The great 'what if' promises we throw the 99 per cent

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With all the attention that the Occupy Movement has drawn to income and wealth inequality (among other things), some may be surprised to find that an annual income of approximately $47,500 U.S. will put you in the top one per cent globally (check your standing here).

But with 1,210 billionaires in the world, the fact is, most people are poor and a relative few are very, very rich. This letter is to all of us in the top one per cent.

The 99 per cent are angry. They are angry at our ever-growing concentration of wealth and inequality. They say that their fight is a fight for our collective survival, but they have no idea what they are up against: an ever-expanding capitalist system hundreds of years in the making.

As they take to the streets, I ask myself, has it been worth it? For us, the one per cent, it was worth it.

We represent the crown of civilization, the height of humanity. After all, anything other than our brand of globalization would run counter to evolution. We are the best, so we are best positioned to understand this. Those at the bottom 99 per cent, while lamentable, should appreciate the honour of their sacrifice.

I'll use a sports metaphor: teammates should not resent being crushed and injured during the game so long as a few of us go on to score the winning goal. That's the sacrifice the majority of the team has to make. In other words, the majority should be marginalized, but grateful, since they are on the winning team (human). And they should be patient, because at the big post-game party, all of us will celebrate together (isn't this what we call heaven?).

So, what will it take for the poor majority to agree that their suffering was worth it?

Let's imagine...

What if we in the one per cent came up with a cure for every known disease? Perhaps, but that's pretty far off; our primary concerns are the diseases of the wealthy.

What if we came up with a way to redress all the harm to our planet? That's unlikely; we're more interested in manicuring our lawns.

What if we came up with some great invention that eliminated human suffering? That's also unlikely; most of our research and development goes towards disposable consumer goods and the military.

What if we were to achieve enlightenment and share it with the world? It's consumerism, right?

When I was a child, I thought the future would have moving sidewalks (free public transit) and space colonies (free housing). After hundreds of years of exploitation, what have we achieved?

When I look around, I see gas-guzzling SUVs with single occupants. I see monster homes in ever-expanding suburbs over agricultural fields and woodlands. I see giant box stores and mega-malls enclosing our communities while small local shops go bankrupt. I see children sitting around in a digital fog, eyes glazed from a childhood of video games, movies, and Internet consumption. I see our animals factory farmed and our crops manufactured by agrochemical corporations. I see our water, land, education, and healthcare transformed into marketable commodities.

We are unable to convince the 99 per cent that our concentration of wealth served a greater good. To get back to my sports metaphor, we, the one per cent, didn't go on to score the winning goal. Instead, as we forced our teammates to endure beatings, we sat on the bench and gorged ourselves on all the stuff that was meant for the after-game party.

Clearly, we one per cent were never serious about development or human rights. Our pathetic efforts at charity, aid, and welfare were only meant to mollify the 99 per cent. We used the time to invest in burglar alarms, gated communities, border security, prisons, and our military.

We have no intention of trying to convince the majority that their poverty, exploitation, colonization, hunger, rape, disease, genocides and wars were for the greater good. Instead, let's lock ourselves in our monster homes, so we can get back to our fast-food, video-games and big-screen TVs.

John Pringle is a PhD candidate at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto. His research focuses on the application of epidemiology in the humanitarian context, and explores ethical issues in humanitarian action.


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