Inequalities and Interdependence

Inequalities and Interdependence

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Inequalities and Interdependence


According to my small nephew, milk does not come from cows, it comes from stores. He's never seen a cow being milked, but he has been to the store with his mother to buy milk, so in his world, milk comes from stores.

Purchasing is a major activity in our daily lives. In fact, if there were to be a national crisis of some sort that would prevent us from being able to purchase the barest of daily necessities such as milk, bread, cereal, toothpaste, deodorant, toilet paper, or soap, it would be a very unsettling experience.

In fact, as Dr. Nassar is so fond of saying, "I know almost everyone in here is too young to remember"...everyone except me. I do remember a time in 1974 when within four hours of the onset of a national trucking strike, the shelves in the stores were empty. Not just slim pickin's...but empty. We take a lot for granted in this country. We're very lucky that we have been able to do so.

As students, we are not producers of goods, we are consumers. We live in state of economic dependence on the goods of the entire world.

So, what is interdependence? Interdependence means that two or more parties rely on what they can do for each other to succeed. Mutual contribution is necessary for the well-being of the parties involved. As a nation-state, the economy of the United States of America is interdependent on other nation-states for its well-being.

Because of the relative isolation of this continent, the U.S. was able to remain free of foreign intervention and develop a strong national identity for nearly 150 years. We were free to develop a strong sense of nationalism: an inclination toward self-reliance and rugged individualism in which we took fierce pride. It was sort of the John Wayne approach to national and international relations.

We were able to amass great wealth from our natural resources of gold, silver, furs, timber, steel, cotton, coal, and oil, to name a few. The entrepreneurial experiments of individuals were allowed to develop unhindered. Personal industry and imagination eventually developed major industries of steel, intercontinental railroads, textiles, and shipping. Innovation led to the development of the internal combustion engine and its subsequent uses in industry. Agriculture became an industry, and with the aid of intercontinental railroads and shipping, contributed to the general economy and personal wealth of many.

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As a nation we produced goods that Europeans wanted and were willing to buy at a profit. In time, other nations began to depend on our cotton, wheat, steel, coal, and oil, as well as industrial and technological inventions. We gained wealth and power because of the demand for our goods.

There were many other colonies who were not so fortunate. These nations were discovered by other European countries, and perhaps because of the timing of world events and politics, were not able to break the bonds of their colonizers and develop their own identities and economies as early in their histories as the U.S.

These nations were mainly colonized by the English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, and arguably the U.S. The colonies' precious natural resources were harvested to the economic benefit of the colonizers, and the few local inhabitants who did their bidding. These colonies adopted the style of government, speech, dress, and education of their colonizers, (whether by choice or by force), many of which were at odds with their own cultural and traditional values

In today's world, no one, not even the United States, can be totally independent. All nation-states depend on other nation-states for resources, markets, and trade. There is a web of interdependence throughout the world.

If we look at the tags inside a Calvin Klein T-shirt, or GAP jeans, where do they say they are made? Is it Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh, or maybe Honduras? Or does it say "assembled in Mexico"?

The truth is, companies try to keep their costs as low as possible, not so the products cost us less, but so their profits are greater. How does this effect Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Honduras, or Mexico? Well, they get a little piece of the pie: the T-shirt cost Calvin Klein $1.50 to produce, and we pay, what--$20? Those jeans cost The GAP $3.00 and we pay $50? So, of that $1.50, or $3.00 how much did the people who worked on those items rack up? And how many did they have to turn out in a day in order to keep their jobs? Sometimes it's much nicer not to know anything more than which stores sell our favorite brands.

The world is divided into the rich and the poor, the haves and have nots. In this age of instant communication, the Poor and the Have Nots are becoming more and more aware of what they have not. Communication, in the very recent past, has taken on global proportions. Popular culture spans the globe and shows us many different views of life, for good or for bad--warts and all.

Having lived in several other countries, it has been interesting to see other people's reactions to U.S. films. People seem to have the same emotional reactions: they laugh in the same places, and they are saddened by the same scenes and dialogue, (even if it is written in subtitles).

In Japan, a mania for things American Western, has reached cult proportions. Grown Japanese men dress in boots, chaps, and ten-gallon hats in swaggering seriousness with six-shooters strapped to their sides, slightly shorter versions of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Log homes from Montana have been shipped to Japan and built at great expense, to recreate a bit of the Old West.

