A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

What standards do we judge the value of a human life?

What measure do we use to determine the value a person adds to society? Do we consider the intellectual works that have produced significant improvement for ourselves and our fellow species? Perhaps it’s how many times we have aided our family or neighbors? Are we judged on how little damage we do to this small ball we call home? Sadly while all those are worthwhile benchmarks, they are not the concern of governments or economic theory. With most governments around the world running deficits, they require a healthy economy to avoid defaulting on their debts. A healthy economy is defined as one that is sustainable. This is not meant in the environmental sense of sustainability. Rather in that it sustains its growth for the longest possible period. For a developed economy, manufacturing has become less of a contributor to this growth. Most companies outsource production to countries with lower wages, lower safety standards, little or no environmental standards, and anything else that helps a corporation lower its costs. Industrialization has allowed us to produce more goods then we need. Hence new markets must be developed, to allow the growth needed to absorb this excess capacity. Indoctrination of needing to stay current with advances in products ensures a short product lifespan. We are taught that we need to keep up with the Jonses, in fact we should stay one step ahead if we can. This attitude is promoted through incremental product advances, advertising that is designed to promote excessive consumption. We have become reduced to the role of automated consumers. Our value is not what we have, but what we consume. Think of your friends, how many of them have replaced their mobile phone, twice or more in the last 3 years? How many keep their car once the payment are finished, or is it traded in, even though it’s in good running order? A generation ago in most of the world, the Church, Temple, Synagogue, or Wat was the center of community interaction, today it’s the shopping mall. Most traditional religions are declining, replaced by the new faith, called Consumerism. At first it was about objects, today even people are considered items to be sold.

In the new factory towns of developing nations, workers live in barracks similar to the accommodation the army used to consider acceptable. Stories make the news that some of these company villages have suicide rates 30 times the average for the rest of the same nation. Workers are required to meet a quota for production, and their day is not finished until the quota is met. They send a portion of their wage back to the village to help the rest of the family. I will link to a story about Apple, not because they are the only Western company to engage in these wink, wink, nudge, nudge, activities, but because of its economic strength the company Steve Jobs a declared follower of the Buddha, should not be advocating for the workers at its suppliers, just diminishes all of us who follow the middle path. This said any company that engages in these practices needs to be held accountable, for the treatment of its workers. I am advocating that workers be fairly remunerated, not taken advantage of. Their health, both physical and mental needs to be protected. 150 hours of overtime in one month is almost a second full time job, if western standards are used. Human beings are not put here on the earth to work, eat and sleep only.

One of the fastest growing industries in the world is the sex trade. From rubdown places posing as massage centers, where the customer always has a happy ending, to bars where the most of the staff male as well as female can be bar fined, for more private depredations. Escort services, peep shows, street walkers, internet cam shows, maids that offer extra services, and almost any other way to legitimize the act of prostitution. The current estimated figure for those who are engaged in these practices through coercion or force, are 2.5 – 3 million victims. According to studies the forced sex trade accounts for 27 – 31 billion dollars per year, in profits for the traffickers. This is after the costs to the recruiters, transporters, government bribes and other expenses, and does not take into the ongoing profits that the working establishments will make. Look no further than what happened in Manila not that long ago, when a new mayor cracked down on this industry. Over 100 bars closed within a few months, there was a major exodus to other cities such as Cebu, and Balibago otherwise known around the world as Angeles City, Philippines and other easier to operate in locales. There are well know liberty ports for navies around the world where towns exist solely to supply whatever carnal desires these cash rich, company starved sailors may desire. These people have been reduced to items to be consumed, and then discarded for a younger model. Some governments require regular testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and if the worker is found to be infected, they are out of work. This lasts until the treatments are complete, or in the case of an incurable disease, out onto the street with no support.

To allow this type of depredation, and destruction of humanity impoverishes us all. We are all here to try to live our lives and obtain a measure of happiness. When we fail to support our fellow beings in the quest for basic rights, we give up some of our own humanity.


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