Watching or reading the news lately, one cannot avoid images of Haiti’s poverty. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, many in Haiti, even prior to the earthquake, resorted to eating mud because they could not afford rice or other staples.
The reminder of that kind of poverty makes me question how anyone, myself included, can live a life of such relative wealth without guilt. While I am generally opposed to religion, one good thing that comes of certain religious organizations is the idea of charity, giving, tzedakah, etc. Of course one can lead a life without God and be inclined to give time and money to those in need, but it seems that without God reality is tied to science, where the genetic reality is “survival of the fittest” and to care only for ones’ self and offspring.
On NBC, Conan and Leno are fighting it out for a time slot when they can make America laugh. These comedians poke fun at life so we can get by it. Because regardless where you stand on the food chain, life is ultimately scary and meaningless. You can have all the money in the world and even moments of happiness but that means nothing. You can spend your entire life being Mother Theresa 2.0 and give and give, but that also means nothing. You can be in poverty, trapped by economic forces greater than any talent or skill you have, and that ultimately means nothing too.
Yet as I work as a widget in the machine known as capitalism, I have dual, painfully contrasting purposes in my mind, like two opposing notes sung by the shrillest of voices in attempted and failed harmony. One part of my mind wants wealth. Not stuff, per say, but “money” in the bank. Lots of money. To save and to have. Maybe to buy some stuff. This is what America instills in us as values. If we do not make money, if we chose poverty, we are failures. If we work hard (and use birth control and can obtain health insurance) there is “no excuse” to be poor in this country. Not poor like those in Haiti, anyway. No one in America has to eat mud cookies to survive.
The other contrasting note plaguing my ears is that of the desire to help others. To make a difference in the world. But the pain is so great. And the difference one can make is so small. You can feed a child, you can help a family in a third world country eat for a few days, or even a year. But how much can one person help?
Is there even a way for the world — everyone in the world — to live at a level above poverty (the US standard of poverty) if wealth exists? Doesn’t the wealth of one rely on the poverty of another? And we know communism, the ideal of equality, doesn’t work, because humans are genetically greedy.
So what can one person do? A part of me wants to donate all of my savings to Haiti right now. Of course, I won’t. I’ve never donated money before in my life. Which is terrible of me. But I’m afraid to part with money. I’m afraid any difference I could make (with the exception of donating all of my income to charity or spending my life as an atheist missionary) is too small to be a difference at all.