A few years ago, I was on my way home from work listening to Christian radio. A feature that afternoon was a program call, “Missions network news.” This is a brief news cast highlighting what God is doing through the efforts of his people around the world. That afternoon the spotlight was on a woman in Kenya (I cannot recall her name). This woman lived in one the largest slums in Nairobi at the time her story was being told. Her husband had left her; she was living alone in a plywood shack in a dangerous crime filled environment. One night in her desperation, she decided to take walk while she prayer to God. In the distance she saw what seemed like a wrapped package up against a wall. As she moved closer to investigate, she realized that there was movement in the package, this made her even more curious. Upon opening the package she found a baby that was abandoned by her mother.
The news went on to explain that this already helplessly, deprived woman, took baby to her shack to care for her. Then each night she would return the wall to rescue the babies that were abandoned by their parents. By the time her story was being told she had rescued 300 children from certain death. Awana international had come to her aid as a financial sponsor.
Why did this woman even bothered to keep returning to this wall of death, knowing that she was one small, hopelessly needy individual, and that problem was so much bigger than her? In a sense, one can feel the same emotions of despair and hopelessness reading Bauman’s assessment of the social inequalities that confront many societies. The first section of the book evokes mixed emotions. On one hand the information is insightful, while on the other hand it is almost depressive and even fatalistic, since you saw no real solution. Bauman told what we already knew, which is, the world is in the grinding mill of a social crisis that if not addressed, will lead to some form of social upheaval. In the Caribbean, the rastafarian movement (of which Bob Marley was the most famous), refers the world system as, Babylon. Speaking of injustice, social inequalities, and oppression of the poor. They use their music to address these issues, often without true understanding of the nature of the issues. Bauman on the other hand is able identify these this inequalities with precision.
To think that social inequalities can affect the way one is treated in a time of national disaster, was the case in New Orleans. That the income of the riches 5 per cent of the world’s population is a 114 times higher than the poorest 5 per cent. That half of the world’s trade and half of its global investment is controlled by 22 countries which only account for 14% of the world’s population. Also that the 49 poorest countries in the world have just about the same amount of wealth as the three wealthiest men in the world. Further, that the wealthy stake holders of a single American bank, have an annual earning that is higher than an entire country of 25 million people. Just some of the statistics presented by Bauman which point to the serious nature of what is confronting a global culture.
As detailed as Bauman is, he still does not a full grip the true effect of the culture of poverty created by the wealthy powers on the less fortunate peoples of the world. For example, in the nineteen nineties, United States president Bill Clinton led a movement that pushed for free trade in Americas. This was called “North America Free Trade Agreement.” Many leaders within the Caribbean basin opposed this agreement, fearing it’s impact on the economies of these tiny islands. Today a visit to former banana producing Windward islands, reveal the devastating effect of this agreement. These islands once enjoyed preferential treated for their bananas in the European market, thanks England. NAFTA removed this protection, leaving these islands to compete against the large multi lateral corporations who own plantations in central America that are larger that these islands. The results have been devastating on these countries economies, leaving them to rely heavily on foreign aid for their economic survival. The rich is never rich enough and poor has no power to fight, so it may seem.
So why bother to speak out and press for change when you are already so disadvantaged? I think Bauman addresses this in the second half of his book. He moved to a more intellectual posture as he discusses some of the idealogical perspectives on creating social equality. It is very clear that many of these ideas have failed. Max Weber and Karl Marx are examples of social theories who sought to narrow the social inequalities gaps through their ideas. However, uncertainty, desperation and hopelessness still dominate many of world’s peoples. Bauman talked about the uncertainties that prevail when we do not understand the sort of factors that make our situation what it is. Here he seems to suggest that change is possible but only if there are voices willingly to speak while there is yet opportunity to be heard. This is what Christians are called to do. We cannot ignore the worsening social conditions of the world simply because are not affected by them.
Bauman referenced God several times in his book however, it would appear that he did not make a strong case for the kingdom of God as the ultimate solution to social inequalities. Just seeing all that is wrong without the hope of a solution, leads to further despair. We know that there is a coming kingdom that will ruled with justice and equity for all.