Monday, April 28, 2008

The perilous path 'twixt Paris and Rome

It seems like every day there's a new degree of shrillness in the global concern over the growing food crisis; and it's no wonder, when tens or hundreds of thousands simply can't afford to eat. Here in the states I don't think it's inhumane cruelty or bovine apathy that leaves the average American griping about a few extra dollars at the checkout instead of dropping everything to ease the suffering of the poorer rest of the world; rather, I think it's just that the majority of Americans simply have no concept of the idea of being unable to eat. Even if it's just Top Ramen or McDonalds or similar nutrient-void trash, very few of us entitled first-worlders have ever been unable to meet our caloric needs. Hunger is part of history class, not our conscious worldview.

That said, it's not as if today's "hunger crisis" is anything new. If I've heard correctly, the UN estimates that around 24,000 people have been starving to death every day for years. I suppose that many of the distracted modern populace have been pestered by the likes of Sally Struthers for so long now that they've essentially come to regard starvation as part of the background noise of the world at large rather than a sickening and entirely needless horror.

I don't mean to sound jaded or cynical. Until recently I've been one of the many who regarded world hunger as "a problem" but never really gave it a second thought. Now that I've given it a second thought, I'm horrified but entirely at a loss as to how to change it with the means available to myself and others who would address the problem. I've known for years - and I'm not that old - that when we eat the products of the modern food industry, we're essentially eating oil. From petrochemical fertilizers to machine labor to transport by truck, without the Carboniferous deposits there's no way we could be supporting so many with such a small agricultural workforce. It's no surprise, then, that a dramatic increase in oil prices should result in a dramatic decrease in the availability of food worldwide. For the life of me, though, I can't see a solution that doesn't involve shaking up some of the fundamental assumptions of the outgoing but depressingly tenacious latter-20th-Century world, and people seem quite reluctant to accept that shaking. It's really disheartening to me to know that with no more than a program of energy infrastructure renewal, we could easily provide affordable food in perpetuity to everyone in the world, and yet that fundamental change is held off indefinitely by the greed of a few powerful men and the childish fear of change of the automobile-infatuated American people.

The reason I mention the coverage in the news, however, is because I don't think it will be an option for the sated to ignore the hungry for much longer. Food riots can only go on for so long before they become something more; hungry men do desperate things. There were no shortage of people in the world who hated the United States for our foreign policy before now; imagine their bitterness, whether you think it's justified or not, as they watch their countrymen starve under corrupt governments we do nothing to rein in and in some instances even set up, while we hand out what's essentially a free television to every household in our nation and don't miss a single hypercaloric meal.

American civilians braved Redcoat bayonets and the wrath of a global empire for far less grievous wrongs. Today we are the empire, but without the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, it's not going to be another American republic that emerges from our shadow. What would we have been if Washington and Jefferson and Franklin had been jihadis, I wonder?

No, this time it won't be the oppressed who show the world a better way. There will no doubt be a bitter struggle, but any change for the better in the world is going to have to come from within the empire. It's going to be a narrow, dangerous line we must walk, between the Roman Republic and the French, but there are tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to eat, and we're the ones with the bread. I only hope it doesn't take us too long to see that you can't bomb away hunger, whether it's the primal, nutritional kind, or the deeper hunger for freedom that we seem to have forgotten.

1 comment:

George said...

I've got 2 words for you - "Family Planning."

The only way we're going to provide enough food for everyone to eat is to get population down to a sustainable size. We can't keep eating oil, and we're rapidly approaching productivity limits. Do you see another solution?