Our stay in Louisville was brief. We went first to Queen of Sheba, a fantastic Ethiopian restaurant. We love Ethiopian food, and this was actually the first place I ever had it, a few years back with my Aunt Trish and Uncle Larry, who live in Louisville.
While we were waiting to eat, I perused the history of Ethiopia, printed on a laminated page at our table. Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. What are believed to be the oldest remains of a human ancestor ever found, which have been dated as being some five million years old, were discovered in the Awash Valley in Ethiopia. This beats the discovery of “Lucy”, a 3.2 million year old skeleton, who was unearthed in the same area in 1974.
Ethiopia’s flag is also the same three colors as Lithuania’s.
Right across the street from the restaurant is Bowman Field, the oldest civil airport in Kentucky, first used in 1919. The old terminal building now displays photos and exhibits of the early aviation days, and the runway is still used by private pilots.
I walked over to Bowman while we were waiting for the food, and when I returned, we soon had two huge platters of injera with mounds of different kinds of cooked vegetables. Injera is flatbread, made like a crepe so that it's stretchy and flexible. The method is to tear some off and wrap up some of the vegetable mixes like a mini taco. No forks or spoons needed.
At a different Ethiopian Restaurant in St. Louis, I saw a pie chart explaining how people around the world eat. The smallest section of the chart (I can't recall exact percentages, as this was years ago) represented those who eat with forks and spoons. The next largest section was people who eat with chopsticks. The largest section, more than half, was for those who eat with their hands. It's funny to me that for those of us who live in modern, first world situations, certain things seem normal, as if part of the standard human experience. But when you actually look at the numbers people who live like us are in the minority. Most of the world is surviving on so much less than we few who consume most of the energy and resources.
It seems like something of a blind spot in the growing movement of pointing out privilege. The top 15% of the world's population divides itself into groups, figuring out who has benefited the most from the spoils of empire, ranking themselves by identity group and how oppressed it has been. While their designations of privilege may be accurate (on average, whites enjoy more privileges than blacks, straights more than gays, etc.) the whole thing completely overlooks the fact that all of us, regardless of race or creed, who live in the first world, enjoy absurdly disproportionate privileges compared to the other 85% of the world. Who's checking that privilege? What exactly are we supposed to do about this institutionalized oppression?
I believe its time for all of us to question some core assumptions about our society and how we all live. The culture of industrial consumerism is now three to four generations old, and most of us have never known anything else. It's almost unimaginable to visualize life on Earth with very few possessions, living more as hunter-foragers did. Yet this was the human experience for far longer than domestication.
To say that our civilized way of life is better than indigenous culture is an assumption, a philosophical belief of sorts. We live our lives by the principle that we have the right to cut down 90% of the world's forests, to engage in large scale mining for minerals and ore, to dam rivers, enmesh the world in wires, to dump toxic waste into the rivers and scoop every last fish out of the ocean. We believe so strongly in our right to treat all other living things as if they can be our property that we are killing our planet, and making ourselves very sick in the process. This assumption, this first world privilege, is a delusion, and it will not last. It's end will be a time of great tumult. We shall certainly not survive if we do not quickly wake up and start redesigning our culture now while we still have great privilege and opportunity.
This philosophy of dominion over the earth is at the root of statism and militarism. It is only in a material oriented culture that we need complex systems of authority to manage disputes over property or military power to guard our wealth. The wealth of natural cultures comes from nature, from a natural economic system that is so abundant that all can share it, none need control it all. Nature doesn't charge you to walk through the forest, drink from the stream, or pick the berries. It produces enough for everyone. The wealth of empire culture is hoarded, being artificial and scarce. It makes for a sort of musical chairs situation (except only one person gets the chair, instead of all but one) where we all have to scramble like mad to get what we can. Those other 85% who don't make it, well there's not much we can do for them.
One thing that my anarcho-capitalist friends might not like to consider is that a truly free, voluntaryist society will never be possible until we reexamine our assumptions about property and wealth. As long as we have a culture of material wealth and industrial consumerism, we will always need soldiers to guard the infrastructure that generates and distributes the wealth. As long as this mentality of resource control and exploitation exists, people are going to fight over the spoils, ignoring their consciences and seeking to dominate others so that they can grow in their wealth and position.
But I digress. I very much enjoyed the Ethiopian food, and having thought about all this, I sent out my silent apologies to all who live in a lower station, knowing that I am blessed with such extravagant privilege to live as I do. I'm trying my best to make good use of what opportunities I've been given, and to work towards changes that will make the world better for all of us.
Unfortunately, Trish and Larry were out of town, so we didn't get to see them, but they were kind enough to let us stay at their house that night. I love being at their house, and Lila came with me on a walk to the creek in the backyard. She had been to this house once before, but she was a newborn then, and the magic of that backyard was new to her. I have so many great memories there, where I often stayed for longer periods of time during my vagabonding days, and where my cousin Nathan and I would have some epic adventures in mischief and malarkey when we were kids.
The front yard garden was looking particularly nice, and I took a moment to grasp the trunk of the ginko tree that I helped plant, some ten or twelve years hence. How time changes us all.
The next morning I took Sharon to the airport early, came back to the house to pack up our stuff. Our flight was a few hours later. It would be nice to see Oregon again, and it would be nice for to have all our stuff with us again. Even though I dream of a world where we live with far less material stuff, I was about to invest a great deal of money and effort into getting all the stuff we've accumulated across the country so we can still have it. Our books, our cookware, our clothes, our bikes, our tools.
The issue of material culture and assumptions of privilege within empire is complex, and I don't quite know how to reconcile our needs with our wants, or how to envision the transition from excess to natural balance. It's a matter worthy of continual consideration, and it will go a lot smoother if we can all get on the same page and work together. I believe we can all still live comfortable, relatively materially rich lives, even if we rethink everything and restructure our society. It all depends on how creative we can be!