Earlier this week as I peered into cyberspace through my ostensibly one-way aperture, I happened upon a picture that my imperialist indoctrination had conditioned me to reflexively dismiss or ignore. However, I've grown increasingly resistant to the "charms" of the pathological delusions of American superiority, invulnerability, impunity, and entitlement to decadence. Something about this particular assemblage of glowing pixels left me flailing in a raging river of emotion. As I negotiated the tempestuous feelings surging within me, I made the conscious decision to forgo the American Way of dismissal and distraction. Instead, I connected and contemplated.
Staring me in the face was the tragic image of a Kenyan child condemned to the abject suffering of death by starvation. A massive tear confirmed the depth of his misery, yet his angelic eyes still beamed with the radiance of his life force. Not even the brutal assault of famine could extinguish the persistent flame of the human spirit.
In sharp contrast to the enduring blaze of his inner being, his corporeal shell had withered in a macabre synchronicity with the plants of his drought-ravaged environs. Yet despite his region's temporary scarcity of food, like his metaphorical counterpart, this diminutive scare-crow existed in a world glutted with comestibles that were not meant for him. With leather-like skin stretched tautly over his protruding skeleton, the slightest breeze would surely have caused him to rustle like a dry corn husk. Blood seeped from my heart as I made a vain attempt to imagine his pain.
Despite experiencing nearly overwhelming pathos, I remained focused and probed for a deeper understanding of this tiny innocent's torment.
Until recently, starvation had been an abstraction so far removed from my reality that I had hardly considered it. But in that one poignant moment, my years of personal struggles, work with the homeless over the last eight months, and choice to immerse myself in the human suffering encapsulated in that simple JPEG steeled my determination to examine, explore, and understand a grim aspect of human existence.
Starvation is a Grueling Process....
Denying the human body adequate nutrition for a prolonged period results in an agonizing three stage process of physical deterioration, a host of nasty symptoms, the potential of numerous excruciating afflictions, and eventually, death.
In the initial phase, the body breaks down stores of glycogen to produce the energy it needs. In less than 24 hours glycogen stores are generally exhausted and fats become the primary fuel for the body. Once fat is depleted, precious proteins comprising human muscle are metabolized to produce energy. This third stage causes rapid muscle deterioration and eventually results in the extreme emaciation embodied by the starving Kenyan boy whose image was now deeply tattooed onto my cerebrum.
A starving person can look forward to listlessness, fatigue, skin rashes, extreme irritability, and a significantly compromised immune system. Add diarrhea, scurvy, severe edema (swelling) of the abdomen, and heart failure to the mix and you have a comprehensive recipe for human anguish. Perhaps it is a blessing that most sufferers fall victim to illness or disease before starvation runs its course.
Famine and the Grim Reaper....a match made in Hell....
Delving further, I was startled to learn how widespread hunger and famine are on our planet, particularly in the "developing world".
Mark Elsis offered this sobering perspective at Lovearth.net :
"On Tuesday September 11, 2001, at least 35,615 of our brother and sisters died from the worst possible death, starvation. Somewhere around 85% of these starvation deaths occur in children 5 years of age or younger. Why are we letting at least 30,273 of the most beautiful children die the worst possible death everyday? Every 2.43 seconds another one of our fellow brothers and sisters dies of starvation. Starvation doesn't just happen on Tuesday September 11, 2001, it happens everyday, 365 days per year, 24 hours per day, it never stops."
On 12/5/06, the world human population was 6.4 billion. By that same day, 10.1 million people had starved to death in 2006. A human being dies from hunger-related causes every 2.43 seconds. Yet it doesn't have to be that way.
If all else fails, blame the victim...
Blaming starvation's victims for populating the planet beyond its capacity may assuage many people's guilt, but this heartless conclusion is based on pernicious myths. Humanity produces more than enough food to sustain the entire world population. The United States alone wastes a shocking 96 billion pounds of food each year even as we experience an epidemic of obesity.
