceptable cleanliness?)

In sum, myself, my peers, and surely most of you reading this are accepting things that shouldn’t be acceptable, are living lives completely skewed and without second-guessing our concepts of normalcy.  Truly take a moment to think about these things, about the class I taught and views on “abundance vs. scarcity”.  Think about what a “normal” human life actually should be, normal meaning one without any conveniences – one that would seem incredibly “tribal” to the modern eye.  Use that as a baseline.  It really changes your perspective on EVERYTHING you do in your life.  At least it does for me!

poverty vs simplicity.

I’ve been reading Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr.  It’s pretty intense, and reviews by whites tend to reflect two concepts that I find disturbing: 1. Oh, now I “get” Indians and 2. This book is horrible and racist!  I’m white and I’m not like that!  I find the first sentiment disturbing because it shows how damn ignorant the country is on tribal law, broken treaties, and past assimilation programs.  I find the second sentiment disturbing because it not only views Indians versus non-Indians as a racial vis-à-vis rather than sovereign nations with enormous cultural disparities (a central point being made by most of these texts), but it shows resentment before assent to past wrong-doings (which were clearly racially and religiously motivated).  As a result, you get an audience that willing to be enlightened and which consequently becomes divided by those who resent the sovereign separation – but also those who pity.

And that brings me to today’s topic: Pity.  White, Christian society has – as a generalization – repeatedly pitied minorities (once, of course, it got over taking advantage of them).  For example, so many mission trips head off to Africa within 150 years of African slavery in this country and within 50 years of Civil Rights oppression.  These societies didn’t care then, but suddenly they do?  Is it the new, generational upbringings that have helped conquer past racism?  No, I don’t think it is.  I think it is continued egocentrism, a continued effort to inflict one society’s views on another.  And just like people today will look at African countries and pity the poor, impoverished people without any hope, they will read about American Indians and just feel bad – but never do anything that could sacrifice any of their royalties.

Okay – now you’re probably saying, Well people do sacrifice for mission trips!  You say this because they take time and money to go overseas to live in those icky conditions for just some time.  But this is just my point.  Poverty vs. simplicity.  And while I don’t speak for every person in every community in every impoverished area of the world, I can speak from at least my observations in West and Central Africa, places where mission trips and Engineers Without Borders visit on an essentially permanent basis.  I have, in French, conversed for several weeks among people in both rural and urban situations about the poverty.  I’ve asked them what they think of America, of this lifestyle that these do-gooders wish to impose on the “impoverished”.  They’ve told me that America sounds fascinating, but NO I would never leave here for that.  Roukia, a cook in Ouidah, Benin who cleans in her spare time and recently opened her own restaurant – she told me the poverty is bad, people live badly in Africa.  But she also told me that America is not the answer.  People get by, but it’s confusing when the American lifestyle butts up against them.  A man named Tomas and his friends, some committee people in the tiny rural Cameroonian village Batoula-Bafounda, sat around a table drinking palm wine with me, laughing because we Americans refused to stay in their village after the well implementation was complete.  “Why go home??  We have EVERYTHING you need here!  So many bananas, avocados, and palm wine!  No, it’s not the American lifestyle, it’s the SIMPLE LIFE.”  I can’t tell you how many times I heard people tell me this was the SIMPLE LIFE, the BETTER LIFE.

And so I ask, what are these trips accomplishing?  What is this pity about?  Why do people think this American, white, Christian lifestyle – this modernity – is the solution?  When it’s the same answer to why the world is collapsing?  Why are people convinced they have the solutions and that everyone else wants to live like them in this luxurious way?  I think, to many “impoverished” people, this luxurious way is excessive, unnecessary, and severely lacking happiness.  They see it as stress and competition, not family and laughter and tradition.  These people who think otherwise come into villages (kind of like we did with EWB) and they implement systems that, quite frankly, fail immediately thereafter.  (Google it if you don’t believe me; I’ve also written about this failure before.)  Why do they fail?  Because the people don’t care for them.  Why?  Because they fall back into routine, a routine that doesn’t have these luxuries at all.  They choose tradition.

Thus back to this book, back to what I’ve written about so much lately.  Tradition.  This is the same problem we face in America with the failing efforts by the federal government to “fix” reservations.  They’re imposing their beliefs, their ways of living, their solutions.  What is the answer?  Learn, ask, respect – but let be.  Respect treaties and promises.  Respect each other.  Is that really so hard to do?  Sometimes doing is like talking; if you really want to help, sometimes you’re better off not saying anything at all.

when detroit is paradise.

