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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Wealth and Observance

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What's it mean to be wealthy?

If you're reading and comprehending this blog, something you posses besides a way to access it which is a feat unto itself, is a language, a vocabulary, and the skills to use it.

For better or worse I tend to still start by day by reading the headlines at the BBC. While I'm an American and live in America I have grown dissatisfied with our internal news outlets ability to provide. Our native media has grown over the last decade into chasing sensational yet trivial matters to the point of distraction and I would say reporting superficially, but then again how deep do trivialities go?

Today I came across a story on the Chinese Muslim's, the Uyghurs, and the re-education camps that they are being forced to endure. It's not new, and yet it's of an incredible scale. Millions of people are being swept up and forced into this very specific culture net to be remolded into the ideal citizens and we don't seem to be talking about it much. I don't know how long this link will stay active, BBC is pretty good about that sort of thing but if you've stumbled onto this blog, today is June 19, 2019. So bear that in mind if the link no longer works.

There has been a lot of China talk out of our dictator in America. It's been made clear where the Trump administration is on Muslims as well. So, I suppose it's no surprise that in the wheeling and dealing around sanctions that keeps happening and we're not talking about this singular human rights issue.

The Chinese Government has demolished mosques and cleaned up the sites. In person it looks like it was never there, erased. Satellite photos however tell the tale.  

China is replete with human rights issues. As a nation we starved Cuba for generations because they chose to be a communist country. Claiming the moral high ground just across the water in Miami, a city famous during my childhood for a television program about vice squad detectives. But with China, we have kept looking the other way since Nixon.

We know that the deals afforded to us via Amazon are built on the backs of others. I grew up in a post industrial community that was tied to the rust belt decline of American manufacturing. They screamed and wailed as factories closed, yet the factories were no place to spend a life. It boggled my young mind when I did summers in a machine assembly facility during breaks in college. Humans, transformed into robots, who eagerly lined up like livestock to punch in and clamored at  the shifts end to punch out. A plant that over its 115 years of operation poisoned the ground water it sat above and mutilated the bodies of countless workers mechanically in accidents or chemically in the cancers that arrived later. "We pay you," the plant leadership would always reply.

Ever asked Siri where the phone you're holding was made? She'll reply, "I was designed in California." It's true, but that's not the answer to the question is it?

My point is that when we lost our manufacturing base all we cried over was the loss of the income. Rarely did we see that we also lost our sense of what it really cost to produce the widgets. Caustic air and water, discharged into neighborhoods, and streams. Forced overtime under sodium vapor bulbs, more electrically efficient. Shop lights that forced your eyes to work in a spectrum shifted to orange so that when you went out into the parking lot and pulled your ear plugs the quietness, the fresh air, and trees fading from blue back to green was like being born again. 

We looked the other way for our paychecks. In my time the unions lost their fight, and we learned to look the other way when some of the folks in our plant were being exploited. You don't even have to look away when the plant is in another country.

I'm a fairly observant guy. I do my best to keep kosher, I daven, I belong to my shul and our local federation. Judaism need not be reserved for the the building some refer to as the temple if your body is indeed a temple. We are our own mishkan, traveling through space and time, hopefully led on by metaphoric smoke and fire across the desert.

I find that observance is additive and cumulative. As individuals when we learn to notice something we keep noticing it. When we are taught to notice something else, we notice two things. When we are taught to notice our noticing things we become observant.

I would ask that you notice your wealth. I don't mean your bank account specifically but your education, your time and your material wealth. I would ask that you be observant when you find you need or want something.

When we notice what it takes in human terms to make a product, to ship a product, to maintain that product throughout its design life and to dispose of that product we start to observe how our individual actions impact each other in this system and the world.

Perhaps we need to start shifting what it is we value. Our skills and time and not just our money? I think we have to start at home, and make decisions about our wealth and how it can not only best serve ourselves but our communities. If we can recognize our tremendous wealth not just in dollars, but in time and skills we possess, in such abundance that they might be volunteered.  If we can craft communities observant in their wealth we can start affecting policies on larger scale. If we can agree over worked, under paid, unsafe factory labor policies are wrong for us we can agree that where ever you are they are wrong. If we can agree that we are awash in triviality perhaps we can afford a deeper look. If we can share what we universally value maybe the news wont always be so bleak. 

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