The Spiritual, Diet, and Energy Wealth Gap: Why Affluent Americans Are Clueless About The World!
It is a daily occurrence to read about the latest spiritual, diet, or energy fad in the Western world all touting how this new advancement is making the world a better place. Just remember, if you are not buying a Prius, installing solar panels on your home, or practicing mindfulness then you are not making the world a better place. Just ask Oprah if you don’t believe me. All joking aside this is the sign of a very troubling trend in America that points directly to our delusion of what is happening in the world. And our incessant need to force our ideology onto others without thinking about the unintended consequences. Let’s dive into this further and put the facts behind this emergence of new fads and developments that are changing the world.
I will start with this statement which I believe to be vital to this dialogue and to give those more sensitive readers an early out of this blog. This is not a subject that should be approached sensitively due to the impact it has on many lives around the world.
Renewable energy, special diets, and spiritual fads are the direct result of affluence and only within reach of the wealthiest in the world. So lets not kid ourselves that we are making the world a better place.
Do you really think that an African woman making $2 per day cares about a plant based diet or practicing mindfulness in her spare time or even the thought of driving a car let alone a hybrid? The answer is “NO”, she is doing whatever she can to survive and that means eating whatever she can get her hands on and doing whatever it takes to provide shelter and safety to her family.
What worries me the most is how disconnected Americans are becoming to the rest of the world. We have placed ourselves in a bubble in the United States which is breeding a whole new sense of self rooted in arrogance and self-importance. The fact that we are looking to such esoteric trends and fads as making the world a better place points to how narrow minded Americans have become, it also shows our total lack of empathy. We believe we know best and everyone else should just follow our lead. So how have we gotten to this point?
Americans do not travel, we stay in our bubble and prefer to be insulated from what is really happening in the world. Far less than 10 percent of Americans travel overseas each year which is a frightening fact to accept. International travel is a great way in which to experience new cultures and people that force us to open our minds to different ideas and perspectives. It is in travel that we start to see that material wealth and affluence are not necessarily the products of happiness, there are many people around the world in dire conditions that still find gratitude. But Americans would not know that since we do not take the time to understand or travel to other areas of the world.
In May of this year I spent two weeks in Africa and many of those days with a man from Zimbabwe who was my driver for the week. Due to the 80 percent unemployment he had to leave his home country and family to find work in South Africa. It took him four days by bus to get back home, a luxury he was afforded only a few times a year. He was an infectious man who was always happy and grateful and the little time I spent with him changed me. This happens every time I travel overseas, I come home a different man and realize how much I still have to learn from others around the world.
Upon entering back into the United States I was sitting in LAX next to a woman who was having a tantrum about her Starbucks order being wrong. first world problems is an understatement! It was eye opening to say the least and continued to make me think about this very subject and the harsh reality Americans need to face…Which is to get over ourselves, we aren’t that great nor important!
Let’s dive into a few of the areas and causes that I addressed in the title that seem to be the top causes in American culture for making the world a better place. For the record, “Making the world a better place” is probably the most overused and hollow phrases in American culture and politics. I’ve made it a banned phrase in my vocabulary and I think we should all be a bit more careful in how we use this phrase.
Energy: I think renewable energy is great and someday it will probably make a major difference in our world but that is just not the case now. Therefore, touting your Prius and solar panels as a major accomplishment to the world is factually inaccurate. In fact, most Americans are only buying hybrid cars and solar panels as status symbols. A University of Minnesota study found that Prius owners listed “environmental reasons” as the fifth reason in which they bought their Prius at a premium. If we are really being critical, it doesn’t even make economic sense at the current gas prices to buy a Prius compared to other lower cost fuel efficient vehicles. According to Business Week, with gas prices at $2 per gallon one would have to drive a Prius for 28 years to breakeven with a Chevrolet Cruz. The math just does not add up nor does the psychological reasons for purchasing a hybrid. All power to you if you want to buy a Prius, just don’t lecture me on how you are making the world a better place nor try to force that decision onto me.
Is it fair to use climate policies to keep poor people poor?
