First world problems and the crisis in Africa
Here’s a question – why are people rioting in Britain but not in Africa?
Why are we seeing violence and vandalism on the streets of London, where an entire government bureaucracy has been built up around giving money to the poor, but not on the streets of Mogadishu, where there is no government assistance at all, barely a government, and whatever aid is provided by other countries is often pilfered by unscrupulous local officials?
Here’s another question. Why are we seeing more panic and hysteria on the floors of the western world’s stock exchanges and among investors than we are in the Somalian camps, where according to the latest figures one in every 10 children under the age of five will be dead by November?
Why is it that we turn on the television in Australia to see affluent baby boomers angrily bemoaning the fact that their superannuation nest egg is now worth 20 per cent less than it was at the end of the last financial year? Yet in Africa, where mothers are sitting in the dirt holding their emaciated, dying kids, we see people behaving with stoicism and dignity as they confront the most harrowing hardship imaginable?
On the social media website Twitter there is a hash tag entitled #firstworldproblems. For those of you without a Twitter account, a hash tag is a handy search mechanism, whereby you type the hash symbol (#) followed by a key word in order to access everything which has been written across the site about any given topic.
The hash tag #firstworldproblems is a funny but telling running gag in which cashed-up westerners complain about ailments such as “iPad neck”, which one acquires after spending too much time reading the Huffington Post on their tablet, or other middle class crises such as not getting to the delicatessen in time on a Friday to buy real parmigiano ahead of that special dinner party.
This week has been #firstworldproblems week across the western world. In the wake of what we have seen in London, and also on the stock market, it’s time that we revisited our definitions of what constitutes poverty, revisited our definition of what constitutes alienation, revisited our definitions of what it means to be comfortable, affluent, well-off.
The terrific thing about being on or below the poverty line in countries such as Britain and Australia is that you get to eat. Indeed the government gives you money so that you can buy food. It’s a policy which reflects our community conviction that we don’t want to see people dropping dead on the streets.
And if you look at the residents of the most put-upon suburbs of Australia, or look at many of the British ratbags we saw on television this week, it’s fair to say that if you are living below the poverty line in these countries, you are more likely to die from obesity than malnutrition, such is the crappy dietary regime of so many members of the underclass.
Given the fact that starvation is not a likely prospect for those on welfare in countries such as Britain and Australia, the preferred rationalisation of those in the excuse-making business is that the mayhem in London can instead be explained by a sense of alienation.
This is a handy exculpatory term, which lets the thief who has just pinched a plasma television seek solace in the fact that something is not quite right with society, that things should be more equitably shared, that someone, somewhere is getting ahead at their expense, giving them the right to put their foot through the window of the nearest department store.
Again, we should return to Africa, where people who have absolutely nothing material, nothing at all, can still maintain their composure and resist the urge to act like beasts.
Shifting up towards the middle class end of the spectrum, into the sphere of the mum and dad investor and the recent retiree, we should reflect on the human cost of the reduction in the value of share portfolios as a result of the market fluctuations during this continuing GFC.
Is it an unmitigated life-altering crisis the fact that your nest egg is no longer worth $600,000, but $500,000, or even $400,000? Or is it perhaps just deeply annoying? Does a 20 per cent drop in the value of your super banish you to a life of poverty? Or does it just force you to reassess your options? Perhaps make the ultimate sacrifice, in this negatively-geared country of ours, of offloading your investment property or selling your second car?
What is happening in Africa should give all of us a clearer sense of context. These desperate people in countries such as Somalia are giving the rest of us a lesson in class. I don’t mean that in the class war sense of the word, but in terms of behaving with class and decency in circumstances where the most aberrant behaviour would normally be excused, even expected.
The Reverend Tim Costello from World Vision has just got back from Africa. He had this to say to the website news.com.au about the difference between the first world problems we have seen this week and the problems people are currently facing in Africa.
“You just want to shake them and say ‘get some perspective’,” Rev Costello said of the London riots.
“The problems you have here are you watch your goats die, then your plants die, then your watch your children die.
“You have to hit the road for a week with a sick child to try and find a refugee camp because that’s the only way you’ll survive.”
“There is no comparison.”
Hear hear to that.
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