Poverty is the greatest cause of death and illness globally; it strangles the lives of billions of people, denying the expression of innate potential, condemning men, women and children to live stunted uncreative lives of interminable suffering and drudgery.
Whilst the numbers living in extreme poverty (the World Bank calculates this to be living on $1.90 a day) has decreased, over half of the world’s 7.5 billion population are somehow surviving on less than $5 a day (the cost of a designer coffee in developed countries). Hundreds of millions of others live in a condition of relative poverty or economic insecurity, anxiety and worry their constant companion. The majority of the World’s poorest people live in developing countries, India, Sub-Saharan Africa and rural China predominantly, but tens of millions are pushed into the shadows in industrialized nations, America for example has an estimated 44 million people, or 13% of the population, living in ‘official’ poverty. Wherever the poor are found they live on the margins of society, are exploited and disregarded.
Walking hand-in-hand with poverty is the crime of extreme inequality. Obscene levels of wealth is concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of trillionaires whilst the poor are forced to beg for the crumbs that fall from their burgeoning tables.
Poverty results from and is itself a form of injustice; so too is poor education, inadequate health care, homelessness and sub-standard accommodation. Like freedom, justice is a human right and within that triumph of common sense, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, is enshrined as such. But our world is dominated by attitudes and modes of living that deny justice and prohibit freedom. It is unjust that billions of people live in squalor; it is unjust that the quality of a child’s education is dependent upon the size of its parent’s bank account; it is unjust that access to health care in many countries is determined by one’s ability to pay for it. The collective shame of injustice must be cleansed from our world and trust inculcated.
Like many of our problems the key to creating a just society lies in the encouragement of sharing. In various areas of life, sharing is beginning to fashion the way things are done: data sharing within all forms of government and between agencies and allies is common practice, United Nations agencies readily share statistics and education tools, cooperate with aid organizations, as well as sharing research material relating to global issues – climate change for example. The worldwide web allows sharing on an unprecedented scale and has given billions of people access to information and ideas in a way that was impossible in the pre-internet age.
Whilst sharing initiatives are increasingly common, it is yet to be adopted as the primary economic and social principle. However, the ‘sharing economy’ of which we hear so much these days is a hint of things to come. A leading example of this new movement is the groundbreaking ‘Sharing City’ project set up in 2012 in Seoul, South Korea. The scheme has four main objectives: Reduce the use of municipal resources, create new jobs, build communities and cut pollution. There are a range of initiatives taking place in the city, including sharing unused parking spaces, leasing empty rooms, exchanging children’s clothing, and even meals; sharing bookshelves and internet access and letting citizens use idle spaces in public or government-owned facilities. As a result of these schemes, Forbes reports that, “a different culture is emerging, thanks to the support of the government, that has been proactively engaged with the public by providing the city’s resources such as unused public spaces and related data to its citizens, and providing support to sharing economy business models.”
On the whole the businesses grouped together under the sharing economy banner are functioning within the traditional capitalist system. Despite this distortion, it shows that the concept of sharing is increasingly influencing thinking and beginning to permeate human affairs: this augurs well for the future.
Sharing engenders trust
Injustice must be eradicated from our world, and the principal means of doing this is through sharing. When one shares, trust is engendered, divisions are dismantled, unity is cultivated and justice beings to flower. Sharing is the most efficient way to meet collective need, it is the common-sense approach to many of our problems, social and environmental; it is an expression of love, which is the unifying force of nature.
Without universal justice, disharmony will continue and peace will remain a fantasy. Injustice poisons the social fabric, pollutes the collective atmosphere and creates fermenting resentment, which fuels conflict. It is fed by complacency, which is the principal vice of the privileged, the smug and the comfortable; they have little or no idea of the intense suffering that billions of people are living under, and, fearing that their position of influence and control may be wretched from them, they cling to all that they hold dear – power and wealth.
Everything that causes injustice must be uprooted, within the structures under which we live, but also, and perhaps more importantly, within the consciousness of the individual. The destructive nature of conditioned ideals that encourage injustice must be recognized and rejected, and ways of living based on justice and social responsibility cultivated. At the same time, and flowing from this shift in attitudes, which in many people is well under way, socio-economic structures rooted in sharing are desperately needed to deal with systemic injustice.
The injustice of Inequality has reached abhorrent levels, not simply wealth and income inequality, but inequality of opportunity, inequality of access to health care and good quality education, housing and culture. Such inequalities feed injustice and stoke division, leading to conflict. They are inevitable under Neo-Liberalism, and unless we reject this outdated and unjust way of organizing the global economy, inequality will continue to grow year on year. The promise of social mobility as a means of addressing or reducing injustice is mere propaganda; within the current system there is virtually no such thing; if you’re born into poverty or relative poverty, the chances are you will remain there.
The answer to injustice and social division is not to be found buried in the crumbs of the comfortable, it lies in adopting radically new ideas; concepts of sharing that are woven into the fabric of human nature and need now to be applied in a pragmatic manner to solve the global problem of injustice.
Graham Peebles is an independent writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in India, Sri Lanka, Palestine and Ethiopia where he lived for two years working with street children, under 18 commercial sex workers, and conducting teacher training programmes. He lives and works in London. www.grahampeebles.org
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