One of the first articles that was reposted in my newsfeed this morning was about Detroit recently shutting water off to an enormous amount of the city’s population who have been negligent in paying bills, especially since a recent 9% increase in cost.  Activists have of course been appalled by this and are fighting the case.  In other words, people are pretty upset.  But what upsets me is not that Detroit is shutting water off to citizens – it’s that people think this is wrong and will drop everything to get up in arms about it, but no one thinks about the most impoverished corners of the nation: the reservations.  Do they think it’s worse to have something taken away then to never be given the opportunity to have it in the first place? For the hell of it, I’ve pulled out some statistics about Detroit.  Since Detroit is probably viewed as one of the worst cities currently in this country, I’ve also pulled out some statistics to compare it to the Navajo Nation – arguably one of the worst Rez’s in this country.  Looking at these stats, Detroit’s got it good. Detroit Population: 688,701 People per square mile: 5,144.3 Median Age: 34.8 Income per capita: $13,965 Unemployment: 29.3% Below poverty line: 38.1% High school degree: 77.4% College degree: 13% Homes without electricity: unknown (national average: 1%) Homes *that have recently LOST* running water: 0.9% Average house size: 2.74 Crime rate compared to national average: 368% National life expectancy: 77 years Navajo Nation Population: 180,462 People per square mile: 6.7 Median Age: 24 Income per capita: $7,629 Unemployment: 56.1% Below poverty line: 57.0% High school degree: 56.0% College degree: 7% Homes without electricity: 44% Homes THAT HAVE NEVER HAD running water: 48% Average house size: 3.77 Crime rate compared to national average: 400% Average woman/man life expectancy: 50 years Statistics vary slightly depending on sources, but the Navajo Nation consistently comes out much worse than Detroit.  And I only use the Dine as an example because of the size of their Reservation.  If you want worse statistics, try a Rez like Pine Ridge Sioux. Detroit, you have nothing to complain about.  At least the government didn’t revoke your Constitutional Rights a million times over and try to assimilate your cultures and kill off those who refuse. Pay your bills.  At least you have a utilities service at all.

[Note: Of course I care about people in Detroit, and I’m sure many in the population have been marginalized for various reasons.  This blog more or less serves as a place to write satirically or to rant/put things in a different perspective.  Just thought I would clarify…]

modern Noah.

The news on Google today was flooded with photos from the 2014 Met Gala Best Dressed.  I humored myself for about eight seconds of perusing posed shots of celebrities in fancy clothing before I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.  It’s like when you cut sugar out of your diet and you no longer can stand the rush from sugar.  I can no longer even fathom what thrill people get from these kinds of things.

I used to look at outfits and appreciate the creativity, flow, contrasts, etc. of each piece.  If it were a school assignment, sure – I’d whip out all of those elegant words from the bank and I could fool anyone.  But today was completely different and I felt nothing for the outfits.  Nothing positive.  Actually, I felt disgust.

I’ve been applying for several travel scholarships lately in the hopes of scoring an award to either a global sustainability class or a service project in one of the least attractive corners of the world.  I constantly want to push forward and do something.  That something generally involves putting time, effort, and money into working with impoverished people in this world who are the voiceless, working bodies holding every society together.

In other words, when I saw those outfits, I saw the faces of the people who grew the cotton or mixed the dyes.
I saw the anguish, the integrity, the bleeding hands.

I did not see the floozy in the gown or the million-dollar smile.
I did not know the name of the celebrity, but I wished I’d known the names of the servants who created her.
From a million miles away.
With several million dollars less.
And what has that celebrity done?  Relative to her potential?  ZIP.  ZILCH.  NOTHING.

NOTHING, as far as relative goes.  NOTHING when you can buy up an entire fleet and take world problems by storm.  NOTHING when you have the voice and the potential to be heard by so many sheep who blindly follow.

What can the peasant do?  Keep quiet, keep humble, keep working.

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This all happened so perfectly in timing with my spontaneous decision to see the movie Noah.  Going into it, I had no idea what to expect – I just know the imagery looked intense.  Well, quite frankly, I had two impressions: 1) WOW, that was creepy and 2) WOW, that didn’t seem accurate.

