DEAR JON LETTERS
by Dear Jon
August 2, 2002
Is the title of your 159th sort a play on words? "More on Phones" --moron phones?
Reading between the lines
No, but I wish it was.
ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:
The J-man! The Jonmeister! Big J! Deliverin' up some advice! The Advice-man! Adivising J! The Jonner! Jonerooski! J!
ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:
When I refused to finish my dinner, my mother told me there were kids starving in China. How does gorging myself with food my mom made help the starving kids in China?
Not that Hungry
There are two kinds of logic at work here: Rational Logic, and Guilt Logic. Your reasoning as a child was correct. Although you did not know much about global economics at the time, you intuited that the means to over-portion food at dinner tables in the United States was a function of a self-contained free-market infrastructure.
Famine is largely the result of a centralized government creating scarcity through oppression. Even when Americans TRY to deliver our surplus to famine-stricken lands, it does not work. We cannot deliver surplus supplies of refrigerated goods, for example, because under-developed nations do not have the means to put refrigerators in every home. Even when we deliver tons of grain to alleviate famine, we discover that the problem is not a shortage of food. The problem is that the food is being hoarded by military bullies.
In places like Sudan and Somalia (remember Somalia? We tried to feed hungry people and got shot at?) food is a weapon of war. Evil people in power control the infrastructure that remains, and are using the means of distribution as leverage against their own citizens. In the case of Sudan, Christians and those who practice indigenous religion are being starved by a Muslim government.
China, in fact, could feed itself and had for millennia until the Maoists. The same oppression that invents scarcity ALSO prevents the creation of a viable market infrastructure. American kids can eat all of the tuna casserole off their plate, or they can not, and it will not make one whit of difference to whether a Chinese child under communist rule will be able to have lunch that day. So rationally, you are correct: Starvation under evil regimes around the world is NO reason for you to stuff your gut like a glutton.
There is another kind of logic, though, employed by mothers everywhere, I think because 97% of mothers in every state except California are, in fact, women. This logic is called “Guilt Logic.” The idea is that if a space-ship were to beam a Chinese child out of Shang Hai and into your kitchen, you would not be able to leave food on your plate and look that child in the face.
Rationally, of course, you would wonder about how the child beamed into your kitchen in the first place. Also, you could probably offer the hungry child your dinner. But that is allowing reason to interfere with the point. The point is, if Mom had been in China and made tuna casserole, all the kids would be lining up for blocks in order to eat it, because they would be so grateful. Of course, rationally, if Mom were able to make enough tuna casserole in China that kids were lining up for blocks, that would imply that the food in China was available for Mom to prepare, so why shouldn’t Chinese mothers feed their own kids?
But that’s not the point either. The point is, you are supposed to be grateful for what you have because millions of starving kids in China can’t afford to be so picky. Of course, your problem is not that you are picky, but that you are full. Wouldn’t it be considered selfish in China for a Chinese child to eat even though they are full instead of sharing with other kids?
Well, if you’re not going to finish your dinner, you’re not going to get dessert either, and you can go to your room. All I ever do around here is slave over a hot stove trying to give my own kids a decent meal (sniff) and this is the thanks I get, I, who carried you for nine months, but what do you care? (sniff sniff) I can’t even get my own kids to mind. (full-fledged weeping.) I’m a failure!
Oh brother, I’ll eat the rest of the casserole! (muttering) I wonder if Chinese kids have moms who cry all the time. Gee whiz.
Usually during these conversations the father, 94% of whom are men, is very quiet. By now Dad has learned not to argue with Guilt Logic. Arguing against Guilt Logic with Rational Logic only ever ends two ways, and neither of them are good. Dad is hoping that his kids are fast learners.
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