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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Zero Sum

I wear $2 t-shirts. They're not very colourfast, they're not cut well, and they are as flattering to the male figure as a sack.

But they're cotton.

I've been told that my choice of clothing reflects what I think of myself, and that I deserve something better.

Nope. I'm fine with what I've got.

It's not a matter of self-image or fashion consciousness, or even feeling deserving. It's not humility, either - none of this "Friend, why are you in the lowest place? Come, go higher at the table."

It's a statement of purpose. As long as there are people starving to death in Africa, yeah, I'll dress cheap.

Really, it's more symbolism than anything else. The world doesn't operate on a zero-sum economy at the practical level. There's more than enough food to let everyone live; a large part of the problem is that there are governments in some areas that would prefer population control by famine, and their warehouses full of UN food are considered part of the presidential wealth.

But I'm not sure that there isn't something of a moral zero-sum. When we enjoy luxury, do we condemn others to agony?

Certainly not practically. But at some level, do we use our luxuries to insulate and distance ourselves from our less fortunate brethren? Does a $40 shirt feel so good and look so fine that we just don't want to think about Eritrea?

Yes. I think so. I think the dichotomy is too great for our minds to comfortably handle, and we slide the image of the swollen-bellied man off to the side. We'll deal with it later, after we've enjoyed the now.

But later there's the vacation at the 5-star resort. We could bring an Oxfam publication to brunch, but let's look at it...later.

A lot later.

I'm not saying that we should all dress in burlap and quit using soap. I'm not even saying that if you want to vacation at Yosemite, you should really visit Camden, New Jersey instead.

What I am saying is - ration your luxuries. Keep the ones that mean something to you on a spiritual level, that speak to your heart. And let the rest go, as an offering to those less fortunate, given through God.

Because if the world doesn't operate on a zero-sum economy - God very well might.

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