And it wasn’t.

I’m no expert on the book of Genesis, but it’s short and I’ve been around it since I was little enough to get the main ideas.  With a little help from reviews, I was able to back up the reasons for my reactions.  First and foremost, Noah was played out as a maniac trying to kill, kill, kill.  It was all supposed to be showing his devotion to the Creator’s will, but you know how Hollywood takes ahold of things and runs with it.  Now, there were also some technical things wrong with the film, like how Jepath was not the youngest son but rather Ham was, or how Lamech didn’t die when Noah was a child.  But there were also some points in the film that were clearly strategic in capturing any kind of audience: the overlaying of Creation with Evolution.  Admittedly, I know enough people who insist both coexist that I actually really liked the implications the directors  made – but I also know a lot of Christians did not like said implications and took offense to Hollywood selling the Bible for profit.

It’s true, though; one could justly say this group’s scriptures have been misrepresented and sold.  It has been work-shopped questionably and beyond the entitlement of “artistic license”.  From the “rock people” to the dramatic, wordless visions from God, Hollywood was really just pitching a highly animated sci-fi movie – and how ironic, right?

But perhaps one benefit that came from this is the message it gave.  Now, people will argue the message of Genesis is that humans left their god and ran astray, so they were all wiped out – save for Noah, his family, and a bunch of animals meant to repopulate the earth.  In other words, disobeying the Creator is the big no-no.  Well, in this version of Noah’s story, it’s about what humans have done to the planet and less about how they’ve forgotten their god (although it does come up time to time).  Noah’s obedience to God is supposed to show why he has been chosen, but he just comes off as crazed until he learns love with discretion.  Meanwhile, the Flood is allegedly occurring to cleanse “evil” and to save the “innocent”, meaning the animals.  It’s like an eco-friendly, modern Noah story.  Save the planet, or you’ll have nothing left.  At least it’s a positive message, although missing the Biblical mark by a substantial bit.

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So Met Gala.  Noah.
These two ideas finally collided in my mind.

The evil-doers in Noah were transfixed on themselves, on their power, on humanity’s greatness, on their ruling over everything below them, on their image in the eyes of others and not in goodness,… They were eating other humans and holding absolutely no values, bloodthirsty to be at the top just as they were when the Flood came and they scrambled over each other to the highest peak to avoid the inevitable.  Because they thought they were great.  Because they had raised themselves up and not appreciated or ever understood the foundation on which they were standing to begin with.

Wow, just like our society today.

Dog eats dog, climbing over each other to the top, striving to save that extra buck so you can get that much farther ahead.  Idolizing things that should not be idolized, like celebrities who bring nothing of good fortune or true inspiration to a wholesome life.  Meanwhile, we take for granted our foundation, the one as simple as who grows our food.  Do you know how few people could survive without that anonymous web of peasants laboring below us?

“Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.” – Proverbs 28:6

The toil, the labor, the strife peasants pour into providing riches to the already rich… that’s just an example of these same themes.  False pedestals hold false idols, and becoming a sheep to the wrong flock drags you down the road of foolishness.  You can no longer hold what is important in your mind.  You become materialistic and take advantage of the downtrodden.  But the world balances itself out and nature/God/whatever will always have the last say.  “…for a piece of bread a man will transgress.  A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him” – but he is often already poor.

Yes, celebrities and those who idol them are poor and sickly.
It’s the impoverished, the righteous, and the downtrodden who live righteously who are the richest, the ones who are safe from the transgressions of the world – the ones closest to being the modern Noah.

4 Reasons Why Overseas Volunteer Projects are a Waste of Time

indian-reservation-squalor-shanty-hut-hovels-poor-poverty1-1

Shanties on a US reservation, no better than houses I’ve seen in rural India or West Africa and unfathomably worse than donated facilities at the Nuevo Paraiso mission project in Honduras.

