The Starving Elephant In The Room

**CAVEAT**  Conservative readers beware: the Liberal Christian in me wrote the following post. 

As I was reading this story in USAToday online about how Oregon’s Democratic Governor has taken up the challenge of living for one week solely on the $21 food stamp allowance, I was interested to find out more of the story behind the story.  Gov. Ted Kulongoski has already responded to the potential naysayers:

“I don’t care what they call it, if this is what it takes to get the word out,” Kulongoski said, in response to questions about whether the food stamp challenge was no more than a publicity stunt. “This is an issue every citizen in this state should be aware of.”

Actually, hunger is an issue everyone in the world should be aware of.  Most Americans are only a few paychecks away from homelessness, whether we realize it or not, and I am not ashamed to say that when I was first living on my own I occasionally needed the assistance of my local food shelf.  I was employed full time, but this was before the idea of a “livable minimum wage” took hold, and for a year or so I scrambled to pay the rent.  I never went on food stamps, but if I was down to pennies and wasn’t going to get paid for a few more days then I walked down and got some food from time to time.  Since then, of course, I’ve gone back and given back and  am constantly amazed at the amount of people the Burlington Food Shelf helps feed on a daily basis. 

I’ve been a supporter of One.org for a while now.  Despite my initial disbelief that celebrities could actually “accomplish” anything substantive, the eclectic combination of folks supporting the effort lead me to dig deeper into the organization.  I’ve mentioned them in forums before, but until last night’s reminder from American Idol, I have neglected to endorse them here.  Let me do so right now. 

I should start by explaining that I have another project that I’m currently working on called FixingTomorrow, and have a very specific–perhaps too much–idea of what type of society we should be working toward, and many opinions that I cite here and other places, while they may seem nonsensical in vaccuum, actually make sense when taken as a whole.  The short version is that I think we’re so mired in our entrenched processes that we no longer have the capacity to work within established norms to accomplish our actual needs as a species.  But enough digression–the FT project will be explained in due time.  Suffice it to say that underneath all of the ideas I will eventually present is the concept of a truly worldwide functional society, where all of our fundamental Maslowian needs are met: food, shelter, safety, etc.  And The One Campaign is the best indicator I’ve seen that we may actually meet those needs worldwide within my lifetime. 

TheOneCampaign is such a strong and basic response that people ranging from Bono to Pat Robertson have signed on.  That in itself should be telling enough.  If I agree with Pat Robertson about something, then you should just assume it’s a good idea and get on with it. 

And while IdolGivesBack was a nice idea, I find it inexcusable that we allow the mentally ill to walk the streets as homeless, having rescinded funding for mental hospitals or declared them “inhumane,” especially since we have the capacity to feed every person on the planet.  Now, as I talk about extensively in FixingTomorrow, birth control is another avenue we should strongly advocate, at least in the short term, to help the starvation problem, but even absent that idea we have the ability to feed everyone now alive. 

What we lack is the collective will to make it happen.  

So please, if the images on your TV screen last night weren’t enough to move you, let my words be your guide.  You can save a life.  You can feed a child.  And you can tell your government to get the job done right now. 

Jesus bade us to care for the least among us.  Would that not mean those most incapable of taking care of themselves?   

Please join ONE today.  Volunteer at your local food bank.  Visit a local nursing home and sit with an elderly person for a while who may have no one else in their life.  I know a lot of gay men will read this: you may end up that lonely man in the nursing home one day. 

There’s no reason for anyone to starve anymore.  Any reason we give for allowing it to happen is merely an excuse, not a reason.  Those deaths are on our hands as long as we sit on them. 

Do something. 

Now. 

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13 thoughts on “The Starving Elephant In The Room

  1. I’m a little perturbed with you about that first sentence, Jamie.

    It’s not that conservatives don’t want to feed the hungry; we just think it’s OUR responsibility, not the government’s.

    And nothing you wrote in any way conflicts with that. Indeed, I prefer your method of “I’LL step up and feed them, dammit” versus Kulongoski’s publicity stunt. The main reason, in my opinion, that we still have widespread hunger and poverty is because the philosophical and political thought over the past hundred years has been to shift responsibility from us for caring for the sick, the hungry, the widowed, etc. to the government — and by doing so, enable us to avoid it.

