I snapped this photo on my way to the ruins at Sukothai and it really sums up my questions about the developing world and our global future. First of all, let me say that Thai children are adorable, and this little fella was no exception. I don’t know what kind of scrap he got into that left those scrapes on his forehead, but they only increased the cute factor. He was fidgeting quite a bit on the bus ride out of town. All that stopped completely, though, when his mom handed him a single -serving package of potato chips. When she did, my heart sunk.
Although I don’t eat too many chips these days, I have certainly had my fair share in the past. After all, who am I to say that Thai children shouldn’t have the same conveniences as I? In fact, every child here of a certain age seems to have his or her own cell phone/camera. I am not begrudging them their chips or their cells. In fact, if we Westerners can have them, shouldn’t every nation be allowed, even encouraged to have the same? And there’s the rub.
In many ways it saddens me to see the wholescale adoption of the Western lifestyle by cultures that only a few decades ago had but the smallest exposure to our virtues and vices. Certainly there is the problem of environmental impact, not only in the production of consumer goods but also in their disposal — a problem which only intensifies as more efficient production lowers price points and allows greater access to consumer goods. I won’t even go into the market penetration being pursued by some of the usual multinational corporate suspects. More insidious, though, is how these goods begin to influence cultural change at a pace far beyond that which has been experienced by traditionally rural communities. Changes in diet, probably not for the better; changes in social communication and values, probably not encouraging the strength of family and community units; changes in local economies, probably not ensuring long-term stability for access to basic needs.
I don’t claim to have any answers to these problems. Heck, I’m not even sure these are problems to begin with. The broad view of cultural evolution is certainly beyond my comprehension. Somehow, despite the bleak future to which these trends seem to point, all of my questioning eventually resolves into some sort of unsettled acceptance of our wild and wily 21st century. An acceptance that contains a shard of hope and faith that evolution will continue to pursue higher forms of expression and Life. After all, countries like Thailand have been host to some of the most beautiful expressions of Life yet to grace our planet. There’s no reason to think that such beauty will not be seen again.