I’ve been reading about the financial crisis and happily discovered it’s possible to understand the main outlines if one reads enough. One underlying factor hasn’t been mentioned and that is the interaction of the individual to the collective. We talk about investor relations to the market, or vice versa, but that puts it in terms of profit and loss. When you retain the same equation but re-label the participants as the individual and the collective, a picture emerges that helps us understand the need for action on the financial package. We don’t exist in a vacuum, our actions affect others, just as we are affected by the actions of many we don’t know. The point is that to preserve the individual there are times when the whole, the collective, has to come first, and that seems to be what many are having difficulty grasping. Self interest must cede to the collective good or else we all perish. Watching the U.S. House of Representatives vote on the financial package, which those who are against insist is a bailout*, I wonder if those who voted no forgot that there are times when self interest must yield to the public good. The stock market plunge right after does show how all of us bear the consequences of the decisions of a few—Not to quote Scarlet O Hara, but tomorrow is another day—assuming a few learn what they need to learn rather quickly.
*The $700 b package is not money given outright. It is mainly to buy problematic securities and mortgages, which have a still to be determined value, which will be resold in some way, and some of which, in the arcane world of finances, can and do earn interest.
Some news items remind us that despite our problems positive trends continue–It’s easy to look at any news site, listen to news show or read any paper and come away with the sense that the world is falling apart. An yet here and there underneath the troubles and the woes there are telling items: Polio has successfully been eradicated from Northern Afghanistan. In the Southern part polio still remains a problem, but a vaccination campaign is underway, one that includes some of the North as well in case there is contamination from its neighbor.In a globalized world where international travel is a norm, the eradication of a contagious disease in a small area is more important than it used to be. Another item with even deeper impact caught my attention. The philanthropic organizations of Bill Gates and Howard Buffett (son of Warren) gave $76 million to the U.N. World Food Programmme to buy surplus crops directly from poor farmers in Africa and Central America in order to feed people facing hunger and starvation. This is all the more noteworthy since Robert Zoellick the director of the World Bank also warned yesterday that the economic crisis of the developing world is affecting the economies of countries alrealdy suffering from high food and fuel prices. In fact if the financial crisis continues, Third World economies could really decline, for example their exports, most of which go to the West would be seriously curtailed, since the West would not be in a position to buy as much. It does make one wonder why other wealthy Americans aren’t taking Bill Gates’ example. That of course would only coumpound the good news, it would not change it. Mostly it would not change, that behind the headlines and the problems, there are trends, movements, events, acts, organizations,people, that at the very least compensate, and usually help us continue to go forward regardless of appearances.
I was wrong! And I admit it feels good. Afghanistan did stop fighting on Peace Day–at least most of the country did. And in many areas the quiet became an opportunity for polio vaccinations.
There is hope when we least expect it!
The International Day of Peace can hopefully help us probe what peace means–Soon it’ll be Christmas and we shall talk about the spirit of peace, and then do what we do every year and go back to our ordinary selves forgetting all about it. But peace is more than a wish, more than a slogan at Christmastime. In fact peace is a very complex subject. I forgot who said it, but when I was in graduate school I remember reading that peace is more than the absence of war. It would have to be, wouldn’t it, if we ever are to learn how to avoid wars altogether. For me the thought was the beginning of a life long search. Perhaps it will inspire you too.
September 21st will be the 27th celebration of The International Day of Peace. It was established through UN Resolution 3667 in 1981. The resolution says the day “offers a cessation of violence and conflict throughout the world, and the related importance of achieving the broadest possible awareness…” We include peace in our prayers but not in our schools’ curricula and rarely in our daily lives. And yet if we are to make progress in that area, we are going to have to be more inclusive, more pro-active and at the very least more thoughtful.
It is doubtful that the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan will take a day off, or that hostilities in the rest of the world will observe it. Still for the rest of us, let it be a day to think about what peace is, what it entails, how we can as a country participate in it, and what we as individuals can do.