  2. A couple of random thoughts . . .

    Granted, in scripture, Jesus feeds quite a few people, but when you think of the issue of hunger which would have been significantly rampant in his time also, then even if he did feed 5000 people a single meal, isn’t that kind of like only slapping a band-aid on the hunger problem? I don’t have an answer to this question, so any thoughts are appreciated.

    I also have to agree with NDT above. Just because I may be conservative does not mean that I don’t do all that I can to participate in projects to help with hunger which include donations and having spent some time working in a conservative church that opened its doors up from October to the end of March each year to get several homeless guys out of the cold and feed them three square meals. Nor does my conservatism mean that I want to see school children starving OR the elderly dying on street corners (despite what liberal mouthpieces might say).

    I am absolutely opposed to the church of Jesus Christ giving away any more of its own God-entrusted responsibilities to a government that is; more often than not, corrupt and off track.

  3. Chuckle . . . I suppose I put it in there because of what I was feeling, not necessarily the text I wrote. Frankly I think being truly Christian is a very liberal notion in the classical sense of the word. Jesus was very much into “outreach,” whereas when I think “conservative,” in a nonpolitical sense, I think of less risky behavior–such as not putting one’s self on a limb for another’s interests.

    I do find it highly hypocritical that those with the majority of wealth and a better ability to fund these efforts have not yet solved the problem. Let’s walk the walk as well as talk the talk, if you get my drift. The Catholic Church alone sits on BILLIONS of dollars in gold, yet children die every day from lack of proaction on the part of everyone. Oh, if I were the Pope . . .

    Of course, then we begin to get onto the subject of birth control and appropriate sex education in order to stem population growth as a correllary to the problem, and I think you and I have agreed to safely avoid that topic, right?

    So, further down the argument . . . insofar as we have a government nominally by, for, and of the people, I think that inherently it is both our responsibility AND the government’s. Actually, grammatical change here: governments’.

    Because no one nation bears sole responsibility for this–we all do.

    And I just find it an abomination that we allow one child to die at all from starvation, let alone one every three seconds. Any true christian who reads that should think that we’re all going straight to hell for that one statistic alone. And we would deserve it.

  4. Jason:

    Thanks for the comment. I have no bias against conservatives per se, and share many conservative viewpoints. I’m one of those true moderates who evokes the ire of all he meets. So please don’t take it as an insult.

    I really think that every single one of us needs to go to our church leaders, our civic leaders, or any other figurehead we know with any bit of power and tell them to send the message up the line to solve this problem. NOW.

  5. Oh, if I were the Pope . . .

    ….you’d have hung yourself in three days over that whole celibacy thing. 🙂

    Anyway, more to the point.

    Of course, then we begin to get onto the subject of birth control and appropriate sex education in order to stem population growth as a correllary to the problem, and I think you and I have agreed to safely avoid that topic, right?

    Well, what I think we do have is a misunderstanding on matters.

    I oppose abortion except in the case of nonconsensual sex (rape or incest) or the pregnancy being a threat to the physical health of the mother, in which case their individual rights take precedence over the baby’s — and which, if you look at the Guttmacher Institute’s own statistics on the matter, make up 5% of all abortions performed.

    I am totally for contraception. Great idea, morally correct, love it — and with barrier methods, the single best weapon we have to stop HIV.

    I am in favor of teaching kids the one thing we want them all to do — abstain from sex until they’re older, more mature, and responsible enough to handle it — and placing the onus on their parents to have the conversation with their kids.

    So, further down the argument . . . insofar as we have a government nominally by, for, and of the people, I think that inherently it is both our responsibility AND the government’s.

    I would disagree. The government is merely a means that we use. WE are responsible, inasmuch as we create and empower the government; the government has (and should have) no responsibility outside that which we have given it.

    When I delegate something to a subordinate, I still am responsible for the final result — and if my subordinate is not performing, I am responsible for stepping into the gap and fixing the problem. Same with the government.

