Friday, July 11, 2008


A man is wealthy by the amount of things he can live without - Shankarachara

Poverty: the state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount.

I begin with this dictionary definition of poverty since visiting a web page where I typed in my my measly annual income (below the US poverty level by 50% but enough for me) and was informed that I was in the top 11% of wealth in the world!!! Proving I don't know what poverty means when the money talks.

All too often the word, poverty, is a rating of individuals or groups in comparison to the field in achieving a certain standard that is somehow used to define an inherent characteristic and so to facilitate judging them without the contagion of wearing their shoes. I can think of no more succinct personal experience with the foregoing than was encapsulated in an email from a friend describing his observation of the life of the villagers where he had gone on a grant to study the history of their language, "The poverty is appalling … blah, blah…blah… but they are so incredibly happy." This is, of course, a paraphrased snippet, but all I got out of it was, "My inability to give credence to happiness in anyone living with so much less than I require is appalling." Needing less is not poverty.

Indigenous people recognize true poverty as afflicting one unable to be useful to oneself much less contribute to the community. Vision quests undergone by their pubescent children represent a personal pledge of allegiance to nature's ways through the nature of the guide that appears to them, the symbolic personification of their genetic memory in the form of a hawk, wolf, tree, mountain, planet, sunrise, full moons; that wealth which remains when one is alone.

In the midst of composing this post about poverty essentially being a dearth of usefulness to oneself and thereby being captive of dependence to satisfy one's perceived needs, I was interrupted by email requesting reply to my most loyal opposition's comment on the Saving the World post

"So let me get this straight....It sounds like your telling me that the only reason a Gorilla doesn't build a high-rise building is because they are more in tuned with nature than we are so therefore the concept hasn't crossed their minds. I'm sorry, but no, As amazing as Gorilla's are, I don't think they possess the ability to build a high-rise building no matter what, period."

To which I replied, "Abilities arise in response to perceived needs. The Anamami tribe in Brazil cannot build high-rises because the need would never arise to make them want to do it or learn how."

It occurred to me that the self declared "civilized" sector of humanity is the most impoverished of the whole variety of earthlings in terms of the quantity of perceived needs left unfulfilled by the greatest number of aspirants; the most uneaten carrots. Yet, our discontent with and destruction of the place the way we found it is proudly touted as our most distinguishing characteristic; our brilliant creativity in emulation of the big daddy creator in the sky who created it all to make of it what we will. Generation after generation parents practice the ritual of passing on the things they never had to their children in the form of desire for things they always wanted. Like holes in the pockets of hand-me-down jeans getting bigger and bigger. British nobility rent out their estates for the tourist income because their inbred families have become effetely unable to be of use to themselves.

Among the many dynamics that motivate me is the tension between maintaining both a sense of being useful to myself and a sense of belonging where I am. The dynamic gets its energy from acknowledging that I am alone in my responsibility for the results of my actions and that such sole responsibility requires that I also consider their possible effect on my environment at least as thoroughly as I pondered my intentions. I have often mentioned what I call a threshold between thought and action, the airlock between me and my surroundings wherein pure thoughts gel into images and sounds and words at the unspoken invitation I assume the universe offers for unlimited expression to all its beings. When I am alone or in the company of friends out in nature, where belonging is so real it feels like knee buckling gratitude, the threshold is as wide open as my arms. It is only within the artificial world of civilization's trappings, crappings, zombies and overlords that the threshold expands into a fortress to guard my thoughts against possible hostile distortion of their intended expression and keep my observations clear of the perception that I have become too alien to a birth culture where I've never quite belonged to be concerned about the carload of drunk clowns speeding toward the cliff.

Downtown I see panhandlers satisfied to be hustling up beer money from suits who are further in debt than five generations of their future-guaranteed children could ever earn if their financial bullshit bubble ever sees the dawn of flim-flam payback day.

Like the inhabitants of North America when Europeans began exploiting them, most indigenous peoples don't consider land something one can possess; its being the shared source of life for all upon it. Not long after their "discovery" and the herding of them off the land onto reservations and into factories and population centers their new found poverty becomes a new found burden to their self righteous civilizers. Governments in general, and the present administration of the US in particular, care for the people like profit driven western civilization cares for the nature of the planet; as a source of infinitely exploitable wealth for the wheeler dealers speculating on the inevitable avalanche of new humans guaranteeing a growth market for eternity — or the first space ship outa' here, whichever comes first.

1 comment:

Michael said...

The land shall not be sold forever, for the land is mine, saith the Lord, for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me.

Land ownership is a crime against nature and humanity. Here, I claim the air and charge you to breathe. No, I agree with Thomas Paine and with Henry George, the land belongs in common to all.