July 5, 2013
I don’t have many lucid, memorable dreams, but the one I had last night was simply extraordinary.
I was sitting in a window seat in a plane that was slowly descending. As the plane banked to the left, the island of La Belle came into view. It was just as breathtaking as the pictures online had depicted. There were miles of white beaches dotted with thousands of people, the ocean was shallow and had a distinct Caribbean blue color, and the inside of the island was mountainous and lush. It was going to be a dream come true vacation!
The plane landed, and I ran to collect my belongings. As I was waiting by the conveyor belt for my suitcase to show up, a pretty lady showed up. She had big, beautiful brown eyes that spoke even before she opened her mouth. I knew something was wrong.
“Sir, we are sorry, but your suitcase got diverted somewhere else. How long are you staying in La Belle for?” she asked apologetically.
“It may take a few days to track down your luggage. But don’t worry, we will give you enough money to purchase some clothes.”
Trying to not start the vacation on a sour note, I decided to be a good tourist. “No problem. Such things happen all the time!”
She asked me to come to her office. When we got there, she went behind the desk, and pulled out a $5 bill and handed it to me!
Stunned with disbelief, I asked, “What is this for?”
“This is for your clothes, and I know you’re surprised. But one of the great things about La Belle is that clothes are really cheap. With just $5, you can buy a wardrobe for two weeks!”
“You can’t be serious!”
She laughed out loud. “Okay, let me walk with you to the men’s store next door, and if you need more money, I will give it to you.”
Incredibly, she was right. Everywhere I looked, there were amazing shirts, shorts, swim trunks and sandals. But, best of all, not one of them was above five cents! I knew, right then, where I was going to retire!
In my excitement, I gathered up a whole bunch of stuff, and beaming with pride, walked towards her. That’s when I felt my arms itching. As I looked down, I noticed there was something weird about the clothes. I stopped, felt the clothes between my fingers, and checked the labels. I could not believe my eyes.
“All these clothes are made of wool,” I gasped.
“Yes, La Belle is world famous for its wool. You must have read about it.”
“I sure did, but this is summer, and it’s like 90 degrees outside. What the heck do I need woolen clothes for? Plus why would somebody make woolen t-shirts and swim trunks anyways? Don’t you have any cotton clothes?”
“Sir, please don’t use the C-word,” she put her finger on her lips.
“The C-word? You mean cotton?”
She took a deep breath, leaned forward, and whispered, “You are lucky that today is the 4th of July. Otherwise you, and especially I, will be in serious trouble if you keep saying cotton.”
“Why?” I whispered back.
“Because, everything we say or do is monitored in this island. But July 4th is one day when we are not monitored. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great island, and I am happy to be here. However, there are a few restrictions for our own security. One of them is that nobody can use cotton, or even utter that word.”
I really didn’t want to get into politics, and I could care less if this was an authoritarian government. But I just couldn’t bear the idea of wearing wool in a tropical island.
“What’s the deal with cotton?”
“Oh, it’s a long story. But basically, we believe that the use of cotton will lead to destruction of our way of life. Cotton will lead to dictatorship, loss of freedom, and people being lazy.”
“No, it won’t! What are you talking about? Am I on candid camera?”
“Sir, I cannot explain this well to you. We read about it in details in high school. We have an enemy island that grows cotton. Our two countries went to war many decades ago. Since then, we have banned cotton in La Belle. And, trust me, I have read about the enemy island. They have a horrible life—people work only thirty hours a week, and they are just a bunch of beach bums.”
“Don’t tell me you work hard in La Belle and don’t enjoy the beaches.”
“We actually work more than 60 hours a week, and we rarely get to go the beaches. Beaches are private properties, and although they are free for tourists, it costs a lot of money for us. I go to the beaches once a month with my family.”
“And you are okay with that?”
“Sure. We are proud to be hard workers in La Belle. We have so many things that the enemy island can’t afford.”
I took a deep breath. “But listen, I can’t wear this stuff. It’s making me itch.”
She smiled big. “Don’t worry, just get this powder that was invented in La Belle. Actually, you seem to have sensitive skin, so let me get that other one.” She paused for a moment and picked up a larger size. “This will last for two weeks.”
I tried the powder on, and guess what, it really did work. I went into the dressing room, put on my t-shirt and swim trunk, and came out smiling, when I noticed something else.
“I think I am starting to sweat, in spite of the air conditioning here.”
“Ah, I forgot. Let me get this hat for you that has a fan. And here are some batteries. And don’t give me that look. This is actually a status symbol. People like me can’t even afford it”
I was appalled at the thought of being a propeller head in a tropical island. I just wanted to get out of the shop, sit on the beach and drink myself to oblivion.
She gave all the stuff to the cashier who rang them up, looked up, and said, “That would be $500.”
My jaw dropped. The stupid itch powder, the propeller-head hat and the batteries cost $500?
As if she read my mind, the cashier said, “Well, you got all your clothes for $5. So you shouldn’t be all that concerned!”
If they hadn’t lost my suitcase in the first place, I wouldn’t have to buy clothes. And if they didn’t have these stupid woolen clothes, I wouldn’t need all this junk. Totally resigned, I gave her my credit card, and turned to my friend. “Honestly, what’s going on here?”
