His name is Kevin Danaher, he is a white, private-school-educated, organizer against global capitalism. He said many things that were disturbing, some that were common sense, and some that took a bit of reflection. He participated in the A-16 protest, he was tear-gassed as a dissident in the infamous "Battle in Seattle." He has had live rounds fired on him from riot police in other countries. He stood for two hours in front of the sons and daughters of the people who's corporations control the world, and who's networking creates much of the corruption which he struggles against, and he told us how he had seen children bathe in empty agro-chemical toxin containers, how he had worked with one of my personal heroes Vandana Shiva, how he had been part of a group of supporters that sent a technological package to subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatistas of Chiapas (including the laptop computer on which Marcos' first publications were typed), and finally, how in Nigeria he had held children who were victims of curable gastrointestinal disease and comforted them as they died in his arms.
The man's eyes were haunted when he spoke it. His arms looked like they were still holding those children. And even I, statistically a member of the 1% of the world's population that need not be concerned about such things, was moved. It was a moment of extraordinary courage on his part, and exceptional meaning on ours. I have never felt before like I was in the presence of such a hero.
But then he mentioned something else that was so disturbing that it made all the other statements he said pale in comparison. Something offhand, something unimportant, something with minor meaning. He said, in the midst of an unrelated sentence, that the antobiotics needed to cure a person of the curable diseases that these children were dying from cost on average about 14 cents. This made my blood nearly run cold, and got the point of resource distribution across in a way that nothing else probably could have. As I walked home, I took inventory of the items that I was carrying on my person, and their value. This is what I came up with.
I GAP Hooded Sweatshirt $60.00
1 Pair of GAP cargo kahkis $30.00
1 Pair of Walmart boxer shorts $5.00
1 Pair Old Navy sandals $20.00
1 Diamond PMP300 portable MP3 player $126.99
1 rechargeable AA battery $1.00
1 Majesti pocket watch $30.00
1 Spyderco Endura police model pocket knife $110.00
1 leather wallet $20.00
Cash in the amount of $4.00
Total value = $406.99
I, a college student, who have no job and no earned income, am carrying with me at any given moment over $400 of non-necessary personal effects.
Four hundred and six dollars and ninety-nine cents could have successfully treated 2,907 cases of potentially-fatal gastrointestinal disease. I don't NEED any of that shit. I could have set the whole pile of it on fire and walked away without too much distress. Or I could have easily replaced it with another set of designer clothing from my wardrobe, one of my other watches, my portable CD player, an old retired wallet, another of the small army of rechargeable batteries... The only thing in that list that I would not be able to immediately replace is the knife, which I would have to dig into my small savings to purchase another of. Theoretically, I could replace almost everything in that list in a matter of minutes, without spending more money. I have several sets, and backups for those, of almost everything listed above.
Now I ask you, how often do I lose things? Not often. Almost never, in fact. If I do not deliberately throw things away, then I still have most of them. I have to make a conscious effort to constantly recycle my possessions and discard them in a way that benefits no one, while at any given moment, I could cure almost 3,000 of a horrible and possibly-fatal disease with the value of whatever set of consumer gear I happen to be carrying around with me at any given moment. Sure, perhaps not all of those disease cases were fatal. Hell, even if only 1 in 1000 were fatal (which is a low estimate), that still means that I had the resources and potential to theoretically save the lives of three people today and chose not to. Sure, theoretically is different from realistically. Realistically, organizations that mobilize this capital have overhead and need to be funded. They take a chunk of it for themselves because they have to in order to survive. So let's say that the organization that actually gets to the impoverished children of Nigeria and distributed the antibiotics takes 2/3 of my capital (again, a low estimate) for themselves, and passes 1/3 of the wealth into buying and transporting the drugs.
So today, I had the potential realistically to save the life of one person. Only one. And I did not. In a way, it's much more disturbing to think of it as just saving that one person. There is a family tonight that is weeping over the death of a loved one, someone with wants and needs and emotions and culture. Someone in which love was invested, and time was taken for. That person is dead tonight as a victim of a painful disease that I could have alleviated four times over with the cost of ONE of the half dozen Dr. Peppers that I drank today. The gravity of the thought is based on the fact that I don't need any of it. If I had given away every piece of shit that I listed above and made the effort to treat that one case of dysentery or gastroenteritis, if I had been the outside shot for that one family who now has a corpse to bury instead of a person to love, my life WOULD NOT HAVE CHANGED AT ALL. I would still have a near identical piece of shit to replace everything that I sacrificed for that person's life.
On the way home, I put the headphones of the MP3 player into my ears and tried to block out the look in Danaher's eyes when he told me about the kids that he had held while they died. But the only thing that came through the crafty little Koss headphone speakers was the cries of the family who's loved one died today because I couldn't live without a GAP sweatshirt, a carbon steel bladed pocketknife, and a digital music player.