Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Poverty and Economics

The first memory I have of abject poverty struck me in India when I was five years old. I was riding in the back of a taxi from the airport with my mom and sister when we stopped at a traffic light. Suddenly people were peeking from behind garbage piles and on street curbs and through the traffic that stood waiting at the light. Most of them didn’t have legs, or arms, or eyes. They crawled and hobbled through traffic with their outstretched hands as their only remaining appendage. I stared at them in wonder and disgust. As a child of suburbia in a quite town three hours north of New York City, I had been sheltered from such sights and thus my curiosity, rather than fear, was provoked. I asked my mother what they were saying, and she told me they were begging for money. I shrugged and reached into my pocket for the few rupees my parents had given me to play with on the plane. My mother smiled at my generosity but she told me that if I gave to one, they would all swarm around the car. My brow furrowed, the light turned green and we sped off, narrowly missing a few stragglers limping out of the street.

Not only did that moment teach me about poverty, but as a result I also learned about the power of money and the relative economic power that countries had over others. Now, at the time all I knew was that I had enough money that I didn’t have to worry about it while legless people in the streets had to crawl between cars to get the equivalent of a few pennies. As a child, you seem to take for granted that all adults have money and you can only get money through other adults. So for me to first realize that not all adults had money and that, in addition, I had the power to give money to someone, was very startling to me.

One can either be liberated or suffocated by their economic status in life. In Black Rainbow it is seen as something where much must be sacrificed to attain. Only once you have been “dehistorified” you will be able to receive the endless wonders of an economic and social status that bow to your whim. However, the limits of such a system are also evident as seen where the narrator’s Final Reference card is denied by the three children who see not worth in the card. This is relatable not only to credit cards and other further removed forms of transaction, but even paper currency itself. There is no inherent value in paper money and therefore it is only within a structure where it is universally accepted as potential for other goods that it bears any value. In most places, daily life focuses most greatly on attaining and saving as much money as possible; however, when one plays “Desert Island” where people pick the top five items they would bring with them if stranded on an island, no one ever brings money

So is Albert Wendt trying to warn us against the corruption of money? Or perhaps is simply saying that money is not worth losing the wealth of history and culture that so many developing countries have to offer. His writing is, in a sense, a condemning of homogenization as a movement that has been witnessed over the past decade or more. More and more countries see the wealth and prosperity of the United States and in order to attain that many have adapted the Western look and sound. Slowly dialects are dying out as the youth yearn to be rich and powerful and see English as the language of international business. More small shops across the globe are being replaced with Starbucks or McDonald’s and while this is creating a global community that connects the world in a way that it never was previously, it is not worth losing the individuality of the nations that comprise such a community.

No comments: