A Larger View

a commentary on how current events reflect— or not—our search for higher values

  • Volume XXIII
  • No. 3
  • May/June 2018
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

The pieces are reposted from some of the entries in InnerLifeDirections.com

in this issue:

  • Mistresses in China
  • Wage Stagnation
  • War and Suffering
  • Hunger on College Campuses
  • Antibiotics Resistance and Typhoid
  • Fasting in Silicon Valley
  • To Ponder On

Mistresses In China

I accidentally saw an article about mistresses in China on my phone one night and since it was written in October 2013 later checked how prevalent the practice  was still  today. It is. In June 2017 the New Yorker published an article on China’s Mistress-Dispellers, a kind of new profession whereby third parties are hired by wives to get rid of their husbands’ mistresses. What struck me was not how common the practice of having a mistress is, it was how these women saw it as a step up for them.  Many of them came from rural China and were trying to escape poverty. They would end up in things like karaoke bars, having to sometimes sleep with customers, if they paid enough. Sometimes they had been involved in more conventional forms of prostitution. If they were noticed by a man who wanted to take care of them they jumped at the chance. They then would live in fancy apartments, had an allowance, received gifts.  There were times when several of them could be in different apartments in the same building, so it was possible for them to meet, talk and share notes.  They work hard for what they have to do to maintain the interest of “my man” as they would refer to the men keeping them.  They explain it as a question of being sincere about liking him and enjoying being with him, being interested in his life, at the same time mean it so that it would feel and be real to him even if they did not feel the same–anything so they would not have to go back to the karaoke bar, or their previous life. Some were able to save money, buy apartments, invest all the while enjoying certain luxuries. Many of the men were public officials, so essentially they were being supported by public funds. That is of course not how their wives saw it. In a culture where divorce is not accepted as it is in the West, their option was to use mistress-dispeller. He or she would shame, intimidation or perhaps make friends with the mistress and then have his picture taken with her if he was a man, and later send it to the husband, who felt deceived and would break off the relationship.

I couldn’t help think that rare among us would be the woman who would give up her freedom and opportunities for their luxury and makeshift security. In turn what would these Chinese women do if they could  have what we have?

Wage Stagnation

What happens to the wages of American workers may not seem like a topic we want to spend time on but it is important. For example, according to some experts it was a contributing factor to the election of Donald Trump. Although the last jobs report showed some wage increase, overall that increase was very flat and shows that in the long run wages will continue to be flat.  Wage stagnation is not new, it has basically been around for the last 40 years and has puzzled economists. That’s why the Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution has now issued an e-book discussing the issues, making proposals and recommendations. One of the proposals which the authors seem to emphasize is related to creating circumstances for workers to compensate for the collective bargaining what unions used to provide. Unions represented a group and were able to obtain more concessions than a single individual. In addition when unions were powerful, there were many employers, now the numbers of employers has shrunk. In fact a recommendation is for the government to evaluate mergers in terms of how they would affect the labor market. The problem of employers being able to dictate terms has a name, monopsony, and the book’s authors alert us that employers today tend to have a degree of monopsony. Other measures suggested meant to compensate for  this problem work to give some bargaining power back to workers. Also companies often have non poaching agreements or workers are asked to sign that they will not work for the competition. All this limits workers’ bargaining power. And a recommendation is to alter those agreements and practices.

Wage stagnation is a complicated topic that often requires specialized knowledge, and yet it is one of extreme importance to the future of the US, one which can be crucial in reducing the growing economic inequality, and therefore one which can go to the core of how democracy is practiced.

War and Suffering

The war in Yemen has just entered its fourth year. The war in Syria is 7 years old, the war in Sudan 5, the war in Afghanistan 15. War and suffering go together. For example, in Yemen which has already been called a humanitarian crisis :

  • in March 2017 an outbreak of cholera spread to a million people by the end of the year
  • an estimate of 2 million children are out of school
  • 2 million people, nearly 3 in every 4 people are dependent on humanitarian aid to survive
  • besides cholera there has been dengue fever malaria and diphtheria, while the fear and possibility of those diseases returning is real
  • the destruction of hospitals and infrastructure make rendering aid more difficult

It is not known how long the war will last.  The same can be said of Syria, Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan and others not mentioned here. In Yemen’s case it is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Syria Turkey and Russia also make it a proxy war. Whether the United States has an interest in the stakes of a given war and is able to influence some form of peace is not foreground on the agenda of the current administration. This means that our understanding and commitment that as humans the suffering of war is our responsibility, to at least alleviate, must be that much stronger.

