There are certain beliefs that permeate the culture, beliefs that exist to serve the interests of the dominant ideology and the people who profit from that ideology. One such belief is the doctrine that human beings are inherently, selfish, aggressive and short-sighted, that such traits are written into our very DNA. Since these urges are irresistible, the theory argues, the only social system that can possibly function is one in which people are allowed to pursue self-interest without restriction. We believe this doctrine not because it fits the evidence – the data suggests that humans are capable of a wide range of behaviour from altruism to depravity; it all depends on what society reinforces – but merely because it serves the interest of the dominant class.
Another such belief is the idea that poverty is inevitable. It’s so simple, isn’t it? So simple that we’ve never questioned it. Poverty must be unavoidable because no one would create such deprivation on purpose. No one could be so monstrous. The idea that such conditions must be either unavoidable or deliberate shows just how little we understand social systems. Poverty doesn’t have to be created, it only has to be ignored. Create a system where it’s easy to consolidate wealth in the hands of very few people – which we have – and simple cause and effect will take care of the rest.
Pause for a minute and consider just who benefits from the belief that there is nothing we can do about poverty. For over two hundred years, economic thinkers like Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus have argued that poverty is an unavoidable feature of any society. To be fair, that was probably a reasonable belief when those men were alive. But times have changed.
Is poverty still unavoidable? To make this a scientific question – a question that we can answer – we have to specify our meaning. Is it possible to provide every human being on this planet with safe home in which to live, with enough food to maintain a healthy diet, with clean drinking water and access to medicine. Most people would say no. But let’s test it.
The consensus among world hunger experts is that we produce more than enough food to provide every human being on the planet with a diet of roughly 2700 calories per day. To give you a sense of scale, the average human must consume at least 1800 calories per day to maintain good health. According to research done by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Food Program, “Widespread and persistent hunger is a fundamental contradiction in today’s world. The food is there: world agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person than it did 30 years ago despite a 70 percent increase in population. Work in FAO shows that world agriculture can produce enough food to feed humanity in the future without putting excessive pressure on prices or the environment.”
This naturally leads to a very simple question: if the food exists, why are so many people starving? The answer is complex. World hunger has many causes, among which are a lack of proper infrastructure – food can’t get to communities without roads – natural disasters, social upheaval and, of course, war. Nevertheless, the problem is one of distribution, not supply.
It is within our power to eliminate world hunger today, if we simply apply our technological knowledge to the problem.
What about water?
Access to clean water is actually covered in most world-hunger initiatives. The solution is to build the proper infrastructure in the form of desalinization and purification facilities. I won’t bother to convince you that it is within our power to provide every human on the planet with shelter. One look through the nearest window ought to convince you that we are capable of constructing buildings in abundance.
That’s a little harder. When you remove financial considerations such as a lack of insurance, the inability to access medical care is largely caused by a deficit in the number of qualified practitioners. We can’t just conjure new doctors into existence. There are, however, technological solutions that can assist doctors.
Meet WATSON, a robot designed by IBM to be the ultimate doctor. He understands human language, and with the help of massive databases comprising the sum of human medical knowledge to date, he is able to give accurate diagnoses and offer advice on treatment options. And so far, he’s been a huge success. Technology can’t replace doctors outright, but it can make it easier for them to do more with less. Remember that doctor shortages are problems faced by the First and Third worlds alike, and that there is no reason not to implement new solutions as fast as possible.
The conclusion, dear reader, is that it is already within our power to make a serious dent in the level of human starvation and deprivation on this planet. We already possess the tools and the knowledge to elevate developing nations out of squalor; all we lack is the will.
Consider the philosophical implications of the belief that poverty is inevitable. Who benefits from such a belief? If poverty is inevitable – if there will always be an underclass of people doomed to endure such deprivation – then any attempt to change those conditions is guaranteed to fail before you even begin. If, however, poverty is a solvable problem – if we possess the means to eliminate or dramatically reduce the level of hardship on this planet – then it becomes a moral imperative that we do so.
“Poverty is inevitable” is one of the many arguments used to justify the inequities in our society. It is an almost universally held belief that allows us to rationalize away one of the most socially corrosive and blatantly immoral aspects of our economic model. So long as we believe that poverty is inevitable, we don’t have to do anything about it. Wealth consolidation, stagnating wages, barred access medical care, education and basic living necessities: these become insurmountable aspects of the human condition. The power structures that allow one percent of the population to own forty percent of the world’s wealth remain intact.
Don’t fall for the lies, people.
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
It’s had some great reviews!