Friday, July 31, 2009

Feeling Marxist

I am a closet communist.

I have, all my life, had a considerable amount of class consciousness, as my buddy Marx would say. I notice keenly what others have and I don't and what I have that others don't. I did in no way grow up destitute (and that is indeed a very big understatement); but no matter how wide the class divide, when there is a division, you notice it. You don't have to be a dirt-poor farmer living next to McMansions to see that there is a division between you and the next class up.

I think about this often. But what inspired this post is two things: a visit to my aunt's house and hearing the news that my family is getting new furniture for the first time in my life.

I have always envied my cousins' lifestyle. My uncle has a very good job (which he deserves and works hard for) and they live in a very large house with nice furniture and so many rooms! When I was there, I was surprised to see that the house kept going. . .and going. . .and going. . . . Tonight, as I was talking to a family member and describing their backyard at a previous house in New England (I have a very soft spot for New England), tears actually came to my eyes when I said that there was a pond and that the house backed up to the woods, through which they walked to get to school. It's not only the lifestyle and surroundings I've envied–I envy the ease in which they live in that huge, immaculate house. I would feel strange living in such a big house, and I would feel undeserving of it.

Yes, in addition to envying how the other half lives, I have felt undeserving or even guilty for what luxury I do have. I frequently say, "That would be nice, but I really don't need that to the smallest things. Like the furniture–I'm perfectly comfortable with getting it from garage sales or having it passed down from deceased family members. I think it will feel extravagant to me having new furniture (paid for by my loving grandma) in the living room.

I really don't want to sound like I'm complaining about what I have, because I definitely know how very, very lucky I am. I have everything I need and more. I feel stupid and whiny to feel bad about not having as much as other people. I've been thinking increasingly (and that's a lot, since I already dwell too much on this) about inequality and why it exists when it doesn't have to. It makes my head hurt to think about the stark contrasts between different parts of the world: we have, for example, the U.S. where people can have tons of credit cards, go shopping for fun, and are overweight because they eat more than enough; then we have other countries (and areas of the U.S.!) where people starve, have no shelter, and have no clue how long they'll survive. Between countries, the divide is deep. Between neighborhoods in the same city, the divide can be just as deep. How?? Why??

I've come up with a brilliant idea! When you have extra money that you're going to spend on a luxury, choose to donate it to charity instead. Give someone else a head start in improving his/her life. I'm not an advocate of handouts, I'm really not–I do believe in working for your money. But the truth is, people deserve mercy too. There is trap regarding skills and work that prevents people from working for money: you can't get work until you have skills for the work. But you don't have skills (e.g. computer hacking skills, nun-chuck skills [why do I spell "nun-chuck" correctly on the first try but not "extravagant"?]) until you get an education. But you can't get an education if you don't have the money or the time! And if you don't even have the money to survive, where are you going to get the money to go to school?

The main challenge I see with donating is knowing where your money will do the most good. As much as I feel bad seeing homeless people on the street holding signs, I am always wary to give money because of the warning that many would just spend it on alcohol or other drugs. Yes, it's a stereotype, but it has truth in it. I mean, it's understandable to want money to those things if you're addicted to them. But if you donate to that cause, you're just hurting them more. I had a friend once get a two-for-one sandwich deal at Arby's and then give a homeless man the other sandwich; I think that's a good idea. I really feel like I'm talking in a demeaning manner about homeless people. I really don't mean to; this is a sensitive subject. Especially with the downturn in the economy, it's increasingly easy for people to become homeless.

Donating to a charity can be problematic, because many take out chunks for overhead costs of running the organization, such as advertising and paying employees. The fact that we are lead by a lay clergy and that the Church helps people get jobs and job training (e.g. at DI) is something I (figuratively) stand up and applaud. When I donate to fast offering and humanitarian aid, I trust that my money is going directly to benefit someone, since there are no salaries being paid with my donation. Fast offering and humanitarian aid are wonderful. And so is the PEF! The Church has such wonderful programs!

Now, back to this brilliant plan. I've been thinking, "Why don't more people do that? Give up the money they would spend on a necklace to help some refugees or starving children?" And then. . .and then the guilt just increases exponentially. Every snack, every extra fun thing I decide to spend money on makes me feel a pang of guilt for not choosing to donate that money instead.

I learned in Sociology that there are two theories for economic distribution: conservative and liberal theory. Conservative theory seems to be embraced by people who own property and own money and want to protect that. It states that inequality is a way of life and that no matter what class you are in, you have place and a job to perform. Different classes are like different parts of the body: they work together to make society function. Liberal theory seems to be embraced by radicals and calls for sharing or giving up wealth. We should work to solve inequality. The people in history who have discovered true wisdom are those who gave up their wealth and became wandering teachers. Another thing liberal theory has going for it is that Jesus is included in its school. Oh man, what kind of a decision is it to make when you are asking, "Hmm. Who probably has the right answer? Rich white guys or Jesus?" Oh man. But these are two extremes. We are not required to give up everything we own, nor should we just shrug and do absolutely nothing to combat inequality.