It seems like, growing up, the cool thing for kids to do who went to my fancy private school was to be sent off by their parents on some overseas volunteer project in a third-world country.  I never did anything like this until college, mostly because my mom always shot the idea down.  I never fully understood her reasons until I went on a trip of my own and began reevaluating such overseas volunteer projects.  I decided that I agree with my mom.  The only people these trips really benefit are the travelers themselves, giving them something to put on their resumes.  And although the benefits operate on a case-by-case basis, it is my experience and observations that suggest how these projects are often just a waste of time.  I will outline my reasons below:

1. GIVING OUT FISH.
My family strongly believes in the motto: “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man how to fish, he eats for life.”  I’ve grown up knowing that expression and beginning to see the truth behind it.  Although my parents use that approach in their political views and anti-welfare standpoints, I see how this fish comparison directly relates to volunteer projects.  It’s easy to give a monetary donation and let someone else handle what happens to the money.  That’s obviously no way to help an impoverished community.  But too often we are still transfixed on materialistic things to improve an entire village.  Why save up money to go build a building?  Most of these communities have all the resources they need to build a building that suits their needs.  Why not lend a physical hand instead?  Why not teach and do less of handing these people supplies and new, shiny things?  Give them all of these donations and the only thing they’ll think is “Wow, Americans have nice, fancy things.  When I grow up, I want to get out of here and go somewhere where these things can be handed to me.”  Not only does handing out fish not allow these people to fix themselves, it encourages them to seek out where they can be handed more fish and prevents them from fixing their old mistakes.  Indirectly, it could also cause communities to disband and lose culture as the younger generations with more potential greedily seek out a life outside of their community for shiny things they don’t need.  And I’m not just making up a hypothesis; it is a serious issue I learned about while on some community projects this summer in rural India.

2. BROKEN THINGS THAT STAY BROKEN.
When I signed up for Engineers Without Borders, I though, Gee, this is cool – I get funded to travel to a really unique place and practice both my French and engineering skills!  The experience helped land me a job and gave me some real world perspective on what life is like in West Africa.  But my trip to Cameroon benefitted myself more than it did the community.  We spent endless weeks organizing, building, delivering, preparing, teaching,…all to end up with empty wallets and a failed system.  We visited a nearby project similar to ours: a solar panel-powered well system installed by the University of Delaware.  What did we find?  An empty water tank at the top of a hill next to a school.  Why was there no water pumping up here?  We found the lower pump where a few kids were squeezing out the only drops they could get.  Why was there not even water at the taps with the greatest hydraulic head?  My colleague found the answer: the solar panels were coated in weeks worth of red, Cameroonian mountain dust.  No one had been cleaning the panels, despite clear instruction from the volunteers to do so.  Back at our own project, we even set up a committee dedicated to clean the panels once a week.  You would think that a quick cleanse isn’t much to ask from a slower paced, rural community, but even our village had to provide an incentive by offering weekly pay to the volunteer.  When I returned to the States and shared my story with my friends, my best friend gave me a link to a video that discussed exactly how EWB projects are inevitable failures.  There is no water coming out a year later.  All of this money and time, and for what?  Why is this happening?  The answer is multi-faceted, having its roots in my fish theory.  Plus, things that break in these rural communities often stay broken.  Why?  Well, what resources are there to fix them?  To fix these projects that are not the standard way of life?  What motive is there to gather the information and to find a way to bring back something that these villages have survived for thousands of years without?  And that brings me to my third point…

3. DON’T FIX WHAT’S NOT BROKEN.
Why are Americans so in love with themselves that they think their way of life is the solution to the planet’s suffering?  The wasteful, materialistic American way of life is not only greedy and corrupt, but it could easily be contributing indirectly to the suffering of these remote areas.  The environmental impacts of our decisions in the States causes a global reaction that can directly impact the weather conditions and water cycles of these victimized areas.  Still, they thrive the way they have known to thrive for thousands of years.  Throughout history, ancient civilizations have survived and thrived without the assistance of outsiders.  In fact, if anything, these outsiders have obliterated these civilizations before ever significantly impacting them in a positive fashion.  For example, think about the situations in America.  All of the tribal peoples who have lost their identity and land.  All because we think the way we live is the right way?  The sophisticated way?  Go to West Africa and you will see a collage of old and new.  People living in huts who have cell phones.  Why is that?  Well, they want to take advantage of the best of both worlds the best that they can.  But, at the same time, not everyone wants to jeopardize their old ways of life.  It’s what they know.  It’s their comfort zones.  It’s how they have evolved to believe they should live.  I’ve had countless political arguments with sheltered people and friends who felt that invading countries and transforming their governments was the correct solution to everything, but is it really?  Is our government system really the answer?  Is it our business to decide that for anyone but ourselves?  How do we know that we’re right?  I’ve seen first hand how these “less fortunate” people actually believe we’re the unfortunate ones, leading stressful lives and answering to people we hardly know, not understanding anymore what living is or how to appreciate life.  But it’s not just how their systems aren’t broken but how we try to fix them and break them to pieces.  How we strip people of culture.  Perhaps the worst offender of such things is religious cleansing.  I am absolutely opposed to mission trips and anything that operates in another community by the “light of God”.  Can’t people do good things for the sake of life, living, and kindness?  Why is religion attached to any good notion when religion is in fact the cause of so much evil?  So much war?  I see people going to Africa every year on “mission trips”, and all I can think is I hope you feel good about yourself when you shove Bibles down these poor peoples’ throats and rob them of any cultural identity they used to have.  Why not teach them how to read and write?  So they can buy books and learn the newest herbal medicinal discoveries or how to fix their water issues naturally and without the use of energy and pumps?  This religious debacle leads me to my last reason…

