Troubling Times

The weather these past few says has been… unbearable. The heat scorches your skin and leaves it red in angry patches, raw and tingly to the touch if you dare venture out. Even indoors, the humidity sits on my chest like an uncomfortably heavy burden, sticky on my body fresh (not anymore!) out of the shower. There is never a respite. Even the whirring fan only serves to waft gusts of hot air toward me.

[We are too frugal to afford air-conditioning.]

How cliche, to talk about the weather. But it feels like the weather is a mirror for the current times we live in.

I don’t know if it’s just me but everything feels very heavy these days. I’m not entirely sure how to explain or express it, and I’m not entirely sure anyone else feels it either.

Everything just feels painful, and weighted down – not physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I feel like my days pass in a fog, each day blurring into the next, accompanied by a profound feeling that nothing really matters.

[Am I being dramatic? I get it from my mama.]

This feeling of existential dread isn’t a new one. It’s a frequent companion of my life since I was about 16, and one that I encounter fairly often. All the times before this though, I’ve been able to accept that it will pass, at some point.

This time, however, perhaps living through the greatest crisis in recent times has added new and troubling dimensions to it.

Mexico, 2019

20 million people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and the global death toll stands at 735,000 at the time of writing. 35 COUNTRIES have a population smaller than the number of people who have died from COVID, including Iceland, Luxembourg, Belize, and Bhutan.

Healthcare systems (and the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers) across the world have been stretched to the limit and beyond as they struggle to save lives and keep the pandemic in check even as incompetent leaders like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro (among others) have botched the handling of the crisis and driven up the number of cases and the death tolls.

The world economy is in crisis, and some experts are projecting that this period will be the worst peace-time recession the world has ever seen, and the worst crisis since WWII. Singapore is experiencing the worst recession since our independence 55 years ago. Millions of people have lost jobs. Experts estimate that 140 million could fall into extreme poverty in 2020 (which means they live on less than $1.90 per day), a 20% increase from last year.

All across the world, people are suffering, starving, dying at unbelievable . Yet, a select few are seemingly immune and indeed, profiting immensely from the situation. Billionaires made $637,000,000,000 richer during this pandemic.

Tell me this isn’t disgusting. Tell me this isn’t injustice. Tell me this isn’t bullshit.

The system we live in is broken.

What kind of society do we live in that we’re content to allow the super rich, to get richer and richer and profit off the labor of the people who will never get to experience the wealth they help create? Not them, not their kids, not their grandkids.

And I’m not even talking about the top 1% here. No, I’m only referring to the BILLIONAIRES of the world, not not even ALL of them. A handful of them (10 to be precise) control almost ONE TRILLION DOLLARS in wealth. $$949,200,000,000 to be exact.

The human brain is not very good at imagining large numbers, even less so when those numbers are concealed with innocent-sounding words like “billion” and “trillion”, but recently this guy on TikTok made a video with rice to show you how DISGUSTINGLY RICH people like Jeff Bezos are.

Watch it – you’ll realize that if you have less than $100,000 in your bank account, you have less than one grain of rice and if you are Jeff Bezos, you have enough rice to feed FIVE FAMILIES. In the time that it takes for you to watch that video, Jeff Bezos would have made $160,000 – which if you’re a normal human being, you’d be pretty thrilled to make in a year.

Do you know what the completely f*cked up part is of all of this? Normal people like us, we think it’s up to us to stop buying shit from Amazon. Or using Microsoft products. Or using Facebook. “If we stop buying from them, we’ll stop making these rich people richer!”

Yes, but do you realize that with the wealth that they’ve already accumulated, ALL of us who use those services could stop tomorrow and they’d still go on making billions of dollars? Because they’ve invested this shitton of money in other companies that will make money for them. Wealth begets wealth, my friend.

Most of us also believe that if we work hard, and keep working hard, we will one day be rich and be able to provide our families with a “good life”. Right? That’s why we all slave away at our tiny office cubicles from 9am to 6pm every single day from the time we’re 20 till the time we’re 60 (or 70 or 75 or you die), feeling content to see our kids for 2 hours before bedtime and on weekends, settling for a 2 week vacation once a year (where you compulsively check your emails for “something urgent”) and come back from feeling even more worn out and weary.

I’m sorry my friend, this is a LIE.

FACT: You are probably never going to be rich.

1% of the world’s population controls 44% of the world’s wealth.
0.002% of the world’s population controls 7.2% of the world’s wealth.
56% of the world’s population has less than $10,000 to their name (less than 2% of global wealth).
26 people have more wealth than 3,900,000,000 people combined.

That’s like if your closest family and friends had more money than all the people of China, India, Europe and North America combined. Stunned? I am. [I just looked up these numbers].

Berlin, 2019

Maybe you’ll have a million dollars. Maybe you’ll have a couple of million dollars. And you’d be a part of that 1%. But you’re probably NEVER going to be Jeff Bezos rich, or Bill Gates rich, or Elon Musk rich.

Even Rihanna ($600 million), Robert De Niro ($500 million) Beyonce ($400 million) aren’t that level of rich.

I don’t know why we are so keen to defend a system that allows people to hoard wealth at these levels, while normal, hardworking people struggle to pay the rent, put food on the table and send their kids to school.

How do we not see that the system is not working for the majority of us? And that a system that prioritizes the wants of the few over the needs of the many is a system that is broken and that needs to be changed?

I don’t know why we continue to accept this as our reality. I don’t know why we think things can’t change, and that they shouldn’t.

If not this unfair, inequitable, unjust system that disproportionately favors the few, then what? I don’t know. But I know that we deserve something better.

We deserve a world where human life is valued, without having to prove its worth.

We deserve a world where people’s basic needs are met, and they are able to live with dignity, regardless of where they were born or the wealth of their parents.

We deserve a world that is better, not just for a few, but for us all.

Mexico, 2019

But I don’t know how to help build it. And this weighs heavily on my conscience, and on my heart. What can I do? What can we do? I feel helpless, and I feel defeated.

And I think this is part of my existential dread. That so many things are wrong with the world, and so many things are awful about the world, and I can’t do anything to help, and the people who can, won’t.


Where do we go from here?

Mexico, 2019

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