Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Tale Of Two Peoples

Modern Life

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), opening para

A Tale of Two Cities: Front cover of Serial Vol. V, 1859; the 45-chapter novel was published in 31 weekly installments— from 30 April 1859 to 26 November 1859—in Dickens‘s new literary periodical titled All the Year Round.
Credit: Chapman & Hall; 1859
Source: Wikipedia

The two cities are London and Paris, the novel set before and during the French Revolution. This was written more than 150 years ago by a British writer with a keen sense of what forces were shaping humanity; here we are today, in 2014, and it sounds as if it could have been written to describe any western democratic nation or region.

But today it is not about two cities but about two peoples, not in the ethnic or national sense, but in the economic sense: the haves and the have-nots. True, we are witnessing great advances in science, technology and medicine that generally benefit us all and betters the world for its human inhabitants. But this is offset by the consequences of the many inequalities that beset us.

If Dickens were alive today he would capitalize on this idea and write about it. The statistics are sobering and, by now, so well-known and so well-reported, that we all know that a small sliver of the world controls the majority of the world's wealth and its natural resources. [see here; here; here; and here for only a few examples.]

Whether you are talking about the one percent, the 0.1 percent, the 0.01 percent or the 0.001 percent, the implications are clear: at most a few thousand people hold the majority of the world’s wealth, and hence, have unfair influence on the world’s political, economic and social decision-making apparatuses. Too much power in too few hands. Their are serious social and economic inequalities operating in the world today; and it is greater than it has ever been. Or at least this is the perception; and in the world of today perception wins the battle.

Let’s get personal. Toronto, the city in which I and my family currently reside,  is one of the most-expensive cities for food and shelter in Canada, and speaking from personal experience, the cost of living here is about 40 per cent more than in Montreal, my native city and a more livable place in so many ways. The poverty line (or, as the federal government prefers to call it, the low-income cut-off) for a family of four is about $43,000 in Toronto [StatsCan; 2011]. Two minimum-wage earners working full time do not reach the poverty line.

Our family barely makes enough to get by, but we consider ourselves fortunate that we have sufficient food and a decent apartment, with the knowledge that many don't. Even so, we also have the knowledge that we are living in poverty, when taken into consideration federal and provincial guidelines; is this shameful? Not on our part, but I also see no shame on the part of various levels of government. As many of you know already I am currently not working and my wife is a full-time student trying to increase her knowledge (of nursing) and better her chances at future employment.

I am not hopeful that our fortunes will change in the short-term, neither for us nor for the world's vast majority of persons and families who are suffering under the relentless weight of poverty. In the minds of the wealthy and many others, if you are poor, you don't exist. So it seems from this end. Letter-writing campaigns will have minimal effect, as will local street protests of a few days’ duration; it will take something that will cause the people who hold the reins of power, and those who hold great influence (i.e., financial), to quake in their boots: a sustained boycott on all unnecessary consumer products. Or to put it another way, a consumer revolt of world proportions; this is the language of business.

This is unlikely to ever happen, but I can still dream and hope.