4. HELP YOURSELF BEFORE YOU HELP OTHERS.
Even airlines tell you this before your plane leaves the runway.  While we are so transfixed with being the heroes to people in communities that will never remember our names once we have parted, why don’t we take a look at our own country?  And I don’t mean just soup kitchens and giving handouts to homeless people who continue to drink away their handouts.  I mean the thing that I’m most passionate about: poverty on the reservations.  It’s not because I’m biased because my grandfather is Indian and it’s my focus of work.  It’s because I strongly believe America is responsible for the situation it’s created.  You can’t invade a territory, take over completely from peoples who you don’t even acknowledge as people, set up a system familiar only to the invaders and only at the advantage of said invaders, and then expect the natives to thrive.  That’s just it; they weren’t expected to thrive.  They weren’t considered people, they were murdered without consequences, and they weren’t even accounted for on the census rolls until tribal counts were created.  By that time, most of the less powerful tribes were wiped out or assimilated to a different culture anyway.  The territorial borders kept pushing back, tribes were hit with European clothes, weapons, alcohol, and Bibles, all in an effort to strip them of their identity if not kill them off altogether.  The answer to this problem, when peaceful terms were supposedly going to be met, was to shove these peoples onto a hodge-podge of lousy land parcels called “reservations”.  That was no solution, but everyone seemed to “roll with it” until the Dawes Act sparked up in the late 1800s and unconstitutionally revoked the rights of thousands of American people – American Indian people.  What efforts have been made since to right these wrongs?  A similar wronging was in the African-American slave industry around the same time.  That dispute divided our whole nation until it was resolved and, although we still have racial issues, the States made an enormous effort to right its wrongs.  Can you say that about the native people to whom this land really belonged?  Whose voices aren’t being heard despite their protests?  As an example, Gilmour Academy near my university (and where several of my friends went) sends students annually to Honduras on a mission trip.  Ignoring the fact that it’s a mission, can we ask ourselves why these people are spending thousands of dollars for the glory of assisting (handing fish) to people in a remote, foreign village that will likely stay broken?  One that maybe wasn’t all that “broken” to begin with?  One that actually used to be full of native peoples that were conquered by the Spaniards?  But we’re continuing to perpetuate that wrong as a right by influencing our western ways on the rural populations?  And if the reason of choosing that location is solely based on the poverty level in Honduras being under 50%, have we stopped to consider that a few of the largest Indian reservations in the US with a majority of the native population is in fact exceeding that level of poverty?  Within our own borders?  Okay, so South Dakota or the desert in Utah maybe isn’t as “cool” as Honduras to visit…but is it a volunteer trip or a vacation?  Spend your money wisely.  Don’t blow $1000 on airfare to fix a problem that doesn’t concern you.  10 students’ airfare to go to Honduras could send multitudes more in a workforce to address the issues in our own country.

So there you have it, my rant for the day: how overseas volunteer projects don’t teach a village anything life-changing, how they have a tendency to be short-lived, how they aim to fix things that may not be considered a problem internally, and how they take our attention away from our own neighbors suffering.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who think differently but, until I see some serious changes within our own country and in these overseas projects to be more economical and sustainable, I see no reason to advocate my opinions in anyone else’s favor.

