I was cutting out a December 30, 2006 article from the New York Times when nearby a January 4, 2007 article from the L.A. Times caught my eye. The juxtaposition of the two articles turned my stomach. Article one showed pictures of African children attending overcrowded, under-resourced schools, 125 children in one third-grade classroom – many of whose parents are illiterate. In addition, the article noted that some 12 million sub-Saharan children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. One teacher, who has three textbooks for 195 students, poignantly stated, “Textbooks would make my job so much easier.”
Article two – headline: “$210 Million to Step Aside.” The second article presented the details of former Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli’s severance package.
So what do the two articles have to do with each other? On the surface, nothing. It’s just that I have a compulsion to think of this planet as One: as one inter-connected, interdependent home of a unique species located on this miraculous blue planet, which is whirling through ever-expanding space in a cosmos or series of cosmoses so immense as to beggar the wildest imagination. We are clearly all of a kind; our evolutionary history shows we are all related, our ancestors ultimately the same.
So why do we have such a devilishly hard time caring for each other? And why have we allowed the planet to become organized in such an obscenely unequal and blatantly unfair manner? Nardelli’s inflated ego and capitalism’s absurdly individualistic and simultaneously anarchistic policies allow for one man to receive $210 million just to leave a job? Meanwhile, his children, our children, our human relatives in Africa suffer, die, go to schools without books? Is there any sense in this whatsoever?
The answer is, of course, no. There is no real sense to it – it’s just the way it is. It works beautifully for the few, and they have the power to see that governments guarantee that it continues to work beautifully for those few, and the rest be damned.
We have so organized – or I should say, the rich and powerful have so organized – things that in country after country the top 5 percent flourish, as the middle percentage make do, and the bottom half suffers miserably.
This set-up is statistically known to many people. Inevitably, the question comes up, “But what can I do about it? I’m just one individual.” Separately we can do little, but jointly some change is possible. For example, shareholders and boards of trustees have the power to rein in many CEO pay packages, which are clearly out of control across the country. Almost every week now we read of CEOs retiring or resigning and walking away with outrageous amounts of money. This money could go to shareholders, to social service programs via corporate social service commitments. Are we so mired down in accommodating the gargantuan appetites of individual executives that corporations cannot see a way to contribute to people in desperate need all across the globe? The teacher trying to teach 135 poor children without books and the $210 million slop in Mr. Nardelli’s trough are a depressing commentary on our collective lack of vision and determination. Surely we can do better.