But, it was when a Japanese business associate of my husband's shyly asked for my help in finding a Laura Ingalls Wilder doll, (Little House on the Prairie), to take home as a gift for his eight year-old daughter, that I gained a little insight. There is a univerality of "personal goodness" and "moral conflict" that transcend nationality and language. It represents the same concept of "heroism", or "nobility of spirit" that we all recognize and admire, and which is all the more quickly and easily exchanged via satellite.

When I was very young, living in Guatemala, Elvis Presley was popular. Believe it or not, (back in the "olden days"...just after The Flood...satellites had not yet been invented), we could not receive American television programs so I had not heard of Elvis Presley. When we came to the U. S. to visit and I asked whose picture my cousin had taped up all over her walls, she nearly died laughing. She could not believe I had never heard of Elvis Presley and delighted in advertising my ignorance to everyone she saw.

Today, with satellites and public relations networks, celebrities and recording artists in one country are known all over the world. Cultural exchange is commonplace. Re-runs of television sitcoms enjoy an international revival and popularity never imagined when the shows were originally made. People all over the world laugh at the antics of "I Love Lucy", "The Dick Van Dyke Show", and "Leave it to Beaver", not to mention "Bay Watch". These shows represent life in the U.S. to people the world over.

Even the miracle of advanced communication technology with its attendant flow of information, culture, heroes, and commercials, has its inevitable downside and negative consequences. The export of our ideology and culture, creates the "export of dreams" which many people of the world have no hope of being able to afford. For that matter, few people in the U.S. enjoy the perfect bodies and idyllic lives that are portrayed on the "big screen" and "the tube". The images we see lead to unrealistic expectations of life--a longing beyond our circumstances. But for those in the poorest nations, the gap is even wider...it is impossible.

The gap between what one gets and what one expects to get is called relative deprivation. The larger the gap, the more likely people are to resort to violence. And while the possibilities the world has to offer are brought glaringly into focus for people in poor countries via satellite, it also serves to better illuminate the inefficiencies and breakdowns in their own societies that their governments fail to address. Their dissatisfaction with their leaders' lack of responsiveness to those needs, can lead to frustration, violence, and even revolution.

This can be viewed as the fault of the exporters of the dreams, and turned to their condemnation by adept political leaders. Class envy is a powerful tool and very useful for diverting hostility. By blaming the people's discontent on the fact that other nations "have", government leaders can cloud the more relevant issues of their own misman- agement and corruption.

Compounded by their governments' ineffective leadership, is the legacy of dependency established during the days of colonialism. Then, these poor countries' riches were taken from them and put into the pockets of the wealthy nations. This is still being done by multinational businesses which are backed by powerful governments. This has not only kept these nations poor, but has kept them in a position of servitude and economic dependence necessary for contiuned exploitation.

Now, more than ever, the world is divided into two camps. The rich nations of the North, comprising North America, Europe, Japan, and the United Kingdom; and the poor nations of the South, made up of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The generalizations are that the North is literate, the South illiterate; one industrial, the other agrarian; one part overfed, overweight, and wasteful, one underfed, malnourished, and deprived; one affluent, and the other poverty stricken.

In the 1850's the economic gap between the two camps in terms of economic well-being was two to one in favor of the North. In 1950 the gap had widened to ten to one in their favor. Just ten years later that gap had widened still further, to fifteen to one. It is projected that by the year 2000 the economic disparity will double to thirty to one in favor of the rich.

So what is to be done? Will sympathy suffice for more than two-thirds of the world's population? Shall we simply pretend that what we personally don't experience does not exist? Shall we assign blame to this world power, or that corrupt government? Shall we stand up and demand that injustices of comparable magnitude be directed toward the rich to rectify the injustices against the poor?

We must also ask: what responsibility do the leaders of the poor countries bear for the corrupt governments that have ignored the cries of their own citizens, watching its children starve, and perpetrating civil wars for personal power, as we have seen in Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Sudan? What responsibility do these leaders bear for allowing the atrocities of genocide and terrorism to be played out against its weakest and most vulnerable citizens in the name of religion or ideology, as in Ireland, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Iran, China, and India?

Are these problems so neatly swept in a pile, tied in a package, and laid at the door of the "Haves"? Nothing can be that simple. Global issues require global participation for global solutions. It is counter-productive to place blame and point fingers and demand that someone else make it all better. "Global" refers not only to the players, but also to the playing field: all the countries of the world, and all of their inhabitants.

Responsibility must be accepted, and accountability for our stewardships must be made. There is enough responsibility and accountability for all nations to share. We must use our interdependence to move forward and develop solutions to global inequality.
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