Tuesday, April 26, 2005

To Be or not to Be?

At first, I thought that our society has created a stigma between having and not having. I guess, this comes out of the idea of the "Haves and the Have-Nots" that regularly gets thrown about in the politico-media circles. The problem with this is that the logic is circular - by acknowledging that a gap exists between the Haves and the Have-nots, we assume that Having is Good, and that Not Having is Bad. In other words, we say there's a problem, because we see that there's a problem.

OK, maybe that's belittling a serious situation a bit. There is a gap here, or rather, there are 2 - 1 of which is serious, and 1 of which is artificially inflated. It's important to recognise first that some things can often be classed as "fundamentals". It is these things that we should be saying the Have Nots are lacking - clean water supplies, various freedoms, access to health and education, et al. But the problem arises when we equate "not having" with the idea of not having luxuries. Fair enough, a lot of the time people that use the phrase do so in good faith, for relevant purposes. But at the same time, by simplifying the situation into such a simple idea, I think we also rapidly blur the boundaries between what's necessary and what's not. Without sensible discussion, I think that the idea of a gap can be perceived almost as a definition of class, with those using the phrase subconsciously aware of some kind of "superiority".

And this, I think, is where the phrase falls down. On the wrong side of this blurry line, a side adhered to through unconscious social instinct more than venom or malice, the idea of "not having" is equated with the idea of "not being" - partially, I would say, a result of the psycho-commercial nature of Western business and economy. We are brought up to think that success involves material goods, to the point where we judge ourselves by our financial situation and our posessions. Our ability to "be someone" is intrinsically tied in to our wealth, and manifests as what we can achieve as a result of it.

(As a side note, perhaps to be chased up later, it may be worth mentioning then that measuring the flow of money as an economical indicator or "prosperity" may actually be upside down. If spending money can be considered not a sign of how much money you have, but how much money you feel like you are expected to spend, then countries with greater private sector flow could be considered less healthy "emotionally". Perhaps.)

So, to recap, the phrase "haves and have-nots" covers more ground than it intends to, "accidentally". In fact, there is a second danger that we are simultaneously creating - the idea of the "Be's and the Be-not's". In some ways, this labelling is even more dangerous than the original, as it confronts our idea of not just of how we live, but literally who we are. It is the bastion between the space around us and the space within us. "They can take our land ... but they can never take our freedom!" .. or can they? Who's in charge of this finger pointing? Who stands to benefit? How do I know that what's expected of me is necessarily the best thing for me? These are all questions that get swept aside when the questions we're presented with and tormented with are nowhere questions.

How many fingers do you think I want you to see?

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