How To Change The World?

I want to change the world
I want to make it well
How can I change the world
When I can’t change myself

“Change Myself” by Todd Rundgren

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn has dozens of real life stories about exceptional women changing the world.  Kristof and WuDunn are two Pulitzer Prize winning reporters who have traveled the globe, gathering thousands of facts culled from hundreds of research articles and interviews with leaders about the problems we face making women truly equal to men.  Half the Sky is a gut wrenching chronicle of real life suffering, more horrific than the wretched that Victor Hugo wrote about in Les MisérablesHalf the Sky is a book that will make many readers want to change the world too, although I’m afraid most will want to hide away in escapist fiction.  This is an intense book about the nature of our reality.

For all the misery that Half the Sky presents, it’s important to know Half the Sky is a positive narrative about heroic women changing themselves and their communities.  I doubt there will be any readers not humbled by this book.  Changing the world is tremendously difficult.  We’re talking theory of relativity hard, but not impossible as these stories prove so dramatically.  Helping others is far more difficult than writing a check, although you should write plenty.  Charity is a complex endeavor.   Often helping others causes more misery, and just giving money can be corrupting.

Half the Sky is about finding the right way to help others.  Half the Sky is not about helping the helpless, but finding the right female outlier who is willing to change herself dramatically with just the right amount of help.  Often this is minimal to individuals, but it can be very expensive getting resources to the right women.

We need to change the way we see charity.  Changing the world is about changing ourselves.  And we all know how well we do with New Year’s resolutions.  To help others, we have to help ourselves first, and reading Half the Sky is a start.

I’ve come to this 2009 book late, but I’ve yet to meet any of my bookworm friends that’s read it.  A few months ago, PBS presented a two part documentary based on this book.  It’s now available for sale and on Netflix streaming.  Half the Sky is becoming a movement.  I highly recommend reading the book first, because its far more educational. It will prepare you to appreciate the documentary all the more.

half-the-sky

Americans Have Already Won The Lottery

It’s hard to think about so much suffering worlds away.  We have plenty of poverty and injustice in this country, yet compared to the rest of the world, most Americans have already won the lottery – in money, freedom and equality.  And we spend hundreds of billions every year on protecting our country, either through defense, foreign aid, or influence.  And after eleven years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and trillions of dollars, we have not eliminated terrorism.  Kristof and WuDunn point out, time and again, that terrorism is a product of male dominated societies, and that we could more effectively fight it far cheaper by just promoting the equality of women in these cultures.  I don’t know if they are right, but we should try.  Our expensive testosterone solutions haven’t worked, have they?

Americans are quite charitable, we give away billions of our own money to help others, but how effective are our dollars?  In case after case, Kristof and WuDunn show how insanely hard it is to actually help people, even when we have the money and volunteers.  You can’t just buy equality.  You can’t just pay men to stop enslaving and raping women.  And even when our hearts and money are in the right place, like with Three Cups of Tea and the education of girls, things get corrupted.

Read Half the Sky carefully, because it’s about creating effective business plans to change the world.  That means changing ourselves.  We have to help people help themselves.  It’s about teaching people to fish, rather than giving them fish.  It’s about education.  But it’s also about how we help ourselves, our country and our culture by uplifting women in distant lands.

Even though America is a leader in gender equality, we still have a long way to go.  As long as Americans bitch about paying property taxes for education, or can’t understand concepts like Title IX, or why fifty percent of Congress and corporate leadership shouldn’t be women, then we do have a long way to go, but we can still help the women elsewhere.  The battles won by the women portrayed in Half the Sky should inspire us.  I don’t have one millionth of the guts and determination of some of these women I read about, and I’ve had a million times more money and opportunity than they have.

With every TV show you watch, with every movie you attend, with every book you read, with every song you hear, observe closely and ask yourself do you see gender equality, freedom from sexual oppression, equal opportunity for women?