Catch 22: How Improving Our Country Would Cripple Us

America – it has its flaws and we know it.  Poverty, pollution, outsourcing, topics ranging from global political issues to internal ethical controversies.  But what if solving these problems only introduces an epidemic of fresh complications?  I have reason to believe that it might.

Here’s an unlikely example: corn.

While I researching how questionable corn is for our health as a new topic in my other blog (heartsmartandpennywise.wordpress.com), my mind began imagining how to solve our country’s problems.  The thing about corn is it’s in pretty much everything in America.  Just watch the movie The Informant and you’ll get the idea.  Not only do we eat corn as corn, we eat it as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn-fed animals,… We rely heavily on corn.  Come a draught or epidemic big enough to wipe out a portion of our corn and the price of everything is going to skyrocket.  We won’t know what to do with ourselves.  Another factor to this problem is that about 80% of corn is genetically modified.  (I say 80 because I saw a stat that indicates 20% of corn demand is for organic kinds.)  Not only is corn already difficult for our bodies to digest and a nutritional wasteland, but genetic modifiers accelerate corn’s negative effect on our health.

So now you know about corn.  You know we rely too much on it and it is affecting our health.  But how would we solve these problems?  Here are my initial thoughts – and the points at which I realized the Catch 22’s:

1. Stop using so much corn.  Seems like a no-brainer.  We eliminate corn products and then we don’t need to rely on it so much.  Besides, it’s better to spread our dependencies around to different crops so that, in the event of a blight or other tragedy, we don’t lose absolutely everything in one swipe.  The problem: Why should companies eliminate corn?  It’s cheap, it does its purpose, it’s versatile.  There is no motivation to change it… unless the FDA steps in a changes regulations.  That’s a whole mess of controversies and complaints, of time and energy to actually follow through, etc.  Products everywhere would be changing ingredients, tastes, costs, allergy warnings, calorie counts.  Farmers with tons of corn crops would have suddenly a dramatic demand decrease and would have to change crops.  But not all soil is suitable for all crops, and there’s the whole crop rotation issue to factor in.  Corn pretty much strips soil of nitrogen, and each crop has its own soil demands.  So maybe stopping using corn – at least all at once – isn’t the quick fix solution?

2. Ban genetic modifiers.  There’s so much internal controversy over the health and environmental effects of genetic modifiers as it is.  The problem: No genetic modification means more organic crops.  Organic crops are more expensive and the FDA would keep farmers under strict regulation.  Not only this, but organic crops would yield less and smaller crops, so the volume of what would be produced would be insufficient and require more land to produce enough.  One plus might be that these demands means increased price which might in turn cause the demands to go down, but that isn’t want a farmer wants to hear, even if that means less product would end up going to waste in the end.  However, no genetic modifiers would likely affect the shelf-life of produce, thereby increasing the transportation demand which is already a problem in this country.  By improving one environmental issue, we’d introduce another.

This same thought process can be applied to a number of situations.  Like poverty.  If we could actually spread the wealth so that everyone was happy (which they inadvertently wouldn’t be anyway), it is the error of humans being vain humans that would lead to a collapse.  There is a disparage in the wealth for a reason, I believe, and it’s like the expression: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man how to fish, feed him for life.”  Maybe this is a highly Republican viewpoint, but I think it is applicable.  I also think the Communism is wonderful concept, it’s just that humans are too greedy and corrupt by nature to be equally committed to making it work.  It is in our nature to want to come out on top.  It’s called survival, as trivial as a thing that may seem in modern society.  Hand-outs seem like a quick fix, putting heavier taxes on the wealthier temporarily smoothes out some intrinsic problems, but, in the long run, the equilibrium will balance itself back out.  These “fixes” will only aggravate the system.

This “Catch 22” theme also applies to my previous post on LEED certification, where we do more environmental damages in the long run to prove that we tried to care about “going green”.  Now that we’ve entered this energy-dominated era, there is little hope for turning back.  There are so many things to fix that, honestly, I feel like we will have buried ourselves before we can ever hope to get back out.  You can only have so many cracks in your windshield before you realize they’re running and you can’t see anymore.

I can’t take credit for writing a particularly organized post because, I’ll admit, this has become somewhat of a rant.  But I guess this is a blog and not an article.  Hopefully my point-of-view sparks some thoughts for whoever might read this.  I genuinely do believe America is in quite a jam – or, at least, is heading into one quite quickly – and that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to clean it up before it falls apart.