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Travel and work (and hubris)

As people who are aware of and concerned about the worlds problems and how each individual is a part of the whole, it is us who can least afford hypocrisy.

tend to spend time around certain type of people.  I feel fortunate to
live in a place where there are so many like-minded people to be drawn
to, and to have attracted to me.

They work in education, or in jobs with a direct environmental benefit. 

They are socially aware, concerned with the world outside of just their own personal lives. 

such they tend to buy local food, used clothes and furniture, they are
vegetarian, vote regularly.  They bicycle and take transit, or if they
drive its a sub-compact shared with other people, a hybrid, or powered
by veggie oil.

They value things like education, cultural understanding, and tolerance.

see that the way we do things here is not always necessarily the “best”
way to do them.  And a part of valuing what other cultures has to offer
entails traveling to other places and experiencing them first hand.

that most-visible-of-all-symbols-of-American-consumption, the H2 (the
Hummer luxury model) across the country with a couple of passengers,
along the 3000 miles of Highway 80 from SF to NY, uses less fuel and
causes less pollution (per person) than doing the same journey in a
full loaded commercial passenger plane.  Another words – if you travel
by plane, you don’t get to look down on Hummer drivers.

A single round-trip intercontinental flight more than negates an entire years worth of commuting by bicycle.

are able to get away with travel because it is so grossly subsidized;
from our military (which is larger than the entire rest of the world
combined) being assigned to guard pipelines to the fact that airports
are paid for by taxes instead of  the airlines; combined with the fact
that we simply have way too much money (the world average income is
$7000, the less developed world averages $700 per year) and so we don’t
think twice about spending it frivolously, from household doo-dahs to

When a person travels for education, or humanitarian
reasons, with the peace corp perhaps, the plane ticket alone is likely
to cost several times more than what the local residents make, and do
more environmental destruction than the residents would have done, in
an entire year.

And this segues me nicely into my next topic.

idea that in order to be a well rounded individual, to understand
different perspectives, and be truly educated, worldly and insightful
you have to travel is a form of elitism.  It is essentially saying “if
you have not had the opportunities I’ve had, you can not possibly be
quite at my level.  There is a form of insight I have which you never
will”.  It is a form of hubris.

Most people in the world won’t have
the chance to, say, bicycle from home to a foreign country, but I am
uncomfortable with claiming it makes me better than someone who hasn’t,
or even that I posses some great insight or understanding because of it.

we send aid to small villages we are saying in a way: “You need help. 
You can’t take care of yourself.  We know the right way for you to do
things”. We Americans, wealthy and young and educated (and mostly
white) come to offer you poor things some charity and advice.  

At the
same time as we feel superior, we also feel good about ourselves for
having been so generous.  We live in the local conditions, so that
years later we can say we experienced it, but when the
project/class/vacation is over we get to go back to our lives with
washing machines, cars, and air conditioning.

We generally tend
to come away with a new perspective on our own culture – namely, that
not everything we do in our own society is the only, nor necessarily
“best” way to do things.  Other places are more community oriented,
less money driven, less stressed.  Love and marriage are seen
differently, the role of family is different, the role of government is

And as often as not, having experienced a few months,
maybe a year, of this alternative culture, we romanticize it, deciding
it is ideal and failing to acknowledge any of the problems that it
had.  Focus on some culture other than ones own is still just as much a
form of ethnocentrism.

The most common example I see is everything
which is lumped under the broad category “Eastern”.  This really means
“traditional eastern”; countries in Asia have things like surgery and
drugs to treat people, just like we have here.

We have plenty of
traditional cures in the West as well, but its rare to see anyone claim
that leeches to draw out bad blood, exorcisms, or cocaine should be
included as legitimate alternative medicine.

Pointing to some aspect of another culture, out of context, and saying “this way is better” is a type of elitism.

If there really were one “right” answer, it would have spread everywhere by now. 

I am attacking those people who I personally identify most with, there
is another wide-spread idea which reflects our hubris, an example of
the sort of luxury can be bought with our rather decadent lifestyles.

