I have always liked the word curmudgeon; it has a sort of gritty gravitas to it. Much to my surprise I think I have become one. In fact, I may have been one for years and just didn’t know it. No one ever called me that to my face but I have a feeling that might change. I am definitely becoming a party-pooper. It’s not that I don’t like a party; it’s just that some parties don’t know when to call it quits.
Some countries in the world have been partying since the 60’s. I know the party started long before then but the pace has picked up lately. The rich nations of the world have been on a major rave. You would think that we had all won the lottery. We have been rubbing in the mango oil, eating like maniacs, guzzling the adult beverages, racing up and down the highways and jetting off to travel destinations at a moment’s notice. “Hey lets fly to the Bahamas!” Sounds like a blast.
Many parties are given to celebrate wonderful events but sometimes a party is given in order to ignore a distressing reality or an inconvenient truth. Think of the dancing on the deck of the Titanic as it floundered in the icy sea or the wild parties that took place in times of war. The festivities in Rome got more outlandish toward the end of the empire. People went crazy. They were importing giraffes and elephants to kill in the coliseum for entertainment. Talk about fun! There was sex, drugs and all the lyre and tambourine music you could handle. Of course a party can’t last forever and someone always has to clean up afterwards.
If the guests are either passed out on the floor, wandering around stupefied or getting sick on the balcony it’s really not a party any more. Someone has to suggest that it is time to retire or at least take a nap. There will always be those diehards that struggle to their feet and insist on flailing around to the Stones singing “Brown Sugar.” They are pathetically impressive in their commitment to keep up the momentum but it’s a sad, sad sight.
I experience the same discomfort when faced with corporate apologists that get trotted out with increased frequency to assure us that everything is OK with the world as it is and that we just need to party on. The same is true for the religious nut cases that insist that the party has been ordered by god. “Ye shall party till you drop, thus sayeth the Lord.” Politicians claim that it is a patriotic duty to party or the economy will implode. The worst thing for the sponsors of this lavish event would be if everyone stopped dancing for a moment and noticed that the food had gone bad, the rented tux was coming apart at the seams, the entertainment was cheesy and that the exits were blocked by garbage.
There is no real mystery about the cause of the world’s most pressing problems. We want more than we can have. The degradation of the environment, the rise in degenerative disease, the increase in obesity among the young and much of the financial inequity in the Third World are all down to one simple fact. We have developed bad habits and are not willing to change them. We can’t have everything; it’s immoral, destructive, unjust, and pathetic. The party is over. It’s time to clean the house, open the windows and let the wind blow out all the funky air.
Sure, we can wait till the seas are empty of fish and the jungles are cut down to grow feed for the cows. We can dump chemical sludge in the rivers. We can do that. We can also pretend that these problems are the result of evil bankers and multi-national corporations but where does the responsibility really lie? The simple answer is that it lies with us. This means we need to question what we do, what we eat and what we buy. Changing the way we live is the single basic ingredient in creating a healthy world, a world that works for everyone.
America has been spellbound by the image of the ever-spreading film of toxic gunk infecting the Gulf of Mexico over the past weeks. This oil slick is now about the size of Scotland and will ruin the plant and animal life in the delta regions for decades, maybe more. It worries us because it’s in the backyard. We should not be surprised though; spills this size happen every year in the Nigerian delta regions. That’s right. They have happened every year for at least the last four years. The United States gets about 40% of all its crude oil from there. The life expectancy in that area is about 40 years - toxic food, water, and air will do that to you. Did we think it was just pelicans that got sick? If we demanded real corporate responsibility, environmental protection, and honest wages for the people in the area and mandatory and immediate clean-up, the price of gas would skyrocket. That would put a crimp in the party; it would be like running out of ice and a mixer.
The party has addled our minds. Did someone put LSD in the punch? The reason that there are oil spills is that we don’t have the courage to reduce our addiction to cheap energy. It is the illusion and not the reality of this garish event that enchants us. We are in denial regarding the implications of our actions, divorced from the source of our diversions and angry when told that they have to end.
Two articles in this week’s news caught my jaundiced eye. One was about how the iPhone was becoming the most popular choice of really hip toy collectors with all those cool apps! I was informed that it was an indispensable gadget to have. The other news was about how the Foxconn factory in China was “embarrassed” by the fact that a dozen workers had jumped off the building since January. One reason may be that the factory is run like a military camp and that the workers, who live in dormitories at the plant, work long hours and are only paid $130 per month for a twelve-hour day. Compensation paid to the workers families for their death was more than most of them could earn by living. Some have speculated that the financial incentive of death has been motivation for the suicides. This is a sad story indeed. The factory makes millions of phones for Dell, Sony, Nokia and…Apple. Do we really think that having a cell phone is worth sponsoring the modern equivalent of slavery? I know it’s very cool to check the weather on the little screen or send a funny picture to our friends but I doubt that it’s a fair trade. But then I would think that, I’m a curmudgeon.