Hunger on College Campuses

Being in school is hard. For those who have access to life’s necessities, even for those who can include some of its pleasures, it can nevertheless be the best time of their lives, but for the rest for whatever reason, it is challenge upon challenge. According to a new survey 36% of students on college campuses do not have enough to eat. The survey finds that one of the reasons for food insecurity is that jobs are not as easy to find.  There is much competition for the low paying jobs students typically get. Other reasons are “ballooning college costs”, inadequate aid packages, growing enrollment among low income students and too the reluctance of colleges to admit the problem. According to the same survey a similar percentage of students have no secure place to live or can be homeless. I worked my way through school albeit at a time when tuitions were much cheaper. My education means more to me than whatever difficulties I encountered while a student. I am sure the same holds for many of these young people. But the result of this survey shows us this is not how we ought to build a future for young lives as well as for society.  Many of these same students who experience food and shelter insecurities may well be those who will end up with the greatest student debt. Student debt the way it is unfolding in the US (as opposed to the US, Australia or Sweden for example) saddles young people with life -long consequences.

When seen as a total picture, the results of this survey are not only distressing, they also lead to asking whether a remedy for economic inequality is being harmed?

 Antibiotics Resistance and Typhoid

It’s hard to realize that typhoid in Pakistan can impact us, but it’s much more likely than we may like. There’s an epidemic in 14 districts there, some 850 cases of typhoid which have been spreading since 2016. The problem is that the particular strain is mostly resistant to five different kinds of antibiotics. And further that strain is expected to disseminate globally. An oral antibiotic azythromycin is hoped to help, the last to be tried. If it fails, typhoid could be untreatable. So the issue is no longer about typhoid, but about antibiotic resistance. That means as far as typhoid is concerned we would have to return to the pre antibiotic era, and that would involve a very high mortality rate. As it is 21 million people suffer from typhoid each year and 161,000 already die of it. A hope for containing this epidemic lies in a vaccination campaign—indirectly making the case for the importance of vaccination.

The whole issue of antibiotic resistance is far from new which makes what’s going on in Pakistan more than a wake-up call.?  It is also an intractable problem since it affects the entire food chain. Cattle, for example, are fed antibiotics are as a means to prevent them from contracting certain diseases. The result is that even if we don’t take antibiotics ourselves we ingest them if or when we eat meat from such cattle. While the dangers of antibiotic resistance have been too abstract for us to grapple with and comprehend something like the typhoid epidemic in Pakistan brings them home in a way we can’t avoid and too one we must remember.

Fasting in Silicon Valley

iFasting, Mouth Timer, Grumbli, Foodless Lite, Pizza Prison, Fork Busters. These are the names of companies which are based on a current craze in Silicon Valley: Fasting. Silicon Valley is filled with young, affluent, pampered, intelligent people who, among other things, are always on the lookout of what could improve their comfort, physical, emotional or intellectual—and for many it also includes what among what is new can be monetized and bring them the rewards it has for some already well-known people. The current research behind fasting, however, explains much and one cannot be surprised that it is a current fad.  The research says that fasting, reduced caloric intake or restricted diets boost energy and cognitive ability. There is also the research on mice indicating that low caloric intake promotes longevity.  I wouldn’t want to live in a world without science, but I am aware that scientific notions do often alter with time. When I was these people’s age, for example, the prevailing notion about fasting was that it fulfilled the need to detoxify your body and because detoxification prevented disease it could therefore be a boon to health.

Why shouldn’t these young enterprising people fast if they want to? I can’t tell them not to. Not only is it their right, it is after all their freewill, their decision. In addition for all I or anyone knows it may be a necessary phase they need to undergo. The whole issue of fasting and restricted intake is not one of right or wrong. Yet, for someone like me, it is one of thoughtfulness, awareness and social consciousness. I wonder how refugees and migrants would feel about such topics, and how they would react should the research about reduced caloric intake be shared with them. In fact I doubt that the life expectancy in many poor countries (and I realize there are other factors at work) would correlate restricted food intake and longevity. And too there’s the whole issue of turning a fad into profits. It may be so emblematic of our contemporary culture, still it leaves me with how much these young entrepreneurs could accomplish to reduce human suffering if  they would turn their abilities towards reducing inequalities and evening out opportunities.

To Ponder On

“In this new, hyper competitive age, none of us, none of us can afford to be complacent.”

                                                                                                 Barack Obama













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