13 May 2016

Tucked between the towering Andes, Quito, Ecuador is what many call a world-class metropolis. From my experience of my first month living there and my last three days preparing to say “hello again” to the U.S., I must agree. Upon my initial arrival to Quito alongside my final arrival to the U.S. where my inaccurate expectations were challenged with reality, I was faced with a curious thought regarding the very near future when the stars everywhere become clouded by pollutants and replaced by jets. This will be a time where the once standing permanent reminders of our existence, have become flickering and fleeting reminders of our temporariness. The mountains will have officially been caged and cemented to protect the roads constructed over the natural floor we no longer actually walk over. This marks the days spent in vehicles no longer driven by you and me, but instead by the device at the palm of our hands. Whether it be the confines of a car or bus, with a perspective limited to that of a window, a television, a cell phone or a computer screen, the collective “Us” is now defined by the technology we currently and frequently find ourselves trapped within. This is currently a shared reality that can be found all over the world, not just the overdeveloped nations of the One-Thirds World.

I could let thoughts like these hypnotize me, or I can pay attention to what is in front of me. Beautiful places exist, the roads to get to these places tell the story. But these places, like us, are not permanent, they are threatened every day. The story is one where travel is done so through a concrete world consisting of caged mountains, polluted skies and bodies, a cyclical process created with hopes of protection, thus putting a new name to beauty, a beauty accommodating itself to our changing future. The expense, albeit the pollutants involved in long distance travel or what is reaped elsewhere to maintain the unfair proportion of benefits enjoyed in the One-Thirds World, is present. This serves as either a reminder to those visited of the impossibility of the price of leaving or the very real possibility of visiting distant realities, it depends on how one sees the world. That leaves one to wonder what the true cost of travel really is. One must weigh this cost with the bright side, as often done when contemplating the cost of development. Joseph Stiglitz examines in his essay “Globalization and Its Discontents: The Promise of Global Institutions,” globalization itself is neither good nor bad, however “in much of the world it has not brought comparable benefits. For many, it seems closer to an unmitigated disaster” (Stiglitz, 431). However, Stiglitz concedes that those who vilify globalization often overlook its benefits. He remains unsympathetic to globalization and even though “the ideas and intentions behind the creation of the international economic institutions were good ones” they “gradually evolved over the years to become something very different” (Stiglitz, 428). Globalization serves as an example of a practice that has not lived up to the accomplishments its advocates promised, nor to what it can and should do. Similar to the environment we live in, globalization is evolving rapidly into something very different and at times this can be terrifying.

The roads and globalized technology of today do tell a history; a history of what once was, and what it all has become, and a prediction as to where it all will go. Those who travel these roads, as well as those living on them, have the opportunity to broaden their perspectives beyond that of a window, by simply observing. They are able to see both the similar and vastly different realities that exist. These beautiful places exist everywhere, of course the resources available to make use of tools to travel are limited to many. But it is a beautiful thing to know they are there, just as the stars we are now unable to see in the places most people dream of visiting. The stars are still there, they may be clouded at the expense of our future, but the stars are permanent; they have been since the beginning of time and will be until the end of it. We, on the other hand, have not. But can we? According to current consumption patterns, we cannot. Of course, some of the consumption is simultaneously strengthening our human connections and our ability to make these connections, globally. Carmen Naranjo’s satirical short story
“And We Stole the Rain” serves as a very plausible prediction for our future. She tells the story of an unidentified country that has crashed into an irreparable state of debt. She does so very bleakly while depicting poverty, corruption and ecological catastrophe with a comedic twist. The continuation of the debt and poverty cycle, its effects on the environment, as well as the desperate actions of those at the receiving end of capital greed alludes to the story’s characters fighting against themselves for a better future. In a sense, that is what our society is doing now. There is a competitive nature to development, where our society is incessantly trying to have the most up-to-date technology at the cost of preservation. Just as little thought or attention was paid to the possibility of the very real damages instantaneous government decisions have on the future in Naranjo’s story, everyday actions do as well. From polluting the air we breath with fuel from our cars, smoke from our cigarettes, and the spray from our aerosol cans, we are doing the same. Although these may seem minuscule on an individual level, collectively they add up. It is the small things that count and determine the outcome of our shared futures.

If there is one thing I will take away with me this year, it is to never stop questioning and seeing both the positives and inherent negatives associated with virtually everything. This is necessary to reach understanding as well as maintaining modesty in ones positionality. We stand where we stand and touch the bits we can, however big or small they may be. Knowledge doesn’t change behavior, it is what you do with the responsibility of knowing that does. The biggest question that followed me throughout the year was just that: What am I to do with the responsibility of knowing? Never stop touching the bits that I can? Never stop learning how to touch even more? Learn how to resurface the stars from our clouded skies? Bring back hope to the idea of permanence? This year’s course material has provided me with an introduction to the world’s many problems, and answered my question: We keep learning. The true value of education is awareness, which will inevitably be the job of a lifetime.