Until women are truly free and equal everywhere, most of the problems we face as an evolving species won’t be solved.  It will take one hundred percent participation, and quite often as I think Half the Sky so effectively proves, it’s the inequality of women that’s causing our bigger problems.

JWH – 1/12/13

How Would Life on Earth Be Different if Everyone Was an Atheist?

Belief in God and an afterlife affects how people see reality.  What if one day we all woke up without any superstitious beliefs in the metaphysical?  What if science caught on and everyone began thinking in the same way about how reality works – would that change the social fabric of Earth?  Does religion help or hurt when it comes to doing good?

Think about what John Lennon suggested in his song “Imagine”

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

If religion and metaphysical ideas disappeared would we come together as one?  I doubt it, but I think we could start working on the real problems we face.  I can’t help but believe that if people didn’t think a better life awaits them after death they would take this world more seriously.

I think religious divides us, but I think something else divides us more:  politics.  But politics are just the outward manifestation of our inner beliefs which are tangled up in religious beliefs.  The litmus test for that division is how we treat the poor.

Some people hate giving to the poor.  They feel the poor should work.  They feel the poor are undeserving of charity.  Welfare makes their heads explode with anger.  Paying taxes for public schools galls them no end.  Foreign aid and food stamps just annoy the hell out them.  Their resentment knows no bounds when it comes to paying taxes.

Other people want to divvy up the wealth and make life on Earth decent for all.

What’s strange the first group tend to be Christians and the second tend to be secular or spiritual rather than religious.  To the first group, socialism is a dirty word, even though their God was known for dividing the fishes and loaves so everyone could eat.

So, I’m not sure if religion disappeared life on Earth would be any different.

We are going through transformative times.  Communism failed.  But capitalism cannot provide enough jobs for all.  There will always be a certain percentage of the population that are idle.  We have incorporated many socialistic solutions into our economy, and many people hate that.  If we revert to a complete free market, where it’s dog eat dog capitalism, we will have a world where the rich lived in armed enclaves and the rest struggle to survive in a cruel uncontrolled Darwinian conflict.  The early Christians saw Jesus’ teachings as a solution to this problem, but modern Christians have moved away from those socialistic beliefs.

I tend to wonder if modern Christians haven’t jettison all the Christian philosophy and just hung onto the belief of heaven.  They want to be rich on Earth, and rich in Heaven.  If these people turned atheists one night I doubt anything about the world would change.

Religion is a distraction like watching TV.  Believing in vampires or angels, it doesn’t matter, it’s all fiction.  To get the world that John Lennon imagined doesn’t come from giving up religion.  What we need is for everyone to stop thinking about themselves and resenting others. 

The real solution is to think global but act locally.  We have to solve the problem of creating a healthy Earth, and how to create an economy that provides the basics of a decent life for all seven billion people that live on Earth.  Our problem is the 10% want everything for themselves and expect the 90% to go fuck themselves.  As far as I can see religion is irrelevant to this problem.

Like I said, we’re going through a transformative age that people in the future will name and analyze.  Will the Earth survive?  The rich want to ignore that issue.  They want to get as much as they can for  themselves.  They do not care what happens to the Earth.  They do not care what happens to future generations.  They do not care about the rest of the people living on the Earth now.

Humans are a cancer consuming this world.  Unless we get our greed under control we will consume everything, including ourselves.

To answer my title question:  Unless becoming atheist means becoming liberal and socialist, the disappearance of religion would mean nothing to life on Earth.  The real issues to how we live on Earth lies elsewhere.  I don’t think greed is a belief.  It’s genetic, conditioned and animalistic.  Religion neither helps nor hurts in solving greed.

I think people who want to help the world do so because they just want to help the world.  But those people aren’t enough.  Unless the greedy are brought under control, and we’re all greedy, we can’t save ourselves.  Christians want to be saved, but the plight of the Earth is another kind of salvation.  Unless we’re all saved, then we’re all lost.   Whether a God is watching us or not, it does not matter, because we can only save ourselves.

JWH – 5/16/12

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