  6. It is within our power to solve the problem of world hunger, but we will not solve that problem because we are wrapped up into our cultures. I had the same feelings of frustration listening to many of the stars last night on American Idol talk about giving; knowing that they were giving amounts that were actually mere portions of what they actually possess. I mean, they could give up the private jet or a couple of homes or the stylish clothes and a whole tone of other things.

    But, I could have given up the ice cream that I paid $7.50 for me and my son last night and had enough to buy a mosquito net or two. Many of us could sell one of our two cars, give it to charity and figure out how to do life with just one. We could ride bicycles to work and save the money we would normally spend on gas. I could eat lentil soup all week and not have spent the $50 bucks I did yesterday on meat when the Schwan’s guy stopped by the house. I could go on and on AND I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do these things. I’m simply asking why we don’t do these things. It’s not just a challenge to the millionaires and billionairres. It’s a challenge for every middle and upper class American.

    I mean, really, I have not sacrificed all that I could sacrifice to feed more people and neither has Bono or Madonna or Simon Cowell. Throwing a meager portion of our money at a problem helps us feel good. But making a real sacrifice hurts. And we don’t like to do things that hurt.

    I am always confused about folks who wear the PovertySucks.com t-shirts. I mean, really, can you make a $10.00 contribution to something, get a cool t-shirt and call yourself a humanitarian all the while guzzling gasoline in SUV’s (or even Subaru’s and Volvo’s for those with a more liberal penchant in automobiles), buying fair-trade coffee at Starbucks and wearing birkenstocks because they make us feel more earthy and not be somewhat hypocritical. That may sound sarcastic, but its a question I’ve been wrestling with.

    We’ve also got to wrestle with Jesus’ admonition that we would always have the poor with us. I think that means Jesus was telling those who would follow in his ways that there will never be a magic bullet for some of some of the ills of a culture without Christ. There will never be a man made solution that will get rid of this problem. Thus, it will always be our responsibility as Christians to sacrifice and serve; just as he sacrificed and served.

  7. We definitely have the means to feed every person on this planet. And we probably have the means to house them too.

    But there’s a school of thought that says we shouldn’t. Certainly, these folks would say that government, religion, and business (AKA the people who have the most to lose) alike do not want to “solve” poverty. At least, they don’t want to solve it completely. They want the process of solving poverty to take all of eternity, however. I’ve been to conferences where economists say that having 5% unemployment and 10% below poverty is actually better for the economy than none at all.

    There’s a perfectly logical reason for this. A lot of other people, more productive from the standpoint of human capital, depend on the existence of human misery as part of their work. Think about it.

    The absence of an underclass means social workers and academics will have nothing to do. The absence of poverty-related crimes means fewer jobs in the criminal justice system. It would create problems at the other end of the spectrum too. More laborers would reject the most dangerous and thankless jobs… if they already had their basic needs met. The Catholic Church depends on the perception that it is helping the poor… even while it hordes all the gold, as Jamie puts it. And then there are the more abstract arguments that being dirt poor is a unique experience. Art, music, and other innovations have resulted from people lifting themselves out of poverty.

    That’s the argument, any way. Take from it what you will. Disclaimer: I don’t actually believe in it, but I’m playing devil’s advocate in some sense.

  8. I agree with many of the statements you’ve each made above. And while I admit, there’s certainly more I could personally do, I also feel that if everyone who doesn’t contribute did even half of what I do that the problem would be solved.

    Growth is certainly one way to positively tackle the problem. Greed is the reason it has not been universally applied.

    There are millions of starving people in Africa who have nothing to do but have sex, and consequently the problem is cyclical. And here is where I think both religion and governments are interfering with a very possible solution. If we look at those people not as victims but as a possible labor pool–not for outside interests, but from an infrastructure-building viewpoint–we begin to see a way out of the catastrophe. We should be teaching them to mine minerals and build foundries, build schools and homes, and get them out of wattle huts that they’re living in now. We should be protecting people from the pirates and rebels involved in the diamond and drug trades, and helping to foster communities both on the small and large scale. Giving them the tools and knowledge to grow so that they have productive societies that will, in turn, give back and accelerate the global process.

