Sunday, August 22, 2004

As Good As It Gets

Sometimes I think about how rough things can be, sure. We all do that. But then I have a moment of lucidity and I realize that compared to 99.9993825% of humanity throughout our existence on this planet, I've got it all over them.

I'm sitting here on my bed in the buff, working on a story in a word processor (no scribbling, no erasing), slightly drunk on Planter's Punch rum and Diet Pepsi, (too) well-fed, with a two-bedroom apartment all to myself (my two cats, one of whom is rolling around beside me, notwithstanding), while a fan blows previously-air-conditioned air around my room and I listen to any of the several thousand songs I have, and debate if I want to put on a movie ("Here's lookin' at you, kid..."). The ice cubes in my drink are made of clean water I take for granted. Kings couldn't claim this stuff fifty years ago, but a middle class nobody like me can have it now.

I live in a stable, federal, democratic, constitutional, largely English-speaking country of the Western alliance in the early 21st century... not untouchable, but certainly moreso than most people throughout history; the nuclear arms of three allied nations are pledged to my defense. I have access to medical treatment. My family and friends are nearby and not persecuted for their race or religion or politics or sexual preference. The commercial world scampers to indulge my every conceit and whim (so long as I'm willing to shell out, of course). Almost without question, I live in the privileged top 15 or 20% of our species, and even the humblest of us lives way beyond the wildest hopes of the even the great apes. I say none of this out of arrogance... I've done nothing at all to earn this. I was simply born what I was, when I was, where I was, to the parents I was. Virtually none of this is my own doing. I say this out of gratitude... to whatever forces put me here, if any.

Nearly anyone in the world with the capacity to read these words is in exactly the same situation, if not better. You stop for a second and count your blessings.

"I am a pauper in paradise / Though I have nothing, I don't complain / I am a pauper in paradise / Better this than a king in chains."


Anonymous said...

But does all this make us happy? The "North America Work Ethic" No family time, Working to make ends meet. No time for friends. Debasing yourself for a boss or a corporation who who has no care for you but only for the profits you will make it/them. No real social life (we now live in a mega city world where no one really knows their neighbours and any stranger is viewed as a potential danger). Living at he mercy of the dollar. No real community...
I understand what you say, however, I have never seen anyone as happy as the people I know in Africa who where poor in a third world country (mind you I'm not refering to the dying people in the land ravaged by war or famine). I think that the riches we have now were obtained at the cost of values for which there is no price. If you ask me, I think we got fucked in the bargain.

Lone Primate said...

I think the litmus test of this theory is to ask ourselves how many people from Africa are trying to move to the West or import a Western-style existence, and how many Westerners are trying to live like Third Worlders. There are some basic needs to being human and naturally a wealthy society is going to have more reach to address that. It's not impossible to be happy in a Third World environment, but let's not get maudlin or romantic about it. Squalor sucks, period. Does anyone really believe it when the Duchess of Spendsalot drapes her hand over her forehead and laments, "Oh, the peasants, if only they knew how lucky they are... I would change places with them in a second (siiiigggh) if only I could..." Uh huh, sure you would, lady.
Does this all make us happy? No, probably not; not in and of itself. Does holding a plow made of a tree bough and following an ox ten hours a day in the blazing sun make us happy? Or waiting for the silt to settle so you can drink the well-drawn water? Or burying your kid who never saw his third birthday, or wondering if the tribe over the hill has its eyes on your cattle/daughter/water/crops? It's fun to indulge ourselves in the notion we're hard-done-by, but it's probably deeply offensive to anyone who is, and knows the difference. But to answer the question... no, what makes us happy is doing things we like to do. And I'd wager a post-modern First World existence offers quite a lot more in the way of opportunities to do so, in free time, finances, and material, than a Third World subsistence lifestyle. Probably not a lot of them sitting around arguing the point on the 'Net...

Anonymous said...

I Have to agree yet still disagree with you!
A survival existance is nothing fun. However, not everyone in the world is living at a survival level. Many are living good if frugal life. Human are greedy by nature and many often look to western countries as "greener grass" neighbours and seek to immigrate. But I have known many who came to Canada, lived here and now want to go back home. They all say the same thing. Canada is rich but I miss the pace of life back home. I miss the community, I miss the familty. Dont make the mistake of seeing all the third and second world country as being what you see on TV in those humanitarian aid commercials. There are people who live happy life in south east asia, in the various Stans in the middle east (if you minus the war thorn area) in africa (if you minus the drought areas or the war areas). It is unfair to compare us to war thorn or drought ravaged areas. However if you compare us to countries that are not at war or suffering natural calmities and measure the happiness level of people. You would be surprised.
And for your information the internet cafes are booming in most of the world and should you speak the right language and o on the right boards you just might be having this discussion in another language!
Out of interest, have you ever read Maslow's theory of Human Motivation? It used by smart HR people for personel rtention but is equally valid in shedding light on what makes a person happy and what motivates people to immigrate and even what makes an immigrant reconsider his decision to move!
Check it out:

Lone Primate said...

I never said it wasn't possible to be happy in the Third World; I said it was quite possible. You can be happy anywhere, "if you've a mind to", as the song says. That people from other countries should find their social customs to be comfortable and familiar, and find Canada et al. wanting in this regard, is hardly surprising. But it's not proof that their ways are superior or more deeply satisfying on a basic human level than ours are; it's only proof that people from culture X prefer the norms they grew up with in culture X. It also doesn't address the fact that far more people voluntarily choose our lifestyle than the reverse, nor that having done so, most people stay and make a go of it despite the off-the-rack fit. The only people born to be Anglo-Americans are Anglo-Americans. Everyone else has to adapt, and naturally that's involve some square-peggery.
This is a variance from my original point anyway, which was concerned with the basic securities of the person. We're well-fed, sheltered, affluent, not militarily under threat, and at least arguably involved in our own governance. For most of the world thoughout human history, little or none of this was the case. I was pointing out how privileged we are that these are not issues for us. The quest for happiness is another matter altogether, and one I leave to the individual to pursue as he or she sees fit. Or not.