Someone recently asked about the problem of in/out groups and how we treat not just our neighbors, but the rest of the world. We've never had this many people on the planet and the questions of how we live together are getting more pressing.
There are two levels to explore this; how I approach my local tribe and on the world stage. My bumper sticker answers; I would never refuse someone a meal or shelter if they came to me in need and I could provide it. For the big picture, I believe anything I do to benefit the billions of people who have so much less than me, benefits me. I’m from the land of Paul Wellstone, where we all do better if we all do better.
Granted, there is a lot of devil in the details. That one word “could” in the part where “if I could provide” leaves a lot of wiggle room. I don’t have a sign on my door that welcomes everyone and I don’t bring home a homeless person every night. If I did that, I would exhaust my resources and I no longer COULD provide. That’s the hypothetical situation that gets presented by people who don’t think these things through, when I say we should open borders or just NOT build a wall. I can’t save the world, I need the rest of the world to help me with that.
So, let’s look at the hypothetical. Let’s say we are somewhere that doesn’t have grocery stores or homeless shelters or other excess resources that we can spread around. I have friends who are growing their own food and live off the grid or are otherwise prepared for a day when there is no grid. They do this out of a sense of love for the planet and with an eye toward a communal lifestyle. I’ve also heard a few of them talk about what they would do if they were surviving while most of the people, the unprepared people, were not. A few of them have said they would defend their homes, violently if necessary.
I would not do that. Partly because I just don’t want to prepare for that. I don’t want to buy weapons and learn to use them or even consider combative types of self defense. I’d lose against almost anyone except the feeblest. But let’s same I’m just part of a group and I could just cook the food for the warriors. I still wouldn’t do it. If I did that, I’d no longer be the person I am now. I would in essence die. I would rather die a death of starvation while trying to feed and house as many people as I could, than live a life that depended on the deaths of others, deaths that I caused.
I realize as an American, I’m already living that life. My safety and security depends on a vast military supported by my taxes. That is not the same as the kind of direct action discussed above. As a citizen in a modern nation, actually for any nation or kingdom going back thousands of years, we have all benefitted from acts of violence. If we were not the beneficiaries, we wouldn’t be here. The refugee depends on the country that lets them in and defends its borders from the place they escaped. The conquered ones benefit from the peace treaty that prevented their complete annihilation. We are all born into a world with these acts in our history and most of us don’t have the power to stop it.
So what do we do in a world where the lines of good and evil are not always clear?
First, to the person who asks me why I don’t take that immigrant from Nicaragua into my home, I say, we all do that every day. As a modern democracy, we’ve decided to pay for housing for criminals. It’s called a prison. Almost half of our taxes go to take care of men and women in the military all over the world. We take of children that we’ve never met because we know something could happen to us, and that could be our kid. This is just basic altruism on a scale of millions. When we understand a need for the world, we work together to satisfy it. Obviously we don’t all agree on how to do that. That’s a conversation about democracy that is beyond my scope here. The point is we muddle through.
But what of my statement that I’d rather die than stand by while others die. Why am I not out there right now doing everything I can to save every one of those people that my military is threatening, or the kids closer to home who are hurting because of the oppressive environment and sub-par schools. I’m not going to defend my every action or list my community involvement, that’s a losing game. What matters is we aren’t all starving. This is not a post apocalyptic landscape we are living in. Truth is the things that have been important to me for most of my life have improved. There is less pollution, less hunger and more education.
Also true, I could do more. If I had better leadership skills, I could get more people doing the things I’ve done and more kids would be fed and maybe even more men would understand that it benefits them to have educated daughters. I know I’ve made some difference in the world. I’ll leave judgments up to some other power. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a theory I have. We talk about the “1%” and how they make all these higher ideas difficult to implement. We also sometimes recognize that it’s our participation in their system that benefits them. My theory is, if the people in the 50-99% range would focus more on the lower 50%, the 1% wouldn’t know what to do.
Put it this way; I’ve never known anyone to discuss helping someone who is chronically hungry by supplying them with a new flavor of potato chips or the latest variation of fizzy water. We don’t throw a banquet and invite someone who is struggling with addiction. For that matter, we don’t pick up someone living on the street and enroll them in college. Instead, we start a garden on an abandoned neighborhood lot, we hold a seminar about how to apply for and keep a job, we say hello to someone we see sitting on a corner. These are low cost measures that contribute to the same economy that the 1% say they are responsible for.
That economy depends on the participation of everyone across the entire income spectrum. What we have right now is a few people who are secure enough that they think they can experiment with how much poverty and starvation and all the problems that come with it the system can stand. They don’t care about any tribe as far as I can tell. Most of the world does not think this way and never has. History has not turned out well when there is this much wealth disparity. It is not tolerated. The question before us is can we make the correction peacefully?