Typhoon Haiyan and Consumerism

It strikes me as somewhat appalling that in such a time as this, with 1,833 dead, 2,600 injured, 582,000 displaced and 80,000 homes destroyed (BBC World), we hear news of a Francis Bacon painting which has sold for £89m ($142m). If this money were to be donated to the charity Shelter Box, to whom I decided to make my contribution, it would have provided shelter and resources for 150,847 of the families affected. Although people are, in general, giving generously to the cause – including a ‘personal’ donation from The Queen and a donation from The Pope – I think it is a good time to examine the extent to which consumerism and capitalism have eaten away at our compassion, and our willingness to help others.

I recently came across the African concept of ‘Ubuntu’, that ‘I am, because we are’. This ideology of one’s happiness being dependant on the happiness of the others is a philosophy which, if adopted by the west, could shape the world into a much better place. Instead, capitalism values one’s own success and happiness, and the suffering or sadness of others is a necessary price to pay for you to be happy. The majority must endure, so that the minority may thrive. It is this which has destroyed the foundations of solidarity, changed how we look at one another – not as brothers and sisters, not as humans; as competitors, as rivals. We feel not the pain of those who suffer so that we may be happy… we choose to ignore, it’s not our problem. Well I implore you, feel the pain of every individual in need, put yourself in their position. This is no meritocracy; people are born into suffering, into poverty, into ignorance. Only when you acknowledge these people as you do yourself can you truly be human. Many do not have the luxury to think beyond surviving the day, while some of us spend £89m on a piece of art. Is that the sort of world we really want to live in?