Lunch atop a Skyscraper, 1932

Does the World Need Poor People?

Before I get too far into this article, I want to be clear about something. By “poor,” I’m not talking about people who are starving in remote corners of the world (or just around the corner.) I mean the people who exist at the very bottom of our capitalist society. People who earn minimum wage or those who work in the American factories of Asia. The people who earn enough to pay the bills and put food on the table. People who are getting by, but just barely.

Does the world need these people?

I wonder if our lives might actually depend upon the poor remaining poor. It seems to me that poor people are paying the price for (or are absorbing the costs of) our consumer lifestyles and our demand for cheap merchandise. To keep the cost of the products we buy as low as possible, the wages of the people producing them must be equally low, whether it’s an iPad or a Big Mac.

We need poor people to subsidize our lifestyles.

Without them, we wouldn’t be able to afford to have the things we have. We’re able to own the things we do because of cheap labor (and poor people.) If it wasn’t for minimum wage workers, our sandwiches at lunch would cost much more than they do now. Without Asian factory workers earning a couple of dollars a day assembling iPads, most of us wouldn’t be able to afford to own one.

A lot has been made of America’s middle class being the “backbone” of America, but it’s the poor that allow the middle class to exist. Without their sacrifices, our lives wouldn’t be as comfortable as they are. It’s their toil that’s built our lifestyles.

We need poor people.

If you object to corporations exploiting cheap labor, consider that these jobs are providing an income to people who need it…poor people need work too. If you’re opposed to foreign workers earning a couple of dollars a day, consider that, while applying American standards to foreign situations might seem like a noble way of approaching the issue, living standards vary dramatically around the globe and such comparisons may not be valid.

“The wages these jobs provide are not enough to get workers into the middle class. But they are enough to provide for food, shelter and transportation. And they often allow people to pay for schooling for themselves and family members.” ~ Source

If you’re not comfortable supporting these things, you have options.

Become a conscious consumer and spend your money in a way that represents your values.

As a consumer, you have the power to affect change by choosing how and where your money is spent. Ask yourself how your lifestyle might demand cheap labor, outsourced jobs, and Asian sweat shops. When making purchases, consider fair trade products, items that are sustainably and locally sourced, and/or buy secondhand. Check out the FreeCycle Network.

“Each time we buy a product or a service, we place a vote of confidence in that producer or service provider – every source of raw material, every practice of environmental standards, every form of employee relations and every form of communication with the public. Everything that company or group does is something we support. Everything that company or service provider does and believes, we’ve said yes, go ahead and keep doing it.” ~ Source

Or opt out of consumerism entirely.

The money you spend on shit you don’t need doesn’t grow on trees. It has to be earned. The more you spend, the more money you need, and the more you have to work. Alternatively, the less you spend, the less money you need, and the less you have to work. The less you have to work, the more time you have to do things that are meaningful, like spending time with your family.

“To live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.”

The bottom line is that your choices have consequences. And things aren’t always as simple as they seem. It’s your responsibility as a consumer to educate yourself about the purchases you make and make decisions you’re comfortable with. If you’re okay with owning products that came from a factory where workers have committed suicide due to poor working conditions, that’s a choice you have to make (and live with.) It’s more than a product you’re buying…your purchase is a statement of your support for the entire process involved in getting that product into your hands (and what happens with it after you’re done.)

Educate yourself.

The Moments that Change Our Life

When was the moment that you realized who you are, what you love or what you’re supposed to do with your life?

In my life, I’ve experienced many of these moments, from being arrested and realizing that getting fucked up everyday wasn’t the life I wanted to the road trip to the Rocky Mountains with my friends where I found my passion for travel.  Both of these moments caused a fundamental shift in my thinking and instantly changed the direction of my life.

When I was arrested, I promised myself that I’d do whatever it took to get myself clean, even if it meant losing every friend I had and starting over from scratch, which is exactly what happened.  The road trip gave me a chance to see the world beyond the limits of my small Midwestern town and after that trip, I saw life from a different perspective and a new way of thinking.

And while I didn’t realize it at the time, my hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park also helped define who I am today.  I’ve been reminiscing about that trip in my mind, thinking about the beauty of the park, the challenge of the climb and the triumph of reaching the top.  The sore knees and the other pains have long since faded and now I’m left with only fond memories.

I want to go back.

Thinking about everything I want to accomplish this year and the amount of time I have to do it, it’s time to start prioritizing.  Turkey, Russia, Ethiopia, Japan, New England, Yosemite are all on the radar this year but I only have a few weeks in which I can dedicate myself to travel due to summer classes.

I miss Planet Earth.

When I travel, I’m visiting huge cities like Paris, Rome or Buenos Aires and spend a lot of my time riding subways, taking taxis and breathing exhaust.  I long for the solitude of the forests and the thrill of climbing mountains.  There’s something special about a bear and her cub walking next to you in the wild, about getting your boots dusty and the feeling of a cool mountain river to soothe your body after a long hike.

So, while I might not be wandering around the bazaars of Istanbul or doing hand stands in Red Square this year, maybe I’ll return to my favorite place on the planet instead.

Kim Kardashian’s Ass

This article isn’t about Kim Kardashian’s ass.  Her and her ass are just my reference point to our dysfunction as a society.  It seems that our attention is perpetually focused on trivial, unimportant things…shit, for a lack of a better word.  Leonardo DiCaprio, Lady Gaga, Oprah, Ricky Martin’s sexuality, Paris Hilton’s sex tape, Pamela Anderson’s sex tape, Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, Kendra’s sex tape, Keeley Hazel’s sex tape, Lindsey Lohan’s drug problem and Tiger Woods’ whore problem…a bunch of shit that no one really ought to care about.  Oh, I almost forgot Heidi Montag’s boob job…the controversy that created!

We’re so obsessed with Hollywood and celebrities that we ignore the world around us.  Reality TV has become a substitution for actual reality.  Our conversations revolve around who was voted off the island last night, not the atrocities taking place this very moment in Darfur.  The scandals on American Idol are of more concern to us than the dolphins being slaughtered in Taiji, Japan.  And did you hear that the Jonas brothers aren’t wearing their purity rings anymore!?  OMG!

The problem isn’t so much that we care about celebrities, it’s that we don’t care about the other things that actually matter.  Why?  Why don’t we give a shit?  As much as I hate to admit it, I get it.  I understand why we ignore the problems of the world and fill our thoughts with superficial garbage.

It’s easier. 

Looking at pictures of celebrities in bikinis is much more enjoyable than looking at pictures of babies starving to death or whales being brutalized.  Watching Josh Hartnett make love to a beautiful girl in the movies allows us to escape into a fantasy world but the bad things don’t get better by ignoring them.  The children are still starving.  By the time you finish reading this sentence, another child has died.  Climate change will happen whether you believe it or not.  Governments will continue to oppress their people.  Today wars are fought for oil and tomorrow, water.

But what difference can you make anyways?   You’re but one person in a sea of billions.  Your voice is no louder than the next person’s.  You and I may never change the world alone but if we stand together with hundreds, thousands or even millions of others just like us, we do have the power to be the catalysts of change.  Together, no longer are our voices small and meek but instead become a thunderous roar, one united voice, loud enough to move mountains.

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” ~Gandhi

It’s time to forget about Kim Kardashian’s ass and unite to fight for what we believe in and stand up against the injustices all around the world.  As for Paris Hilton’s sex tape…it wasn’t even that good.