In its rush to dominate, plunder and exploit "developing nations, the "developed world" (led by the United States), causes many of the famines it duplicitously attributes to irresponsible procreation.
"Free trade", "economic development", and IMF/World Bank "assistance" are prescriptions for disaster for the people of the "developing world". Having eliminated much of their own arable land for commercial or industrial use, the Neocolonial masters rely heavily on imported food from their servant states, significantly reducing these already impoverished nations' ability to feed their own people. Urbanization in "developing countries" (fostered by Western economic development) draws large populations into cities where people no longer have the means to cultivate their own food. World Bank loans usually result in projects that benefit the overlords and create a sea of debt for their underlings.
In its bid to oppress the world, the United States often installs and supports authoritarian leaders who implement Neoliberal policies that foment conditions leading to famine and starvation for their own people. Until the recent democratic successes of indigenous populists in Latin America, governments refusing to align with the United States were often comprised of ruthless elites whom the people initially embraced as a welcome respite from (or alternative to) US-style oppression. Either scenario generally results in profound misery for the poor and bliss for the aristocracy.
Budgeting priorities....spending $99.50 to kill them and 50 cents to keep them alive...
Not only does the United States contribute heavily to the atrocity of widespread starvation. Its economic aid for famine relief that many American apologists trumpet is negligible relative to the money it spends to wage war and kill innocent human beings.
Consider this excerpt from my inspiration for this essay, Andrew S. Taylor's brilliant piece entitled Moral Mathematics in the Post-Enlightenment Era http://www.mendacitypress.com/12.2006Taylor.html
"As of October 22, 2006 the total cost of the Iraq war is $336 billion. Let's do the math. Four years after Afghanistan, we had spent $1.62 billion helping the citizens of that nation to rebuild their infrastructure and secure their "freedom." Less than four years after invading Iraq, we have spent 207 times that amount to violate the rights of a society that wants us gone from their home.
'To date in FY 2006, the United States has committed more than $175 million for immediate life-saving interventions, targeting the most affected areas in the Horn of Africa with water and sanitation, health, nutrition, and food assistance.'
'Congress has already appropriated about $850 million for aid to all of Sudan in 2005 and 2006, and the White House has requested another $880 million.'
Well goodness, that's almost more than we've given Afghanistan! It is almost 0.5% of the yearly budget in Iraq, where it seems we may have killed more than the 400,000 than have already starved to death in Darfur, and no doubt displaced a number comparable to the 2 million displaced there."
Directing my thoughts back to the tortured soul whose photograph had imbued me with a desire to dissect the subject of starvation, I wondered if by some miracle he had survived. Other questions rushed to mind. What was his name? How old was he? What was his favorite game? What did he like to eat, when he had food? What happened to his parents? If he died, then how or when?
Realizing I could do little more than conjecture or speculate, I directed my attention back to my feelings. My sadness for the boy had progressed into abhorrence of the elites, oligarchs, and plutocrats, both here and in the nations plagued by famines.
I also felt grateful that I had disciplined myself to pursue my thoughts and feelings elicited by that haunting image of a dying child.
And what conclusions had I drawn or reaffirmed?
1. Exercising empathy is both a balm for the soul and anathema to American Capitalism.
2. A significant portion of world hunger is intentionally perpetuated to ensure that a relative few can gluttonously self indulge.
3. Manipulation and subjugation via economic means are often the principal causes of famines and mass starvation.
4. Behind the United States' fašade of benevolent superpowerdom lurks a craven pack of ruthless predators with the moral principles of Caligula.
5. And perhaps most importantly, my oft-expressed antipathy for many of the institutions, systems, policies, and actions of the American Empire is well-founded.
In the final analysis, the little wretch for whom I had grieved had not suffered in vain. He had starved so that the "people who matter" can revel in their opulence.
And on top of that, we have an Empire to run. Somebody has to make sacrifices. It might as well be "Third Worlders".
Sources and Further Reading: