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Embed code for: Coming to Terms with a Life of Privilege
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Mrs. Cadden & Mr. Silvestro
11 February 2016
Coming to Terms with a Life of Privilege
The life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth, as edited by Thomas Jefferson, provides one of the greatest frameworks for living a moral life in history. By ignoring the theological fluff, the compassion Jesus urged people to show to the poor and unlucky, diseased and hate-filled, is able to motivate anyone to do more for the weak on our planet. But you do not have to read The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth to understand the need for philanthropy. My self-awareness, and the struggle I faced to come to terms with it, were secular even without the edit of Jefferson. And the joy I now feel every day comes from the world that is, which I am slowly helping to turn into the world that should be.
It has never been a secret that life is unfair. Just how unfair, however, eluded me for much of my childhood. With a family to provide for me, schooling to educate, and electronics to amuse, I never truly suffered. Even when my mother died of a brain tumor, my everyday life remained remarkably unchanged. That comfortable existence was only possible thanks to a human society which developed over hundreds of thousands of years. Yet, each stage of that development featured people just like me, whose only difference between myself was being born in a different time. What justice is there for the peasant farmer, who labored every day of their life, and only found relief when exhausted on a haystack or through the tiny quantities of alcohol they could acquire? Knowing that human beings, just like you and I, struggled for mere survival for virtually all of human history was a realization that greatly troubled me. The feeling was similar to guilt, but of an irrational kind. With no possible way to correct the hardships of the past, I was left without a solution except through Christianity. Try as I might, though, too many problems exist with the concept of a spirit or an afterlife for me to seriously find comfort in the idea. My dilemma is one shared by many philosophers, and the quest to answer why life must be so difficult is now the domain of science, people of which have discovered good evidence it is due to the need for an organism to avoid actions that would kill it, or perform ones that would sustain it. But, like my feeble faith, these explanations did not satisfy my desire to find some happiness in the lives lived by our ancestors.
My concern was not limited to matters of history, however. Modern inequalities, particularly those existing in nations lacking clean water sources, fulfilling food, adequate housing, or a sense of security, upset me as much as any ancient famine. Statistics on the number of people without a simple toilet in the world (1 in 10, according to the United Nations) were shocking for me to read, as were the use of child labor and ruthless exploitation of miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to make the chocolate, computers, smartphones, and other items of our culture. Unlike the grief I felt for the past, these were issues I could do something about. It took a long time before I knew just what to do, though. Initially, I wanted to cut off any purchase of products I could not guarantee were produced ethically. This strive to be an ethical consumer drove me to refuse even a pair of sneakers if they were not produced in a country I knew to have fair labor standards. To an extent, boycotts can certainly be effective, but only as an organized effort. A decision by a child to purchase something, one way or the other, will not change the laws of Viet Nam, or Cambodia, or Indonesia. Likewise, a business will only take the effort to provide or source from businesses that provide safe conditions, reasonable hours, and a living wage if its profit margins are threatened by a consumer movement. This means sending a message by buying goods from suppliers who do meet humane standards, not simply avoiding any company in a country that is not developed. Manufacturing economies require investment to develop, and unless that is provided the people within them will have few luxuries in their lives. The point here is to treat shopping as a responsibility. Like all responsibilities, it cannot be ignored, or done halfway, nor can avoiding purchases altogether be considered a reasonable course of action. Instead, making ethical purchasing decisions -- for example, by buying FairTrade certified merchandise -- can make you and the producers of your product content.
The previous philosophy represents my current stance on imported goods. It also applies to U.S. companies credibly suspected of not following labor law. But what about needs the free market cannot meet? From where will public sanitation, basic nutrition, education, or stability come? These, I have decided, should be provided by governments and non-profits. By their very nature, for-profit group, even when they practice corporate social responsibility, cannot be relied upon for these fundamental things. Some needs cannot be ethically met by businesses. As part of my effort to justify a life of privilege, I will never evade taxation, knowing that my contribution may go towards providing these basic needs in our society. I have also committed myself to donate the majority of my income to charitable causes, whether they be The Water Project, the local Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, or the global Action Against Hunger. Politically, I support candidates who advocate against way, and for using taxed income as a means to help the poor, disenfranchised, and undocumented. After all, no one earns a fortune on their own, something millionaires like Warren Buffett and Ben & Jerry say time and time again. Finally, I have taken a less personal approach to the history of our species. Events of the past should be engaged with intellectually instead of emotionally, as the evolutionary purpose of emotion (to motivate action) is lost upon unchangeable circumstances. With these axioms in mind, I have the conviction to make an effort in combating climate change, monetarily supporting organizations that address extreme poverty, whether they be a charity or business, and to be jovial through it all. The freedom I feel from not being burdened by historical despair, and instead focusing my emotions on modern outrages, has been immense.
I don't think any standard theological text could give me the relief I feel now. If just one soul would be condemned to eternal damnation, or one lifeform was unable to achieve nirvana before the universe succumbs to entropy, then I would never be able to have faith in it. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, by editing out Christian theology, manages to provide what may be the most accurate account of the man Jesus. His Aramaic words, translated into Middle English some 400 years ago, remain as relevant today as they were in the times of the Roman empire. "Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you" and "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" are both basic bits of advice which should be applied to every interaction we have with other human beings. To avoid falling into a self-loathing trap, you must find a way to directly or indirectly help those deprived of the most basics of life, just as you would demand these things were they denied to you. That is the message Jesus set out to teach, and the one Thomas Jefferson so carefully made apparent in his edit. If there is one message to take from the life of Jesus, it is that everyone on planet Earth deserves a life at least as good as the one you've had. Everything else is history.hase something, one way or the other, will not change the laws of Viet Nam, or Cambodia, or Indonesia. Likewise, a business will only take the effort to provide or source from businesses that provide safe conditions, reasonable hours, and a living wage if its profit margins are threatened by a consumer movement. This means sending a message by buying goods from suppliers who do meet humane standards, not simply avoiding any company in a country that is not developed. Manufacturing economies require investment to dev