In this, as in the last example, I admit that I too am guilty of it.

with the obvious physical necessities (food clean water, air), listed
among basic life necessities are relative intangibles should as
security, companionship, health care, and meaningful employment.

had a customer I worked with months ago who was a real estate agent. 
She lived fairly modestly, but had a fancy car, a nice apartment, an
expensive TV.  She booked me a 2nd time recently, this time for moving,
as she found a place to house sit long term for very little rent. While
still working as a real estate agent, she has taken a 2nd job at a
bagel shop.

I occasionally work with day-laborers when I get a job that’s too big for one person and the customer is unable to help.

are always plenty to be found in certain areas of Oakland and Berkeley
(in designated “day-laborer hiring zones” and near any home depot).
They work for whatever you offer to pay.

(Well, I assume so; I pay them the same rate as I get paid, as a matter of principal)

Me: “it’ll be 150”

Mario: “50? OK, good” He smiles and nods. 

Me:”one 50″

Mario:”Oh.  What?”

Me:”one hundred and fifty”

Mario “150?  how much for me?” 

Me:”no, I mean, 150 each, 150 for you, and 150 for him.”  [I had 2 employees that day]

I don’t think he fully believed it until the end of the day when I actually handed out the pay.

are plenty strong; although they look small, they have the functional
strength that only comes from doing real work – they are far more
capable than some of my customers who obviously spend plenty of time in
the gym, (while a customer who looks
strong will stop to rest on the 3rd flight of stairs when he and I are
carrying a big solid Oak desk, a day laborer will put the same desk on
his back, and, despite my objections, carry it all the way up himself,

 They have at least passable English, and have a wide variety of experience, doing carpentry one day, painting the next. 

Except recently chances are they aren’t doing anything today, and didn’t yesterday either.

are many times more people still waiting for work at noon than I am
used to, as the economic situation means less new construction or large
remodeling jobs.

Someone I picked up a few weeks ago said it was the first job he had gotten in almost 2 months.

the past 60 years unemployment has hovered around 3-6% (the most
notable exception being under Regan when it hit nearly 11%).

For the past 5 years its has stayed below 6%, for the last 2 under 5%.

It is currently up to 7.2% with 2 million jobs lost in the last 4 months alone.

the 11 million unemployed, (not to mention the undocumented workers who
don’t get counted), the necessity is work.  Any work.  Work to make
money to pay rent, buy food, take care of dependents.

It is the
luxury of someone who has never had to worry about those things, who
has plenty of prospects, and who, if all else failed, could always move
back into mom and dad’s house, to decide work is not good enough.  We
have the luxury of thinking about whether we would prefer a boring job
that makes more of a difference, or one with a smaller impact but has
more room for creativity.  We can decide if we would rather work on
social justice or the environment.  And we can claim that doing
something “meaningful” is not just a nice option to have, but actually
a basic human need, without which a person can not truly be happy.

that standard, not only are the countless unemployed not ok, but the
hundreds of millions of people around the world who are just doing
ordinary mundane productive work are all living meaningless, pointless
lives, and may as well not bother with making it through another day
unless they begin the search today for something more fulfilling.  All
the farmers and welders and janitors and bus drivers and mechanics and
construction crews and clerks and mid-level managers and plumbers and
actors and waiters and small business owners, who have spouses and
friends and homes and activities they like to do with their time off,
and who thought they were happy; no, they are not.  They are missing
one of the fundamental necessities of life.  They aren’t actively
making the world a better place.

Who the hell are we to claim that someone else’s happiness isn’t real?

about the countless generations who existed before there was
wide-spread environmental degradation, before it occurred to anyone
that the world might need saving?  What about people who live in a
(relatively) just society already?  What about the entire world back
when most people worked in agriculture and lived fairly
self-sufficiently?  Were they all unfulfilled in life too, with no
possible way to achieve real meaning?  Or did they perhaps content
themselves with the positive impact they could have on their own life
and their own family, friends and neighbors; just by being a decent,
generous person?

I hope not to offend, and alienate myself from my friends and readers.

course I personally have spent a month in a land far from home and
consider that trip to have been a milestone in my life.  I cycled out,
but I flew home, and have taken quite a few plane trips since.  I run a
certified green business and work for a non-profit, and there are
things I am proud of.

But I believe its not the Emperor, but
ourselves who are walking around naked, each hoping that as long as no
one says anything, no one will notice.

As people who are aware
of and concerned about the worlds problems and how each individual is a
part of the whole, it is us who can least afford hypocrisy.