I’ve been feeling a little more empathic over the past few weeks. Contemplating inequity has me thinking about the other side of that coin: privilege. It’s easy for me to talk about racism or sexism, directly feeling the injustice that comes with being a “double minority,” but how willing am I to engage in discussion about the privileges I have as a US citizen? “This is the greatest country in the world” seems to be some line that’s part of the indoctrination process. People travel from all over the world to experience the glory they call “America.”
I realized that what most don’t consider, and what I hadn’t until recently, is what it costs to have the comforts and luxuries we take for granted everyday. Not what it costs us as individuals, but what it costs the rest of the world. If we write off the southern hemishphere as third world, what are we? See, we can’t be the standard because dichotomies don’t work like that; there’s no middle to extremes. We have to be the exact opposite, the other polar extreme. If power is made by power being taken, what does that say about those who have power and those who don’t? Those who live in the third world and those that live in the US?
It shouldn’t be news to anyone, but big business runs the world, not governments themselves; they simply act as conduits to passing the necessary legislature for big business to continuously prosper. Big business prospers when they sell products. More specifically, increased profit margins combined with increased sales means bigger big business. The goals of big business, then, are to increase profit margins and increase sales.
How do companies increase profit margins? Two ways are by decreasing manufacturing costs and by increasing retail prices. The number one way to increase sales outside of increasing product visibility is by offering an attractive retail price. Considering both goals, the inevitable way big business increases profit margins is by decreasing manufacturing costs.
How would they decrease manufacturing costs? By hiring cheaper labor and decreasing the quality of the product.
With the costs of living rising all over the country, who works for less money? People outside of the country who are familiar with a completely different standard of living.
For decades, cigarette companies ensured future profits by omitting the fact that their product was addictive. Once it got out that cigarettes a) were addictive and b) caused cancer to those who smoked and those who didn’t smoke, it was too late–it had already infiltrated the culture. Some did it out of rebellion, some thought it was sexy, some bought into advertising hype, some thought it was the only way to calm their nerves, some did it because the people they looked up to smoked. Let’s not forget that when smokers smoke, they could care less who doesn’t like it…until they stop smoking. The ultimate selfishness…but that’s neither here nor there.
For decades, pharmaceutical companies have been ensuring future profits by addressing one symptom at a time while causing a host of side effects. You may start to feel better taking your meds and then get a subsequent ”unrelated” illness. If you’re like like the average US citizen, you have no time or patience for illness and no understanding of what disease really is or why it happens. Having accepted illness as a natural part of life, you’ll go to your doctor and get some more meds to address your new problem…and the cycle continues as one problem leads to another unrelated problem leads to another unrelated problem.
So how does big business ensure future profits? Aside from making crappy prodcuts that give out after a prescribed amount of time, big business uses its money and influence to ensure that there’s always a ready and willing workforce to do whatever they need at the most attractive price for them, which may translate into paying construction workers $4/day, paying farm workers $0.0225 per pound of tomotoes picked (instead of $0.0125 per pound), and paying call center employees $0.72 per hour.
If the lines of poverty and employment are maintained at levels that make working for these kinds of wages an option or even attractive, there will always be people to make products at extremely low prices so big business can sell them to us for “a steal,” despite the fact that they’re making greater profits than ever.
So my comfort, my ability to enjoy the things that I enjoy and am told I should enjoy to live a happy and comfortable life, is completely dependent upon someone else living–by my definition– an insanely uncomfortable life. While I can live with the awareness of this juxtoposition, I’m starting to think that living my life as I live it now completely negates my concern and worry. On the other hand, if I were to withdraw and not participate in our economic system, and others followed suit, then what? Nothing about big business’ practices would change. They’d just lay off the unnecessary labor and the foreign poor would get poorer.
I find myself at a crossroad dealing with this perpetual quandary. It’s supposed to be a quandary. It’s designed not to be an easy decision for me or anyone else who discovers the dark side of privilege. To address the dishonesty of inequity means to address the dishonesty of privilege, and to correct that unscrupulousness, privilege has to be taken away and power has to be given back to those who’ve been denied. If I’m unwilling to give up my privilege, how can I speak about the inequity anyone experiences, including myself? I can’t…and neither can you.