One of the things I find most frustrating about modern life is the sensation of hopelessness that sometimes it produces. The other day I went to a local shopping center to purchase a pair of shoes. A totally normal event in which I didn’t really expect much to occur. It’s a simple, every-day process: enter the store, find something I like and then purchase it. However, when I was perusing the selection I realized that really, one of the most important factors in making this decision was going to be price. In other words, I would be making a decsion that was very much a balance between what I might want and how much it was going to cost me. We can disagree on it being the most important part, but we rarely buy the cheapest or the most expensive option. How much it costs is vital to our decision.
Whether you are rich or poor, working or unemployed, or somewhere in between, we tend to live by a common ideal, which is to try to live within our means. Most of the time I do this successfully and I am comfortable enough with myself to be able to make the necessary sacrifices to do so in a pleasurable and meaningful way. I permit spoiling myself, but I also know there is a limit and this affects the choice that I make. However, I can’t help but look at the paradox that exists when I go to buy a simple pair of athletic shoes. The price differences are drastic. One can buy a pair of shoes for $200 and it will include all the latest technological advances a shoe can have and will be equipped with fancy cushioning and new-age laces that don’t dirty. One can also buy a remarkably similar shoe for $30. This shoe maybe doesn’t have the fancy gizmos as the other shoe and maybe the material is a bit cheaper and the design a bit outdated, all of which could cause it to break down sooner than the other shoe, but for all intents and purposes these two products are exactly the same thing.
Part of the issue that I take with this simple, commercial activity is that I know who makes my shoes. The underdeveloped world is exploited and paid almost nothing for the shoes that I wear, and then, somehow, it reaches me and is sold for an exorbitant price that I can barely afford. As I sit there and compare the two shoes I think to myself that maybe the more expensive shoe is the way that it is because the company pays those who make it more money, but I am not naïve enough to really think this is the case. So, then, why does it cost so much more money? Where does it go?
I’m told that if you make more than $50,000 a year, you are within the top 1 percent of the world’s income bracket. But, if you make $50,000 a year in the US with a family and normal expenses, one would probably not feel the effects of being in this exclusive wealth category. This person would probably go to the shoe store and purchase the $30 shoe instead of the $200 one because that is what their budget dictates. This is one of the most frustrating things to me about modern, developed life. We feel as though we don’t have enough. Compared to the rest of the world we are cloaked in money. What seems like a run-down, lower class home would be a thing of august luxury to a large percentage of the world’s population, yet we complain of difficult lives and of not having enough because the reality of the situation is that we do not.
So, despite all this money, it is no wonder that when people ask for donations for a local charity or when someone approaches you on the street needing $.50 you almost always turn a blind eye and excuse yourself from any guilt because your current situation really does not allow you to be able to make this sacrifice. But, herein lies the crux of the issue. What constitutes a sacrifice? We won’t make a donation to a local charity because we can’t spare the $25 or $50 that we need to spare, but then we spend that money on a nice dinner with friends or we put it into our savings account for a house or a vacation and we consider that money better spent. But why? Why is that money better spent?
Because we see what happens to it.
If I asked you for $20 to help feed a child, you gave me the $20 and then you saw me go to the supermarket, purchase food and then hand it to the child, would you deny me those $20? Would you watch the child go hungry? Of course not, or at least any decent human worth dealing with would not.
These examples are dramatic. Saying “the starving children in Africa would eat that” whilst tossing your food scraps into the garbage has been overused to the point where it has become a joke, or a token thing to say to try and make light of the needless waste you are generating. However, I do think this represents a larger, deeper problem with modern human society that will be very difficult to overcome.
The topic of social programs and “access to all” are becoming more and more popular in today’s discussions, especially as elections sweep the country and force people to take ideological sides against one another. But I don’t think people really understand what it would take to build a society with true equality. To have true equality, we must first decide what it is that we want everyone to have. Is it food? a family? an education? a job? Some of these things can be guaranteed, and some of them cannot. And if we agree that we want everyone to have food, shelter and access to health care, what about the countless people that have long since dismissed these needs as foregone conclusions that need not be worried about.
We like to tie the words equality and opportunity and try to imagine a world where the playing field is level and the differences only occur because of direct consequences of your actions. Having children make our shoes doesn’t matter because the money they make is “good money for their situation” and it will lead to future wealth and future opportunity that will eventually help the whole world. This thought process is so flawed I feel like a charlatan simply typing it onto this page
While I demand that shoes be sold at a price that I can afford, and that I have the chance to buy whatever my money can buy, this child’s situation will not change.
We must ask ourselves what it is that we want to give up, and then actually give it up, if we hope to ever see a world with true equality.
– Matthew Jones