Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Slavery, freedom, just wages

Perhaps the world is always struggling with the difference between slavery and freedom. Reading Kristof's article about parental choices in places where there are such fragile opportunities for the children to be educated, have enough to eat, keep from dying of malaria by having a mosquito net, etc, makes me think about the problem of inadequate wages, inadequate resources for families.
I am proud of WILPF, working on the right of people to have a "free" local water supply. Cooperating to build healthy communities is so important~ but of course, as we learned in the Peace Corps, all the problems need to be worked on simultaneously, for progress to occur. We need water and sanitation, and the ability to cook, and the food to be available, inexpensive enough to purchase, and healthy and fresh. My friend Pat started working for solar cooking when she realized that the children in Afghanistan and many other countries spend the whole day looking far and wide for firewood for their mothers to be able to cook dinner. These children cannot go to school, because of the importance of this task. Others, like my niece Ave, are involved with the slow-cooking movement, in order to combat the noxious fast-food American diet, which is causing obesity to be the main childhood disease in our country; and at the same time emotional starvation, which is caused by the inability of parents to be with their children sufficiently to nourish them emotionally.
In China, I understand that the town owns the right to make people work in specific factories, and there is no possible way to get out of it-- be somewhere else, have a different job, get a transfer, get a pass to another town, decide to become an artist instead of a factory worker. The highest suicide rate in the world is in women in the Chinese countryside, who have been left with a child while the husband goes off to one of these slave-labor towns. The women will never be able to live the life of a family, with the husband present and able to help with child-rearing. The family has been broken by this social structure.
In Mexico, on the border, there are so many factories where only young unmarried women are employed, and they work 10 hour days, 6 days a week, and send the money home. There are few men, as all the able-bodied men come to America looking for work. (Or at least they did, until we started to get more serious about border control and making it illegal to hire undocumented workers). These women also have no life ahead. They cannot go home, there is no work in the villages where they were born, and their families subsist on the money sent back to them. This also occurred in the early industrial revolution, and we can read about it in Dickens, and the Bronte sisters' novels, and Jane Austen.
One answer is to try to live one's freedom in the interiority of the soul-- not in the external circumstances. But also, there are the political struggles, to try to make the government more responsible, to make the laws more just, to give people more freedom, which includes the possibility of leisure time, the chance to use other talents and skills, and the right to marry and have a family. When education becomes no longer free, when children are put to work at age 4 or 7 or 10, the chance to grow and develop is stunted. Family life is the most important thing for developing sensible and good human beings. Helping mothers and fathers to have a reasonable rhythm of life really matters to help children develop well. And JUST WAGES are wages which will afford families a home, water, food, and access to medical care. I have fought to increase the time off for mothers to be able to breastfeed their babies. It is not enough for mothers to pump the milk while at work, and put it in a bottle for the baby later. It is important that the bonding and loving time be there. We should have at least 5 months of maternity leave, in order to decrease the criminal activity in society. Mothers need good medical care and good mental health, and really we all need good adult companionship. I have great respect for the programs which encourage men to be good stewards, and good fathers and husbands. I deplore movies and tv shows which make men seem shallow and stupid.
The aim of our political life, to try to maximize individual freedom, needs to be balanced with a sense of community values, and cooperation within communities. M.C. Richards, a wonderful thinker and poet, wrote a book called "opening our moral eye"-- about 30 years ago. She talks about education within the Quaker system. The way to educate people to be communitarian is to avoid hierarchy, and to try to listen to everyone, in a society of friends. This innate respect for others will help carry people to use the best thoughts of the whole community. As this goes on, there will be a group of elders who help shape the debate, and help make historical context and knowledge more available to the people responding to problems. We already have a model in Montessori education, and this could be expanded. America is squandering the opportunity to do this, as our television shows are so shallow, and often so noxious. We need to inspire our young people, and encourage them to work for greater cooperation and respectful interactions.
Most young women wish to marry and become mothers. We need to make that goal a reasonable expectation. To perpetuate the model of slave labor is a devastation to the hope human beings must have in order to live meaningful lives.

