Sunday, 11 September 2011

Blind Spot

We're products of the Western world. West centric. The things that happen closer to home impact on us more than the events that occur to people of different cultures in far away places.
Perfectly predictable in one sense. But right?
I'm thinking about this on the anniversary of 9/11 because today is a day of mourning and reflection for many. But, and I say this without any intention to lessen what 9/11 means, I think we Westerners are quite selective in our response to human suffering. Consider; on any given day 26,000 children will die from completely treatable conditions, whilst thousands will starve to death in squalor and loneliness. In some cultures women will be genitally mutilated, in others children forced into slave labour, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The difference between these things and 9/11 is that they don't all happen in the same place at the same time. The suffering is dispersed, yet no less searing.
What am I getting at, you might be wondering? Well, it's really no more than just to point out a blind spot within us all. The big disasters jar us and draw us all in like moths to a flame, yet what about those smaller everyday evils? They go under the radar, flickers of anguish amidst a world that just trundles remorselessly on. Today we mourn a single, monstrous act of vileness that has truly reshaped the global landscape and laid bare certain delusions, yet even as we listen to the speeches and watch those wreathes being laid I find myself questioning my hypocrisy, and also yours.
Sadly, much of the hardship that afflicts the poorest people of the world are caused by the excesses of the West, be it foreign policy or more subtle evils like our consumer culture. You and I, by many of our choices, increase the suffering of others in ways that should revile us. If you doubt this consider the following; picture a child in a cramped sweatshop knocking out clothing that's  going to turn up on our High Street. They often work in dreadful conditions, earn nothing, and are frankly treated no better than slaves. And what about our obsession with fossil fuel? Reflect on how the behaviour of the large corporations often crushes the needs of local populations underfoot? Habitats destroyed, whole cultures wiped from the global map. And how many species have been driven to extinction by our greed? A few moments reflection is all that's required to to send a chill down our spines.
Do not misunderstand me. We need trade, economy, and all the engines that drive a society. Yet we need to be stewards rather than thieves. More than that, we need to be aware that our habits, our lifestyle, and our choices have an influence beyond our immediate line of sight.
So what to do? Well, how about a number of small things? Buy from companies with good human rights records, and boycott those that put pound sterling before a pound of flesh. We all want contented and peaceful lives, but don't you want this for others, too? We can't solve any of the world's problems alone, yet our choices can each illicit a small difference.
We're passengers on the same global ship. Just because we've had the good fortune of being born into 1st class doesn't mean we should ignore our fellow travellers. Please take time to think about this.

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