    Yet because there is no mass impetus on the part of we who can do something, millions of people have no choice but to sit on their resources while their governments and ours hammer out meaningless arrangements that ultimately benefit those in power and not those who need help.

    Every day I see technological innovations that boggle my mind. My new car sends me diagnostic emails and lets me know when to change the oil. We now have a myriad of building technologies that enhance energy efficiency, such as improved solar capture panels, wind turbines, underground air cooling systems, and more, that we as a species have the capacity to apply on a global scale. And yet we do not do this. Why? Because there’s no monetary profit.

    Perhaps it’s time for the human race to understand that we need a new paradigm for growth–one that allows us to advance as a race, not merely as a collection of individuals.

    Like Dr. King, I, too, have a dream.

  9. First off, I admire your sincerity and vision. I hope you inspire many more people to do more, give more and think more.

    Growth is certainly one way to positively tackle the problem. Greed is the reason it has not been universally applied.

    Regarding growth, I wish more people would acknowledge that it has been the most effective way of raising people out of the depths of poverty. Your statement seems a little dismissive of that fact. Because one person benefits, it does not necessarily mean that someone else suffers. The economic pie is not fixed in size. Just because one man’s share gets larger doesn’t mean everyone else’s share gets smaller.

    The reason growth as a solution hasn’t been universally applied is more a result of bad governments following bad policies. The starkest example is North/South Korea.

    If we look at those people not as victims but as a possible labor pool–not for outside interests, but from an infrastructure-building viewpoint–we begin to see a way out of the catastrophe.

    I agree that promoting and supporting the infrastructure of a country is one of government’s most important roles (something this country seems to forget at times), but that idea shouldn’t be pitted against “outside interests” investing in any country. The two can (and usually do) go hand in hand.

  10. I should have said, “not exclusively for outside interests,” as may be better understood after my response to the following:

    Regarding growth, I wish more people would acknowledge that it has been the most effective way of raising people out of the depths of poverty. Your statement seems a little dismissive of that fact. Because one person benefits, it does not necessarily mean that someone else suffers. The economic pie is not fixed in size. Just because one man’s share gets larger doesn’t mean everyone else’s share gets smaller.

    I realize that, but my point is more about how many who could help foster helpful programs–i.e. “outside interests”–tend to minimize their own efforts when there is little to no immediate profit involved. Whereas if instead those who can financially withstand an initial loss had the foresight to realize they would be creating new and lasting markets through which they would eventually recoup any initial loss–very long term, I know–and they were actually ensuring their own longevity . . .

    And please don’t mistake what I’m saying here. Government can be part of this, or not. I’m trying to appeal to all people to contact all leaders, civic, religious, or otherwise, in order to get something actually, physically done. I think in this particular context government tends to get in the way, setting up rules and methods that don’t speed the solution.

    I just think more companies need to follow–gasp!–Bill Gates’ example in fighting AIDS. Look at the money the man spends. And what is in it personally for him? A better world, that’s what. And there are many well-off companies that could easily donate $100,000 apiece to help build factories in third-world countries, and schools, and police stations, so that we wouldn’t have to support the entire populations of those same countries for what looks like eternity. And not just corporations, either. I have plenty of creature comforts that I could do without, and so do billions of people worldwide. If everyone gave just a tenth of a percent of what they spend on coffee the hunger problem would be solved tomorrow.

    The biggest problem, as I see it, is that the governments of those countries involved will want to have their say, and since their people aren’t familiar with democracy or freedom in general, the government will get what it wants regardless of what’s best for the citizens.

    Perhaps it’s time those countries didn’t have those governments. If they can’t feed their own, if they can’t get medicine, educate, or build roads, or keep the populace secure, then what is the purpose of keeping those governments intact? I’m not trying to foment insurrection, but I sincerely think the society needs to be in place before an appropriate governing body can be formed.

    Does this mean I want our government involved in more nation-building? No. I want, for lack of an un-hackneyed phrase, the “citizens of the world” to take up the burden we’ve let rest for so long and lift up those who would do for themselves if they were taught how and properly equipped.

    I fully understand that this is a formidable societal change I’m calling for. So be it.

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