Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The illusion of wealth and happiness

While going through a box of books I found a 1999 copy of the Kyoto Journal, a rather special issue with articles on Donald Ritchie, homelessness in Kobe, and Princess Mononoke. But what caught my attention was a long essay titled "Buddhism and Poverty," whose author argues that the developed world's poverty reduction efforts, carried out through such organizations as the World Bank, the UN, and numerous NGOs, are largely ineffective because they proceed from ignorance of the human condition.

We are at the most profound level, David R Loy believes, trapped by dualistic thinking. Developed socieities exist only in relation to undeveloped. Success to failure. Wealth to poverty. Neither can exist without the other.

The poverty of others is ... necessary because it is the benchmark by which we measure our own achievements. Unless there are losers, we cannot feel like winners. Unless the undeveloped are unhappy about their lot, we are unable to feel happy about what we have, unable to rationalize the things we have had to put up with in order to get there, unable to excuse the negative consequences of our economic development. In this fashion too what we perceive as a poverty problem is due to the tinted lenses of our wealth/poverty spectacles — and what is colored most of all by those lenses is our own self-appearance. To live in a commodified world is to recognise that we too are commodified, and as we know the value of commodities is determined by price comparison. Who earns more, you or me? We can rarely ask this question because it cuts too deeply, to the source of our self-esteem. This also applies collectively, to the way we see others.

The rest of the article is worth reading and can be found here, though you may have to enlarge the font in your browser to make for comfortable reading.



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