The Good Life or That’s Not How it Works

I once wrote a little story about population growth. It’s not a story about anti-anything; it IS a story about facing factual reality as it exists and together finding better ways to deal with it. Well, it’s really a story about not facing factual reality.

On an island in the Pacific Ocean there were 100 people and food enough for 110 to live a good life, nurture their children, and grow the culture into something warm and kind.

Modern medicine came along, but did not bring with it provision for a better life for those it saved. And the population grew to 120, many of whom were living below poverty level.

The aid agencies then came along with extra food, but without making provision for a better life for those they saved and the population grew to 150 and people began starving.

And so I told my story and then I said:

“This is not curing any problem, it is only making bigger problems. We should instead treat the CAUSE of the problem, which is not a shortage of food but an excess of people, at the same time we help the suffering people.” And everyone around me said:

“What do you want — to do like China?” And I said:

“China has probably saved the world a horrible war with its efforts to feed its own people. But why are you changing the subject? This is not about China; it is about the beam in your own eye. Your food aid charity is probably causing more suffering and devastation than anything China has done, not that there is any point measuring relative devastations. Now there are 40 starving people on that island that had none before you intervened; the technology is now available to REALLY help them; and I keep wondering why you aren’t. If you didn’t intend to create suffering, then why don’t you STOP causing more suffering and begin to make it better? What is the exact purpose of your food aid charity? Is it to make you feel superior and useful? Is it to grow your economy and fatten your wallet. Hmmmm. If we resolved the problem would that perhaps put you out of a job?”

They didn’t like that, so they said:

“What can we do? There is nothing that we can do.” And so I pointed out several things that we could do and they gave twice as many reasons why all of the things were impossible. And then they went away.

Not long after, I had a really long layover for changing planes and met an aid worker who had just fled from East Timor or Africa or the Sudan or someplace like that, who put my story into its real context. Her story is real — about real people in real families who are so desperate for food that they make one extra baby — to starve that baby so they can qualify for food aid and try to save the rest of the children. This is not a fairy tale; it’s a first-hand true account from an expert in the field. And so I said:

“Why are we doing this to people?” And she said:

“The folks who make the decisions sitting in New York City won’t listen to the reality. They only listen to the money.” And I said:

“Which is worse, China or us?”

Maybe it’s time to stop pot-calling and DO SOMETHING because our ecosystem is a biological island in a sea of physical phenomena that can not sustain life. In spite of the 50-year-old mantra “There is enough to feed blah,blah.” that was probably promulgated by some corporation to sell stuff to someone. It doesn’t matter who there was enough to feed when that was true. There is NOT enough to feed everyone forever, and the shit is hitting the fan NOW. If we had abundant biological resources on earth the ecosystem would be in balance and we would not have climate change. We do have climate change as the ecosystem tries to adjust her balance to the reality of life on earth today. We should be helping her to do that, rather than spinning our wheels making it worse.

I can certainly understand why you might not want to get into an airplane and go to your island and distribute condoms. What I do not understand is why you are unwilling (or is it fear? Is it we aren’t afraid to kill each other but we are afraid to talk with each other?) to talk about the problem in a rational way with friends, neighbors and your local politicians. Instead of hiding behind an army of volunteer soldiers and aid workers. Because in the long run we can’t hide from need. No way; no how.