She whisked me away back to her office. When we were alone, she said, “La Belle is very much dependent on this current system. The wool industry is controlled by a powerful family who pretty much run everything in this island. The itch powder and the propeller heads are huge industries that employ a vast amount of people, and the people don’t want to lose their jobs. The strange thing is that the really rich people don’t even live in La Belle. They live in another island where they can wear anything, including cotton from the enemy island!”
I was stunned.
She continued. “My cousin actually works in the island where the rich live. Although he is strictly prohibited from talking about the details of the island, he said that the leaders of the enemy island actually visit the wool industry’s executives, and they play golf together. But, listen! I talked way too much. Have a wonderful vacation. Please come by and say goodbye when you are leaving.”
That’s when I woke up! Or, as you might have guessed by now, this is a made-up dream.
America has become La Belle in many aspects.
Take the food system, for example. Rather than fresh food being delivered from farms to consumers, we have created this complex web of middlemen and industry practices that insist upon genetically modifying the food, spraying billions of pounds of dangerous pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, radiating our food, adding preservatives, flavors, dyes, fake fat, fake salt, fake sugar, and any of the other tens of thousands of unregulated chemicals that can be used freely. This system creates a warped reality where a burger costs more than an organic avocado, when in fact, the burger involves much more land and human resources than an avocado. The effect on our environment due to GMOs and animal farming is alarming and real – loss of biodiversity, emergence of super weeds and super bugs, loss of ground water, pollution of water systems, and emergence of antibiotic-resistant microbes are only the tip of the iceberg.
Just like the cheap wool in La Belle, cheap food in America has resulted in ridiculous miscellaneous costs to the society. Chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and cardiovascular diseases are skyrocketing. Rather than changing our food system, they give us more medicines. Our health care system takes up 20% of our national spending, and 70% of Americans are taking some prescription drugs. Also, rather than using counseling, or teaching people—especially kids—how to meditate or do yoga, doctors prescribe psychotropic drugs which create lifelong dependencies with debilitating side effects.
Similarly, rather than fixing the public water systems and providing us with good drinking water (without fluoridation, I might add), corporations are selling us bottled water at a price that should be a crime. Tap water costs around $2 for 1000 gallons. If you buy the same amount of bottled water, be prepared to spend close to $10,000! Corporations like Coca-Cola and Nestle are probably rooting for fracking industries to pollute more water in communities across America, so more bottled water can be sold.
Also, if we as a society had spent a little bit of effort in figuring out a way to get pure water out of the ocean, many water-related problems would have been solved. Individual scientists are coming up great ideas, but where is the profit in that?
Solar energy is another solution that has been deliberately kept down for so many decades. We have been forced to go to war for oil, and spend trillions of dollars benefiting the military industrial complex, rather than building solar farms. Imagine getting renewable, free energy day after day. Imagine if we all had electric cars that get charged at night—for free—in our garages. Or better, imagine an America where the public transportation was so amazing that many people, even in the suburbs, didn’t need cars. More than 10 million Americans spend more than two hours every day in commute stuck in their cars that were supposed to give them freedom and mobility. Anybody who has driven in the Bay Area or any other major metropolitan area in the U.S. can attest to the reality of joyless driving.
Another great product that has been a victim of big corporate interests is industrial hemp—a product that can reduce deforestation and our dependence on oil. Hemp grows much faster than trees and is a sustainable solution to make clothing, paper, bio-plastics, and even construction materials (known as “hempcrete”). Dozens of countries grow industrial hemp, including European countries and China.
Housing and other periodic bubbles are great examples of enticing get-rich-quick schemes that attract people into the trap, only to have the rug pulled under them. When the paper castle collapses, the rich get to buy everything for pennies on the dollar. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stones describes in his article how the whole financial market is completely rigged.
Just like La Belle, we have a two-tier system now, where the super-rich play by completely different set of rules. The ultra-rich have stashed more than $32 trillion in offshore accounts. That is more than 60% of the combined wealth of America! Contrast this to the fact that 76% of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. The Top 1% has more wealth than the bottom 90% of Americans whose sweat, labor and money enrich the Top 1% even more. For the last few years, the only types of jobs that are seeing growth are low-paying temp jobs and part-time jobs without benefits. In 2013, 239,000 minimum wage bartending and restaurant jobs were created, as opposed to 13,000 manufacturing jobs. At this rate, we are fast on our way to becoming a third-world country.
What is the solution? That would be another article, but the first thing that people need to do is to educate themselves. Too many of us are still caught up in the corporate media’s entertainment world of illusion. Turning off the “tell-lie-vision” and instead watching documentaries from sites like Films for Action will be a good start; similarly, we have to read respectable, alternative journals and magazines instead of mainstream, corporate news outlets. Second, we have to vote with our wallet. Stay away from big corporations like Walmart that destroy small businesses. Shop at local farmer’s markets and family-run stores. Finally, people have to unite. Social issues such as abortion and guns are nothing but deliberate tactics to keep the country split in half. People have to set aside such issues, at least temporarily, and come together to focus on the real issues. Throw out those woolen swim trunks and embrace a bold, new future.