Here’s an idea whose time has most assuredly not come, and one whose time may never come but really I don’t care. Use it as a thought experiment if not as a serious call to action.

Abandoned border

Abandoned border

I’ve come to a radical conclusion. The upsides of restricting ordinary people’s movements between states is outweighed by the downsides- which are mostly to do with maintaining immorally disparate levels of wealth. I’d like to see freedom of movement anywhere and anytime on the face of the globe enshrined as an intrinsic human right. Let the Western world unblinkingly face the reality they have grown comfortable with as long as it is kept at a safe distance.

I’m quite serious. I don’t think humans are sufficiently morally evolved to actually take whatever steps are necessary to alleviate endemic extreme poverty in the world as long as it can be rationalized as someone else’s fault or problem or held at a safe emotional and physical remove. Further I find all of the West’s high minded moralizing about human rights and progress to be essentially just hypocrisy and moral cowardice as long as millions of people are dying of the symptoms of extreme poverty while others live lives of comfortable plenty. It’s easy to put on a front of smug moral superiority as long as one knows one’s privileged place in the world is safe. Moral courage can only be evidenced when one’s own self interests are truly put in jeopardy by moral action. Otherwise it’s essentially empty rhetoric and platitudes.

And I think if the human race is actually on a more or less progressive arc of development and these problems are actually faced with honesty, we could be looked back upon as being just as morally compromised by our blithe acceptance of widespread extreme poverty as those who dismissed slavery or the institutional subjugation of women or having systemic underclasses to perform our work cheaply with a cynical shrug as the natural state of man and viewed any efforts at improving the lot of the larger portion of humanity as opposed to the privileged few as naïveté.

There’s little concrete we as individuals can effectively do any more than individuals could in the past do about slavery or institutional misogyny or serfdom. I’m not opposed to charity but it does little or nothing to address the underlying structural issues that perpetuate the current morally untenable reality. Change cannot really be forced, it will require a moral evolution at some point resulting in a consensus for change being arrived at.

There are however things that perhaps could be done to hasten an arrival at the necessary consensus. Like breaking down the institutional barriers that allow some people- us frankly- to live in relative fabulous comfort and lack of need cordoned off from the sufferings the vast majority like the rich in their gated communities protected by armed guards from the festering slums that surround them.

Even I’m not sufficiently naive to believe this will happen anytime soon. Human nature mightily conspires against it. Humans may never evolve past being capable of quite happily and contentedly ignoring great and unjust suffering as long as they can continue live in pampered comfort insulated from that suffering–even benefiting from it. There’s certainly no lack of historical precedent suggesting such a thing to be the case.

That seems a pretty bleak and terminally cynical outlook really though to me. Perhaps we can do–be better than that. Eventually, at least. Perhaps we could at least honestly try, or even think about trying.

Photo from mtsrs licensed under Creative Commons

Kurt Sperry

Kurt Sperry