The Comfort of Anonymity

By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon

Fixing societal ills is going to take a variety of efforts from multiple directions, but most people are still in denial that anything about the built environment needs to change. Developers are continuing to build housing as if there are no houses that could be rehabilitated into living spaces accompanied by food cooperatives and internet, which would keep people from commuting. Auto companies are doing nothing to abate the process by continuing to release expensive models, and assisting the oil and gas lobby to keep gasoline artificially cheap.When driving past homeless or poor people, most of the population feels comfortable with ignoring them or crafting policies to move the marginalized out of sight.

On one hand, most people think that the problems are easy to solve, like just getting more education or learning a trade will solve all of the problems of the distressed. It is as if the public is disinterested in knowing how many college and graduate students are effectively homeless, or that people want to forget that employers are unwilling to pay tradespeople what they are worth. All of the training in the world will not make up for a rise in the cost of living, and all the healthy food will not keep forever. Keeping large issues anonymous helps those who wish to blame those enduring hardships.

On the other hand, many believe that the problems are too difficult to fix, therefore what can they, as individuals, do to change the problem? Relying on uncertain philanthropy, believing that an increase in voter turnout will alter the tides, and following politicians who all have their own agendas shifts the responsibility from the masses to the elites, who are directly “responsible” for society. Crafting local ordinances and legislation allows us to feel useful and again, to disregard those who need help sooner, rather than when legislation, ordinances and statutes finally pass.

Basically, seeing people who are “down on their luck” as the “other” or as “less” allows humanity to remain comfortable. Instead of working to address the ills, we hurl insults and congratulate ourselves for avoiding such fate. We are going to have to accept the fact that even though we want change without changing, that will not feed the poor, house the homeless, and heal the environment. Looking to someone else to solve the problems does not work on an individual level; why would it work for the world?

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