Thoughts : Poverty : When Nothing Else Matters…

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Thomas Hobbes writes in Chapter XIII of his book “Leviathan”:

In such condition (i.e. the condition of being in a state of nature and being in a constant state of war with each other), there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently, no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

In that book, Hobbes argues for the necessity of a centralized political authority. Starting from the premise that human beings live in a “state of nature” where everyone goes against each other, he noted that there would be the danger of continual war between people if there were no authority or Leviathan maintaining order.

In the above quote, he describes the futility of all things when people are in the condition of war because of no governing authority.

“There is no place for industry” simply “because the fruit thereof is uncertain.” In other words, when there is war and people everywhere are concerned about their lives, people don’t think about working or being industrious. Economic growth and prosperity is not of importance when physical survival is not even guaranteed. Most important to these people are their lives, not their jobs or whether they will get promoted or whether they can save enough money to buy the latest luxurious good. When peoples’ lives are at stake, nothing else matters but their survival. And the same goes for the pursuit of culture and knowledge and art and everything else that may be of value if there were order.

As I ponder upon the quote above and its meaning, I start to realize the wisdom of it. Does it not describe accurately how life would be in a state of anarchy and war? Is it not true that if our lives were threathened by war and death, nothing else would seem to matter but our mere survival? Would not our pursuit of material wealth or friendship or arts or knowledge or sports or culture or relationships or anything else that mattered in normal circumstances – wouldn’t it all not matter the moment we’re in a circumstance where each of us could die anytime?

I think so. I think that nothing else matters when there is war around. Nothing else matters when death is around the corner. Nothing else matters when we can’t even guarantee our living past today.

When we are faced with such circumstances, surely we approach life differently. When normally we would plan far ahead and think about enjoying this or that, be it sports or arts or whatever, however, in such a circumstance where death and oppression surrounds us we would think of nothing more than surviving each day. Nothing else matters.

Most of us may not feel the threat of war personally. However, for people living in countries that are in a state of civil war, that threat is real.

For most of us, we don’t feel it. That’s because we are so fortunate to live where we live and to be so protected from such events. But let’s not just talk about events like war. Equally devastating and life threathening are events like famine, oppression, poverty and the like. Millions in Africa, Latin America, the Middle-East and Asia face oppression and poverty daily. For them, nothing else matters but survival.

For us in the developed world, a good question to ask ourselves is how would it feel to be in such a despairing situation? We don’t face wars, we don’t face poverty and we don’t face oppression. We live a pretty well off life and because we don’t face anything life threathening, we pursue the arts, knowledge, economic prosperity and sports. We spend much time in enjoyment and relaxing: things that millions of people cannot afford.

How different lives we live from those who face death daily. How different priorities we have. For us, it’s the maximization of pleasure. For them, it’s mere survival.

Everyday I become more convinced that it’s selfish of us in the developed world to only think of ourselves when others die daily. It’s not fair that there are so many people who daily face oppression and poverty, while there are so many more on the other side of the fence who can’t get enough of luxury and pleasure.

I wonder why the world acts in such an uncaring manner, going on with their own business, despite the disastrious plight of millions.

How do we correct all this? I propose that we ought to feel the oppression and poverty of the less fortunate. We ought to sympathize with them. We ought to feel compassion for those who aren’t as well off as us.

We should really cease to enjoy all our little pursuits that mean so little to those suffering. I mean, how can we continue to spend thousands or hundreds of thousands to get a bigger and more luxurious home when so many people struggle to fork up enough money to buy their daily bread?

How can we spend thousands on sports, or pursuing the arts, or higher forms of knowledge when we start to recognize the plight of poorest people?

I propose that we declare that “nothing else matters” than eliminating poverty and oppression in the world – as long as there continues to be poverty and oppresion in the world. That means a ceasing of all forms of pursuit of sports or culture or the arts until we make the world a better and more equal world.

I wish we will all start caring about humanity in general and that we’ll realize, in the similar spirit of Hobbes, that “in such condition” – of war, of oppression or of poverty in the world – “there is no place for industry… culture… navigation… use of commodities… commodious building… instruments of moving and removing… knowledge… account of time… no arts… no letters… no society…”

I wish all of us will cease everything and realize nothing else matters if anyone in this world suffers from poverty and oppression and nothing else will matter as long as there remains anybody who is suffering in this world.

Until we see a much better world come into being, may we not abuse our comparatively great wealth by indulging ourselves too much in things that should not really matter to us.

I believe if we adopt such a spirit, we will all make a difference and the world will be a better place.

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