Monday, April 7, 2014

It's Hard to Be Good - Problems of Globalization


I was eating guacamole at the time.

It is the kind of problem that spins my head right round. Globalization and modern technology make limes cheap and available almost everywhere. Because limes are awesome*, we've quickly assimilated them into our diet: guacamole, margaritas, what passes for Mexican food out here, etc.

The ready inclusion of limes in our lifestyles jacks up demand, and growers, mostly in developing countries where labor is cheap, step in to supply American markets. However growing monocultures (one species of produce in massive quantities in the same place), makes disease much more likely, and a citrus infection called HLB has been rapidly infecting much of Mexico's trees (Florida too). HLB, combined with the weather, created a huge lime shortage; prices skyrocketed.

Unfortunately, there are groups in Mexico very much interested in money wherever it is to be found, by any means necessary. It appears that drug cartels stepped in (they already launder money through Mexican agriculture), and they or other criminals are hijacking lime transports and plundering groves. The cartels have the funding to do all this because of the lucrative American market for illegal narcotics.

The Torah teaches "Turn from evil, and do good." (Psalm 15) In truth, the former is a hell of lot harder than the latter. It is easier to do good - treat people in our lives well, pay our taxes, donate to charity, do mitzvot, volunteer. In fact, I am always stunned by the sheer amount of goodness in the people around me. The strength that humans can muster is awe-inspiring.

Much, much more difficult is to turn from the evil that our society produces as a necessary consequence to its structure. Structural evil is the worst kind of problem the kind that saps slowly away at our energy, that requires concerted effort over a long period of time by many individuals to steer our conglomerate selves from our fixed path. Turning from that evil requires a high tolerance for frustration, accepting feelings of impotence, and immense restraint. Do we have the energy to fit composting into our lives, the time to check whether a fruit is sustainably raised, the restraint not to eat what we crave any given night, and the patience even the arrogance - to persuade our friends to do the same?

But I want to remind us of that strength that we possess; we have more of it than we even imagine. Our ancestors remind us that it is possible to work towards redemption for generations, and to keep hope alive. The good world that God has given us is worth the strength we can muster.

* As are avocados, and, indeed, anything that grows in the great state of California.

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