Monday, May 24, 2010

the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

I have been wanting to walk the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain for about 5 years. It is a really deep thirst in me, and I am not completely sure why it has maintained itself, this dream, this long time. I am reading Joyce Rupp's book, "Walk in a relaxed manner" which is about her doing the Camino at age 60. I am terrified of walking 500 miles across Spain, with sore hips and bad back, and all the problems of the refugios; poor hygiene, scarce meals, bad beds. But I love the saying "primero Dios". This is to say first to have God, then the rest will follow. And now I am reading about a time when they got dysentery, and had to keep walking, and had nausea so fierce they couldn't eat, and barely could drink fluids. Just like in a long labor, coke helped! One keeps coming up against the need to depend on others; to get help, share the road, share the trials and difficulties. I really hope I get to do this soon. It is a pilgrimage to the site where supposedly St. James is buried, in a field of stars. At the edge of the western sea... Every symbol is carried in that becoming a pilgrim, under the stars.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Responding to Kristof on some 3rd world parents' poor choices

Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about parents in Africa who choose beer and cigarettes, cellphones and prostitutes over the needs of their children for mosquito nets, food, shelter, and education. Check it out in the NY Times, May 23, "How about a beer?"
May 23rd, 2010
7:29 am

The patterns of self-discipline, respectful cooperation, and delayed gratification, within close-knit and healthy families are the real goal. Teaching by example, so that the children see the joy and love in their parents' willingness to forego a momentary pleasure in order to see them grow stronger and more able to be productive and successful in life is paramount. Domestic violence, emotional abuse and addiction teach the next generation to be violent, abusive and addicted. In each way that we help break the cycle, reduce the violence, advocate for family life and safety for communities, we make the future better. We can inspire hope, and we can offer incentives. I liked the posting which recommended sending financial planners in the Peace Corps. I also liked the posting about the overseas workers' domestic help's way of spending the money they make to better their families' lives. I recently was upset by my son speaking about some of the UN workers raping kids in Africa. You Tube makes all this material up close and personal; --butchery, madness, gang violence, lawlessness. We need to keep inspiring hope for progress. Archbishop Tutu's wonderful modeling of forgiveness is important. Alcoholics Anonymous is really important too. Without a hierarchy to support, it is a free organization for all who need it to help them recover from addiction. It is possible to become sober, and to find joy again. Each person needs to do this for himself, without coersion. Women can be better financial planners for the family, but ultimately, for families to be strong and resilient, the men need to become healthy and un-numb, and non-violent, and become better partners. The best incentive is \"the pursuit of happiness\"-- which indeed should include healthiness and self-respect.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thinking out loud

I do think I should say that the quote I liked about the benefits of having sex was from my college football-star nephew Johnny, and I was impressed with his scientific presentation of the facts! Taking it up a few notches, on picking an appropriate partner, and nuances of emotionally healthy connections over time would also be interesting and welcome. I was reading in the New Yorker about a great inventor, who just graduated recently from MIT, and has one great idea after another, and is working on wind-power-generating-electricity kites, among other things. He said that what we need is a whole new level of maturity in human behavior. He said that making, modifying and repairing things can be an antidote to throwaway consumerism. Saul Griffith sounds like my kind of guy-- interested in problem-solving which actually gets to the root of the problem! The cost is daunting. He said that even with a perfect energy-solving idea, it would take at least a hundred million dollars and at least 5-10 years to develop. We need a new way to develop venture capital for real problems on this scale. On the other hand, I was heartened to learn that bees are now being nurtured and protected in people's backyards, because the exhaustion from overwork was killing them. When every neighborhood has a hive, it will be good for encouraging pollination and diversity-honey! I think local honey is good for people's immune systems...