In my heart, I'm a liberal theorist, and in my head a conservative theorist. It is the same politically (brain=republican, heart=democrat, even though I don't like sticking to one party line). My mom has warned me that I will only become frustrated that I can't save the world. I'm always worrying that I'm not doing enough as I can. Really, I could sell most of my stuff on ebay and then donate the money I get from it. But maybe the question isn't if I have the selflessness to do that; maybe it's should I? Will that really help someone? What am I sacrificing personally (other than possessions)? Since I think in extremes, I often think, "With the money I'm buying this lotion with, I could save a starving child's life." And I hate to say this, but what if that's just meant to be? What if it's right that people are dying? It's awful to think about, though.

I came across this website, and under the question, "Why do some people have more trials than others?" is this quote by President Packer:
“Some are tested by poor health, some by a body that is deformed or homely. Others are tested by handsome and healthy bodies; some by the passion of youth; others by the erosions of age.

Some suffer disappointment in marriage, family problems; others live in poverty and obscurity. Some (perhaps this is the hardest test) find ease and luxury.

All are part of the test, and there is more equality in this testing than sometimes we suspect.”
The answer also says that
What may seem like a walk in the park to you is a climb up a hill for another, and vice versa. What may seem like a blessing to you—take being good looking for example—is a source of trial for another who struggles with temptations of chastity and vanity as a result of their beauty; temptations that those of us who don’t look like we belong on the cover a magazine don’t have to contend with as much.
which I can't help but sneer at. I'm sorry, but saying, "Oh, those poor attractive people! They're really the ones that have it worse than us!" just doesn't sit with me well. I don't know. I don't think it's a solution to the question to just turn good attributes that people have around and call them trials in disguise. Also, being attractive or not is not the scale of trials I'm talking about. I'm talking about being born with AIDS.

Why do our lots in life seem so unequal so often? Is the temptation of taking wealth for granted and growing prideful equal to the temptation to curse God and die when everything good in life seems to be missing? Why is one person's trial accepting a blue Mercedes instead of a silver one when another's is being forced by a government to be a second-class citizen only because she is a woman?

Am I really luckier than my cousins who seem to have everything I want? What I really want is to be able to live my life without guilt over the blessings I have. I want to be able to live like they do and not feel bad about it. My uncle works for the money, but other people don't have the opportunity to work.

I'm in such a good mood after writing this, not even the Grapes of Wrath or Tortilla Curtain could cheer me up any more!!!!! :) :) :) :) :) <3

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Letter: Just enjoy the message
Wed, 07/01/2009 - 23:13

I am writing in response to the June 30 letters “Stop ignoring the new president” and “Newsflash: Obama is president.” First off, I would like to say the slideshows that were shown at the BYU Patriotic Fireside were wonderful. I don’t know why people were getting so worked up about George W. Bush being shown in a few more pictures than President Barack Obama.

Second, in most of the pictures that showed Bush, he had his hand over his heart. If you haven’t noticed, Obama doesn’t always put his hand over his heart during the national anthem. Maybe Obama would be in more BYU devotional slideshows if he did an action that every American should do — especially the president of the United States.

Nachelle Stewart

Yeah!  Take that, you communist!  The reason that Obama wasn't shown in more pictures isn't that there's a Republican bias at BYU–it's because Obama doesn't put his hand over his heart!  It's not BYU's fault, idiot–it's Obama's!  

Really?  We're still discussing the hand-over-the-heart issue?  And I'm not an authority on Barack Obama's motives (yeah, I know you thought I was.  Sorry to disappoint you.), but you shouldn't take everything at face value.  I think we often assume the outward appearance of something is a negative reflection on someone's character, when it's often not.  Maybe Obama really is an unpatriotic America hater.  Or maybe he wanted to show his respect a different way–internally (he could be thinking about respect for the country.  And Bush, with his hand over his heart, could be thinking about French fries).  Who knows.  Just don't jump to the conclusion that he is showing disrespect on purpose.  And since when is this specific action the ultimate mark of patriotism and respect to one's country?

The point has been made before that the BYU Honor Code does focus on outward actions, such as dressing modestly, but that what someone does outwardly is not always a mark of what he or she really thinks or believes, and thus following the Honor Code isn't the end-all indication that you are righteous.  There are wolves in sheep's clothing–someone may dress modestly and use clean language and have a missionary haircut, but he could be rotten inside.  Of course, there really isn't a way to monitor someone's thoughts and motives (and I'm glad!  The Thought Police are scary!  And so are rats!  Do it to Julia!), so outward appearance is often a good indication.  But it's still as true as ever that you can't judge a book by its cover.  An action is only as potent as the meaning behind it and the committment to it.  Putting your hand over your heart in front of the American flag does not guarantee that you are patriotic; Osama bin Laden could also put his hand over his heart in front of the American flag and it wouldn't mean a thing.  I would like to think that Obama doesn't want to just go through the motions of putting a hand over the heart and is choosing a more meaningful way for him to honor the flag.  Or maybe he's making a point that putting a hand over the heart doesn't make someone a patriot.  Or maybe he's a communist and we should stone him, because communists are always evil.   

I would rather have someone not go through the motions of something just to look good in public if the action has lost meaning for him personally.  Which I'm not saying is the case for Obama.  But it could be.  And if it is, I'm fine with it.