"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Obsolete Beliefs numbers 3 and 4

Over the last few weeks I have written about the essay by Ervin Laszlo on “The World’s Health Problem: an Integral Diagnosis” in A New Renaissance – Transforming Science, Spirit and Society. Laszlo concludes: “the world is (1) socially, economically and ecologically unsustainable, (2) saddled with irrational behaviours and (3) governed by obsolete beliefs and aspirations.”

I have covered the first two obsolete beliefs in previous blogs: that we think the planet is inexhaustible, and that we believe that “nature is a mechanism.”

Here is Obsolete Belief number 3: Life is a struggle where only the fittest survive.
“The (mal) adaptation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection to society,” Laszlo writes, “produces a growing gap between rich and poor, and concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a small group of smart but often unscrupulous managers and speculators.”
And here is his Obsolete Belief number 4, which is closely linked to number 3: The Market Distributes Benefits.” Affluent people tend to hold on to the belief that the free market, governed by what Adam Smith called the “invisible hand,” distributes the benefits of economic activity…the poverty and marginalization of nearly half of the world’s population,” he writes, “is eloquent testimony to the fact that this tenet doesn’t work in the context of today’s power- and wealth-distorted global markets.”

While we enjoy material riches, real poverty is indeed rife and 923 million people across the world are hungry. In addition, almost 16,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes. That’s one child every five seconds. Yes, one child dies from hunger every five seconds.
The injustices of the rich/poor divide bring discontent and envy, particularly with the globalization of information. Poverty brings disease and lack of education, which itself perpetuates that poverty. Lack of resources also increases vulnerability to natural disasters that in the developed nations we are broadly speaking better able to handle. Inadequate and poor quality housing exacerbates the impact of floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. Although we often call such disasters ‘Acts of God’ there is evidence that some of these ‘natural’ disasters are linked to man’s own interference with the planet. There is widespread homelessness, and a devastating AIDS/HIV crisis. I have seen various estimates of the number of children who will be orphaned by AIDS in Africa by 2010, ranging from 20 million to 50 million. Even the lower figure is appalling.

These statistics are an affront to our humanity. We need to do all we can to lift the most disadvantaged in our world out of poverty. This is a matter of justice and it is a matter of human compassion.
In 1976 an economics professor Dr Muhammad Yunus conducted an experiment. He gave the equivalent of $26 to each of 42 workers. From this they all bought materials, spent a day weaving chairs or making pots and were able to sell their wares and repay the loans. Thus was born the concept of microcredit.
Microcredit refers to small loans of less than a few hundred dollars, with no collateral, at nil or no more than commercial interest rates, made to help the poorest of the poor in the third world to start up small enterprises. This enables them to spread their productive capacity and gain some measure of independence and a better standard of living. For Yunus’ subsequent work with Grameen Bank, which was founded to foster this use of microcredit, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to them both in equal shares, for ‘their efforts to create economic and social development from below’, while improving the lives of millions of people in Yunus’ native Bangladesh.
Every person we help out of poverty, and towards independence, contributes towards making the world a better place for us all.
We cannot all be in the front line, at the sharp end of humanitarian relief efforts. But we can all make a contribution, however small, to reputable aid agencies to help and support them in their work.
I have a Cooperative Community card. Every time I shop at the Co-op, one penny is taken from me for every £1 I spend, and given to local deserving charities. What a fine and painless way of helping the community where we live, helping to make it a better place for us all.

The picture, by the way, is from the cover of Creation in Crisis; Christian Perspectives on Sustainability that I have reviewed previously.

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