Apologies that in an earlier version of this post I made the faux pas of calling South Korea, North Korea. Never a good mistake to make!
This morning the issue of street begging hit the front of the Dominion Post here in Wellington (you can read that article here). Probably in response to yesterday’s social media comments from Nicola Young, a city councillor and mayoral candidate. Unlike some other leftie friends who attacked Nicola pretty ruthlessly, I don’t totally disagree with her.
For years I’ve lived in homes which have an open door policy so I’ve got to know quite a few of Wellington’s rough sleepers when they’ve dropped by for a meal, a bed or to do some washing. Nicola's not wrong that begging often does have a connection with substance abuse, poor mental health and that some of those we see as ‘homeless’ actually do have places to stay. Certainly not all of them but some do, yes.
Where I start to disagree with Nicola is around the assumption of her and many others that addiction should be a disqualifying factor on whether those who are sleeping rough receive the generosity of the public. I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years I’ve heard people pass comments like “they’ll just spend it on drugs”, as if recreational drug use makes you unworthy of compassion. When questioning that sentiment I’ve heard the retorts. “Well at least I pay for my addictions.”
But do you?
Like perhaps your shopping addiction which contributes to an industry which is the second largest polluter in the world behind the oil industry. An industry that has increased it’s consumption 400% from 20 years ago, is majority staffed by women earning less than $3 a day and has created such a hopeless cycle of consumption that over 250,000 Indian cotton farmers have taken their lives in the last year. So, you don’t actually pay for your own addiction do you? The developing world does. The poor do.
Or what about your pornography addiction?An industry which is thought to have a turnover as large as $14 billion dollars a year. One which is perpetuating rape culture, the perception of women as commodities and is now being found to have much deeper links to human trafficking than ever thought before. Yes, there are women who choose this as a profession, but there are also countless stories coming out of those groomed for years, drugged, blackmailed and abducted to appear in pornographic content to satisfy a demand you are creating. So, you don’t actually pay for your own addiction do you? Young girls do. Rape victims do.
Or what about your technology addiction? Globally, we generate 20 million tonnes of e-waste every year. And that’s not even really the half our techno-addiction is it? Psychologists have studied the effects of web-browsing, and recognise it creates a euphoria similar to that of drug use or sex. South Korea is experiencing the negative social effects of this the way we all will in years to come. 1 in 10 young people between the ages of 10 and 19 are ‘internet addicted’ with South Korea being forced to open clinics to treat the addiction. Already we see a generation who don’t even take out their headphones to talk to one another. So, you don’t actually pay for your own addiction do you? The environment does. Your friends and family do too.
There are a number of reasons you may choose not to give money to someone begging on the street, but please don’t let one them be out of a smug sense that you are somehow better, more-disciplined or more-deserving than they are. The entire Western world is an empire of addicts. So just be thankful that the fix you need is not only palatable, but encouraged and endorsed by the culture you live in. Take a moment to consider who is paying for the way you live, and why you get away with it while others aren’t so lucky. Statistics were provided from the following sites:
http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/5-crazy-facts-new-fashion-documentary-true-cost/ http://ifixit.org/ewaste https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-bootcamp/200907/techno-addicts http://www.businessinsider.com.au/south-korea-online-gaming-addiction-rehab-centers-2015-3?r=US&IR=T http://www.worldmag.com/2013/06/connecting_the_dots_between_sex_trafficking_and_pornography