This above question was posed in a USA Today article regarding the Obama Administrations climate policies and how it is hurting the poor in Africa. Even though access to energy is one of the greatest factors in alleviating poverty the developed countries of the world are not supporting an all of the above energy policy in developing countries. Without cheap coal fired power plants there is little chance for advancement in many countries in the world. It was alright for America to do this for a couple hundred years but not for others now. What’s the saying – Do as a say not as I do. You have to start to question the logic and intentions behind such decisions. Again, this is forcing what is available to the affluent onto the rest of the world. I get the climate change argument and I am in no way being flippant about this issue but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water by driving people further into poverty at the expense of dogmatic and inflexible policies.
Diet: I recently had a close friend who runs a great organization helping women in developing countries have a donor pull out because the women she was supporting were not on plant based diets. Speechless! I am not even going to justify that with a response, instead I am just going to address the diet gap in the United States. According to a recent study, the diet quality gap in the United States has doubled in the last decade in America. The article states the overall diet quality has gone up as a whole but diminished for the poor, thus, the gap being created. Poor families want a better diet for their families but not at the expense of affordability. This is not an overnight solution and we must not create knee jerk reactive policy to try to fix this gap.
Food prices have gone up significantly in recent years partly due to regulations (hence my non-gmo, pesticide free headline) and ironically food crops being used for energy (i.e. ethanol). This ties right back to the very issue at hand that our make the world a better place causes are widening the gap and driving poverty. I am all for having non-gmo and pesticide free food but lets be logical about it and realize that this is going to take time to become cost effective for all consumers and lets not increase the cost of food in the interim. Brilliant policy work, people might not die from GMO but they will from malnutrition and starvation.
Spiritual: There has been an explosion of Eastern philosophy and religion in the United States in the last thirty years. This has created an entirely new industry around Eastern practices like yoga and mindfulness. Most recently Mindfulness and meditation seem to be touted as the latest savior to all suffering in the world. You cannot deny the positive results from the studies conducted but that can be said of many religious and spiritual practices. But at the end of the day more than half the world is just trying to survive and meet their basic needs, I don’t think yoga and mindfulness fits into their worldview. Dr. Ungar approaches the evidence and disconnect between the affluent and the non-affluent when it comes to mindfulness in this recent article, Does Mindfulness Really Make Us Resilient? He sums it up well with the following statement.
First things first, I say. To be resilient we must experience security, social justice, a powerful identity, personal power, and positive relationships. Psychological enlightenment is a luxury enjoyed by those whose basic needs have already been met. Dr. Ungar
We have bigger problems in the world to address before we start touting our latest energy, diet, and spiritual fads to our friends and the world. Rather than focusing on our mindfulness we should be taking action in alleviating poverty in the world and helping individuals meet their basic needs. There are still hundreds of millions of people trying to meet their basic needs, why don’t we start there first. I think mindfulness can wait.
Changing Course: I have no issue with the way in which people spend their money. I truly believe in the free market and what people do with their money is their business. What I have a problem with is the self righteousness of these consumers and politicians wanting to legislate their sense of morality and causes onto others. I am happy that you are buying your local organic non-gmo non-pesticide fruit for your morning smoothie but forcing that as a standard on everyone else only creates a further tax on the poor. So enjoy your smoothie and be grateful that you can afford to live the lifestyle you do but don’t force it onto others.
As many of you know I have not been the biggest fan of Elon Musk and his companies. I think he serves as an important example in regards to this subject and where American culture is off base. We are touting Elon as the savior of the world but when looked upon rationally he is created products for the 1 percent largely driven by government subsidies paid for by hard working Americans that will never own his products. I could think of a lot better uses of our tax dollars including the diet gap described above.
I get the whole argument of how his technologies could change everything for the better but its a major gamble that should not be supported by tax payer dollars. Elon is a smart guy and I wish him the best but I want my tax dollars going to areas like the diet gap described above and not his risky ventures. Our priorities are completely off target and we are using our personal causes and preferences to drive where are tax dollars are going and what the rest of the world should be doing without any true understanding of others situations or the unintended consequences of the changes.
I encourage everyone, including myself, to think further about the causes we are trumpeting and come from a position of openness and empathy in truly understanding what the impact will be if we are successful in our pursuits. It probably is not what we intended. It is time for Americans to step-up and get out of their bubble and start to understand what is happening outside of our country. We are living in a global economy now and have a responsibility to understand and respect our global citizens and realize that just because we think something is great is not a reason to force that onto others. Continue to buy and support your causes, let the free market ring, just do not force those personal liberties and decisions onto others. We worked hard to have this level of freedom and safety, lets be grateful and not screw it by violating the very thing we try to protect, free choice.