I’m increasingly interested in the parallels between America’s mass incarceration epidemic (our contemporary racial caste system, as Michelle Alexander so aptly documents it), and our global, pre-apocalyptic climate change trajectory. In both cases, the facts clearly and undeniably illustrate massive problems that humans have caused, and which we can intervene in to change course. But both epidemics have ballooned to the point where they seem inevitable, so we tend to limit our approaches to them to those that scratch the surface. The cultural fuel that powers their perpetuation is our refusal to shift our 20th century paradigm of what prosperity is.
Prosperity = financial wealth. This premise driving capitalism over the last century got us here: to the point that while we have the ability to know what is happening in every crevice of the world, and have enough resources to ensure that no one dies of starvation, the richest 2% of the world have more resources than over 50% of the world. A brief and great clip from a new site called “The Rules”, a project of Purpose, illustrates succinctly how we are now consciously participating in ensuring that most of the world suffers while a very small percentage of us prosper.
I regularly pose the question to students, family and friends, of whether we have progressed as a species. Technology and innovation aficionados, and folks that are generally well off typically instantly reply that “of course” we’ve progressed. “Look what we can do!” The corollary is often to look at what we have. I could be the first to chime in. Having traveled for long periods at a time when I was younger, in places where you’d have to go to the bathroom in holes in the ground without running water or toilet paper, access to those is a luxury I happily have espoused as progress. I’m just quite lucky, really. I happen to have been born into a place and race that’s progressed quite rapidly in the scale of human history. But at what costs? I’m not sure that the best definition for species progress is manifested in a global snapshot of human society in 2014.
Empathy clearly is not powerful enough to have curbed the rate at which a small percent of us have dominated the globe, to the detriment of the rest of it. I think only the collective realization that our fates are inextricably linked has the potential to redirect us onto a less self-annihilating course. Central to this is reformulating what prosperity means. Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre, the UK’s leading academic climate change research organization, speaks very compellingly about all of this. He’s made the poignant point that the word “economy” comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which was defined as ‘household management.” If we reframed our conception of economic prosperity to connect to how well our societal/global household is managed, we might prioritize our environment, access to food, water, healthcare, housing, education. We might prioritize peace a little more highly since war often aligns so insidiously with financial gain for a few, and the simultaneous destruction of all the above, for so many.
The good news is that because technology has progressed at such a dizzying pace, it has the potential to be perhaps the primary vehicle we use to help us shift our priorities; and more and more folks are leveraging their own prosperity to direct technology towards this goal.
exalt is trying to help shift public understanding of what underlies our mass incarceration travesty, and also offers an incredibly tangible and successful way to intervene in ending it. We need your help to help us share our stories and impact with the world. Please visit us at www.exaltyouth.org/about-exalt/about-us and let us know if you can share some of your technical skills or resources to help spread the message that we should, and CAN, educate, rather than incarcerate.