Tuesday, March 01, 2005

One of my friends told me recently a phenomena he observed in Richmond, BC : 50% of K-12 students, newly arrived from Hongkong and other parts of Asia, are either driven in or fetched by their parents in BMWs, Mercedes, Jaguars, and other luxury cars -- these symbols appropriated by new immigrants to prove that they are assimilable (of course, Asian Americans have been trying to prove this for centuries!) and can also afford the trappings of affluence. Well...recently there has been some sort of a reversal of trends. The other 50% being emulated (the white local affluent families) have recently been seen driving hybrids and smaller cars in the name of their new-found ecological consciousness. The Asians are aghast: they have changed the rules! just as when we are proving that we, too, have arrived, they change the rules! not fair!

So then our conversation turned to the question: as wealthy people realize that affluence doesn't necessarily bring happiness and they begin to downsize and simplify their lifestyles, what does it mean for the rest of the folks on the planet who aim to acquire the same trappings of affluence in order to be happy? Is there a point where the affluent can say to the wannabe-affluent: Just take my word for it, don't consume mindlessly like I did, it won't make you happy? Because, of course, the new ecological consciousness of the affluent won't quickly reverse any of the environmental damage that has already been done in the name of their lifestyles.

I was seated between him and another environmentalist/earth scientist. They were talking about the ethics of development of natural resources. How can we merge human values, social policy and corporate practices? How do we teach young people in our classrooms to look at these three areas in an interconnected way rather than in isolation, as is currently practiced in classrooms, in corporate boardrooms, and in social institutions?

Mutombo asked: our national rhetoric of about peace, freedom, and prosperity -- why doesn't it ring hollow to most Americans?

Why indeed??

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