Use education to address important global issues

By By Deen Chatterjee

By Deen Chatterjee

As students are about to face the real world after graduation, it is time that they pause to reflect upon an urgent issue facing the world today. This is the issue of affluence in a world of poverty. This is a question of justice.

Philosophical theories of justice raise complex issues, but there is a general agreement on one thing, which is that it is unjust to cause harm to people. Regardless of who the people are and whether they are our compatriots or foreigners, we have a duty not to harm them.

We in the affluent countries are the beneficiaries of a slanted world economic order in which the poor become poor and remain poor. The gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider every year-in fact, it has doubled during the last 40 years. Poor countries are being harmed through an inequitable global system that is continuously shaped and coercively imposed by the political, business and military machines of the rich and the powerful.

If people have a right not to be harmed, then we as the beneficiaries of this inequity have a duty to require a fundamental reform in our lifestyle and institutional policies that perpetuate this harm. However, the global implications of our actions and institutions are usually not within the radar screen of an average student who is too busy in pursuing a degree and trying to survive on a tight budget.

But because the stakes have never been higher-both for our individual well-being and collective survival in an interconnected and interdependent world-we have to get involved and do all we can. Besides, the task isn’t as daunting as it sounds. We can make a difference by being diligent. Below I provide a brief sketch.

We must expand our field of vision and inject a global consciousness in our personal endeavors. For starters, we must critically examine our consumer lifestyle. Consumerism adversely affects the well-being of the planet and diminishes the quality of life for all its inhabitants, including our own. Also, our thirst for consumption and the quest for domination over global resources are the causes of much of the conflicts in this world.

We will never win our “war on terrorism” unless we take note of this broader picture of global domination. The radical inequality in the world order and our penchant for using military might to sustain it is itself a form of global terrorism that causes perpetual deprivation for the three-fourths of the world’s population.

The global issues are complex and could be overwhelming. So, we have to prioritize our concerns. As we strive to be globally informed, we should try to develop an understanding of the underlying issues. This will help us to be focused and not get lost in the maze.

Also, we should see the connection between the local and the global, which would sustain our interest in the world affairs.

We’ll see that the same factors that are causing the massive disparity globally are also the ones responsible for the widening gap between the rich and the poor on the domestic front.

To find time to get involved is a big challenge for us, but we always manage to find time that sustains our interest. For instance, we find time for the NBA Playoffs or March Madness, regardless of what else we may have to do.

Likewise, once we develop a global consciousness, we’ll find ourselves naturally attracted to world affairs. Its rewards are many, which will transform our initial attraction into addiction. Not all addictions are bad!

We have become progressively apathetic over the years, which is not good for our participatory democracy. To believe in a cause and feel passionate enough to get involved keeps us alive. And what could be a better cause than to promote human rights? It touches on issues that are both local and global.

The Vietnam War that ignited campus activism in the past is long gone, but we still have the same social and political syndrome that gets us into war under false pretense like Vietnam. The current war in Iraq is an example. Unless we get involved and demand accountability from our leadership, we are locked into a system that ignores the poor and the vulnerable at home and launches periodic military aggressions abroad that benefit the rich.

Today the stakes are higher than they were during the Vietnam days. As we preach nuclear restraint for other countries, we are about to expand our already large nuclear arsenal. There is a looming global environmental catastrophe as never before, much of it due to America’s excessive consumerism, but the Bush administration has vowed to ignore it. An ethnic cleansing is currently unfolding in Sudan that may eventually dwarf the one that happened in Rwanda 10 years ago, but we seem to be less concerned because Sudan has no oil.

During our life span, more than a billion human beings-mostly children-will die from poverty-related causes. This is preventable, yet we don’t seem to have the political will to do anything about it. Only 1 percent of the defense budget of the rich nations can wipe out the specter of AIDS in Africa-a continent that has been ruthlessly exploited by the Western world. Yet the West is unwilling to invest even this relatively tiny sum to rescue Africa.

A majority of Americans (75 percent) believe that the United States spends far too much on foreign aid. In reality, the United States ranks the lowest of all 21 developed countries in the share of national resources devoted to economic aid for poor countries, only 0.11 percent of GDP, which is about $4 in taxes for an average American.

Yet we are by far the largest beneficiaries of the resources from the poor countries.

Because of mass ignorance and apathy that caters to trivia and shuns substance, we the good people are accessories to this glaring global injustice. If a college education is meant to open students’ minds to the real issues, then I can think of no bigger issue facing us today than that of the unjust global reality of poverty and affluence.

So, as you are about to face the challenges of the real world after graduation, don’t get lost in the everyday banalities of making a living. Keep the flame alive. Be curious, question the status quo, be different, speak out for justice and be a world citizen.

[email protected]