July 21, 2011
Life Isn't Fair, and Neither is Coffee
Education means a lot of things to a lot of people. It means numbers and letters, things both esoteric and practical. It means degrees, more degrees, or real life experience. Probably, it means some mess of all of these things most of the time.
But for right now, I think it's important to consider one specific aspect of education: Current events. It's a junior high class where I come from, and not the sort I recall taking very seriously. Never again was an entire class devoted to the idea, though I had plenty concerning events and people long dead. This is probably a fallacy on some level. There are those who will tell you that history is instructive; it teaches you where we've been, and thus where we might be going. That's all well and good, but not so vital as understanding where the hell we are in the first place.
That said, it's probably easier to understand history than the present moment. We have the benefit of hindsight concerning the former, and nothing so convenient for the latter. Perhaps that's why no one teaches current events. It's hard to teach something you can't claim knowledge of yourself. Best leave it to future generations. Let them decide what happened, rather than try to figure out what's happening.
Even still, I think anyone who would be educated makes an attempt to be informed regarding current events. Perhaps they don't read every inch of every paper ever day; perhaps they even spend time on entertainment. That's healthy, at the very least, and probably shows a broader grasp of current events than one who focuses solely on geopolitics.
Admittedly, it's much more likely for a person to go the other direction. It's comforting to place your concerns with things that, ultimately, don't matter much. That's why people obsess over things like sports, gossip, food, fitness, and whatever else. That's why I have a gym membership, and couldn't imagine the alternative being possible. That's why I read fantasy novels. That's why this blog exists. Serious things are serious enough without our taking them seriously. But emotionally investing in one's ability to pour milk in a cup is just the right kind of frivolous.
But there are those less glamorous pages, those stories that don't involve spectacular levels of sex or violence. These deaths are unglamorous, anonymous. This is faceless suffering, numbers placed in an unfortunate spreadsheet column, never spared more than a fleeting moment's guilt, if that.
If being educated requires an awareness of current events, then it also requires an awareness of this sort of thing. It requires a knowledge that most of the world is starving to death, while the rest is committing suicide by corn syrup. And it requires a knowledge that this gap is widening as fast as first world waistlines.
This is not a new revelation, of course. There have been doomsday prophets for as long as there have been days at all, cynics and alarmists who would find the end from the beginning. But while this isn't new, it is the furthest thing from alarmist. It is fact, not disputed by anyone willing to objectively examine the data. We have too much; they have too little. We are getting more; they are getting less. They long for daily bread, while we anguish over what processed flour might do to our abs.
I'm externalizing this to an extent. When I say "we", I might as well say "me". I wonder if 100 grams of protein a day is "enough", when the World Health Organization sets the bar at a fraction of that. Even still, most of the world falls short. And I could go on, noting just about every aspect of my life, from the bed I wake up in to the computer I'm typing this on.
There is coffee, too, probably the best example. I work with it daily, making, by global standards, a ridiculous sum of money. I am paid enough to eat what I want, as often as I want, to see movies and buy new clothes on a whim, to fill up a car I drive with little though devoted to its emissions. And this is all for an absolute luxury, a thing not one person on Earth has ever or will ever need. There is the water it takes to brew a pot too, when most of the world can't get a clean cup a day. There is the electricity, which requires fossil fuels. Not to mention the milk. Not to mention the transport of the beans themselves, which cannot be grown in the United States, but must be shipped at significant cost. Not to mention the farmers, the mono-cropping, the species wiped out so I can drink what I like.
Of course, there are people who would do things better. There is fair trade, which may or may not be fair at all. But even if the latter is true, there are small companies devoted to cultivating relationships with small farms, with growers who do things right. There is the superficially trivial fact that coffee, though not strictly necessary for anyone, feels like it is for most people in this country. It makes their day tolerable at least, and at best, might make them happy. That's my job, as I see it. If what I do is indeed a luxury, if my life is one most of the world could never dream of, then making the best of it is the least I can do.
While ignoring current events, the darker realities of right now, might be easy, so is guilt. Feeling bad allows one to feel superior without doing anything. This isn't to say that I have the answer, or that I'm doing anything but poorly justifying my greedy existence on some would-be moral ground. But whatever the answer is, it's not feeling guilty. It's certainly not feeling bad at what others lack, and worse about what you've got. And while we're searching, being happy and and trying to inspire the same in others is the best I've come up with.