The Rich and the Poor

A Heretic’s Log: A series of philosophical essays written between September 20, 2002 and July 15, 2004. 

When it comes to the issue of poverty in the world, there are no lights at the end of the tunnel, although there is a need for lights to be present all through it.

We can easily assert today, and studies in this regard are too numerous to mention, that the majority of the peoples of Earth are not receiving their “fair and reasonable” share of the material benefits of globalization. Meanwhile people’s expectations regarding what constitutes this fair and reasonable share are being reshaped daily, making it ever harder for their attainment to take place and creating a condition of constant frustration as a consequence.

The culture of consumerism that goes hand in hand with the notion of free market economics has also induced many people across the world to reshuffle their living priorities, putting the purchase of certain consumerist items, such as CD-players, game-boys and mobiles, much ahead of certain previous basics as helping provide an education for one’s children.

Despite the fact that one can make a seemingly strong argument that there are virtually hundreds of millions of people around the world who would have no idea whatever regarding the existence of certain consumerist items as mobile phones and game-boys, due to their impoverishment, marginalization and lack of exposure to consumerist culture, this argument, in fact, is only superficially true. For consumerist culture has made deep inroads even into the remotest and most impoverished enclaves of the world – pop culture, word of mouth and certain instants of direct personal contacts with the “outside” world (represented in many cases by workers in various international development and aid organizations) playing a very effective role in this regard.

In the final analysis, we should not forget that what makes consumerist culture so successful is its innate appeal to certain basic (if not base) human instincts of possession and competition.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that those who might be perceived as having received more than their fair and reasonable share of the benefits of globalization can lay a strong claim of their deservedness of this larger share. After all, they can always insist that the very phenomenon of globalization, consumerism, and free market economics is something that came by as a result of their own socioeconomic, political, structural and intellectual endeavors and experimentations. Having a larger share of the benefits, they can argue, is only natural and is, consequently, quite fair and reasonable.

Moreover, they can also point to the endemic corruption and violence of the poorer societies as another factor why hey should not be concerned with an arguably fairer redistribution of shares. Poorer societies simply seem undeserving of a larger share. If, therefore, poorer societies ended up being used as pawns or fodder in some ongoing competition between richer societies over market shares and resources, this is somehow justifiable on the basis of the willingness of these people, or their elites, to be used in this manner.

For these reasons, it seems that finding an effective cure to world poverty is intimately connected to the world’s ability to redefine its consumerist culture, and the related perceptions involved, a development that will undoubtedly require changing the very power structure, political, economic and, even, psychological, that currently regulates global affairs.

Since, however, we are dealing here with an objective phenomenon, rather than some intentionally built and elaborated structure that was established in accordance to certain preconceived plans and designs, the challenge of redefining the current consumerist culture is a toll order indeed, and is a definite non-starter for the process of global reform.

As such, we have to accept the fact that poverty in global societies is going to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, and that the best that can be done at this stage, no matter how grim an assessment this seems to be, is poverty alleviation or poverty management, and not poverty eradication. And while the plausible and tenable may not always be satisfactory, it is much better than managing the mayhem created by the failure resulting from working for the implausible and untenable. But, we should not forget that the definition of what it is plausible and tenable will need to be constantly reformulated so that it does not become yet another way of accommodating the status quo.

Also published in Share the World Resources.