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My Issues With Affluence


I have a problem. We have built together a wonderful community of bloggers here. Several of us, working together, have pushed one another to live more sustainably, work harder on our communities, and in general to put our fears and worries toward action.

But lately a new group has formed. Last month I wrote “If We All Lived Sustainably, Could We Change The World?” for the first APLS carnival. If you haven’t encountered the APLS site, APLS stands for Affluent Persons Living Sustainably. The group is formed by close friends of mine, who I love and respect dearly. But I have a big problem that stems from the word Affluent. And for this reason, I feel on the outside, in a way, excluded.

Am I Affluent?

That is tough. If I use this tool, I see that I am considered the 605,000,000th richest person in the world because of my income… Compared to others in the world, definitely I have more than most. At the same time, I live on very little per month compared to others in my city. And here’s a big one: if I subtract my income from my debt, I have no money, no wealth, no assets.

Overall, I should not spend as much as I do, I should be paying more of my debts, I should not have so many things, and I should never have accrued so much debt in the first place. I’m working on it.

I live in an affluent country, where I felt I had to have that education that left me several hundred thousand dollars in debt. I felt I had to buy way more things than I needed. I felt I needed a product or two for every part of my body, I needed to eat out because I didn’t have time or energy to eat at home, I needed this product for that thing, and that product to solve that other problem. And for these unhealthy relationships to things and money, my net worth is negative.

In the past few years, I have been working to simplify my life, to cure myself of the need to spend, to find alternative solutions to buying products that society tells me I should have. In a way, I have been working to cure myself of the influence of our affluence. says affluence is “having an abundance of wealth, property, or other material goods.” Honestly, if I had an abundance of wealth, I would be doing more with my own efforts to thwart climate change. I would be finished creating my non-profit status and working hard to create a Board of Directors and move forward with my dreams for Elements In Time. That is my hope and my dream, but I cannot realize it yet because I do not have that abundance of wealth I need to get it going. Every day this makes me sad. But every day we move forward, pay more of our debts, and I know that eventually we will get there.

Yet… while I don’t feel that I have an abundance, I do feel I have enough. I am privileged to be a citizen of a wealthy country. I do live comfortably, with a roof over my head and enough food to eat. I have a job and health insurance. And so, I suppose, many would consider me affluent.

Affluence Divides

I’d say I come from a middle class family. Very early on in my life I understood my privilege in the world, as I traveled to poorer countries and drove through poorer parts of our own country. I felt distant to others because of my relative wealth, and that made me sad and uncomfortable. And at some point along my path, I vowed to change that.

As I went to college and read and grew, I understood that our country as a whole is affluent. And that for this affluence, others in the world suffer. We spend more and waste more than any other country in the world. We fight wars and destroy environments in other countries in order to supply our affluence. For our country’s affluence, the whole world suffers.

As a filmmaker, often I travel to other countries and interact with people from other parts of the world. And often I am embarrassed by the affluence of my country. Would I be embarrassed if we spent our money helping others, worked harder toward helping others become as affluent as we are, and contributed to more solutions than problems with our money? Probably not.

But even if we were ever to get to that point, I would not want to set myself apart from those less wealthy than I.

Because I want to relate to people as one human to another human, finding common ground, working toward common goals. I don’t want to define my self by my wealth, I don’t want to define my net worth in terms of money and power. I want to bridge the gap between myself and others, and define my self as a human being wanting to save our planet. My humanity is what defines me. Not my wealth.

And it is for this reason that I wish with all my heart the group would call themselves All Persons Living Sustainably. Because together we must become united. We have a long road, full of hard work that requires all of us, poor and rich, from every country on every continent. We all must pull together to sustain our planet, its species, and its humanity.

I have seen other friends who have also shied away from APLS for the term affluence. It is a good idea. But I think it can be even better.

We have grown such an amazing community of people here in our blog world, all working toward the same goals, all pushing one another, building, learning, growing. And I believe we can become an international movement, united for one cause: to lower our negative impact on the earth, to live in a sustainable world. We start with our own lifestyles and then work outwards, to our communities, our cities, our nations, and our planet as a whole. Together.

What Do You Think?

Can we become something bigger? What do you think of the term affluence? Do you consider yourself affluent? How does being defined as affluent make you feel?

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43 comments to My Issues With Affluence

  • Nice post. I came across this group the other day and reacted in exactly the same way. Although i understand intellectually what the terminolgy is meaning to infer, it felt uncomfortable for me. Now if i were to deconstruct it more i could rationalise my way to accept it (middle class beast that i am) but if a label means that people turn from it, then it does not become the tool for change it was hoping to be.

  • I too wish this was a united movement, but unfortunately the people who need to make the change more than anyone is this affluent nation. We’re 5% of the world’s population and consume 30% of the resources and create 30% of the waste. I feel it’s unfair to slam China for trying to live like we do. How can we say, we can each have a car, but you cannot have a car per family, because there’s too many of you and you’ll ruin an environment that we’ve already made so fragile. I love your post, but this country due to our affluence needs to step it up. We do need to stop this spending culture that’s destroying our country from debt and start teaching our citizens to live sustainably within their own means.

  • Kelly,

    “if a label means that people turn from it, then it does not become the tool for change it was hoping to be.” Nicely said.

  • Alana,

    I agree completely that we are the ones who must change our habits most. What we as a country have done to the rest of the world is an incredible injustice. But I believe that we have defined ourselves by our wealth for too long – this is the root of the problem. I believe the more we set apart ourselves from those in the rest of the world, the more we see ourselves as different, privileged.

    Matt and I live in a small apartment, we drive 20 miles/week, we have reduced our CO2 output to around 90% less than the American average. I’m working toward building our community so that we can build sustainable systems within our society, to educate, inspire, and legislate.

    I am also working with people around the world to help their own situations. By defining myself by my affluence, I would automatically alienate them, create a division between us. This is how we have been for decades: divided, seen as other by one another. When we are divided in this way, it is easier to kill one another in wars, it is easier to pillage other countries for oil and farmland, it is easier to throw money at the problem rather than doing more.

    My humanity, my empathy, my sympathy, my compassion. These are what bind me to others, these are what drive me. I’ve devoted my life to creating real, positive change in the world. And I define myself by more than my material wealth. My wealth is what often binds me. But my humanity is what defines me.

  • This is a good honest post, Melinda, and I really get where you are coming from, as one who has tried to live pretty simply for a long time. I guess the reason I’m okay with the term “affluent” is because I really need to have that idea in front of me every day. Like you, I’ve travelled (a little) to places where people are truly poor, and, though we don’t have a lot materially at our house, we do have so much in terms of opportunity, as well as the amazing infrastructure of our nation. I need to be reminded of how hard life is when you don’t have paved roads and sewage plants and decent schools for your children- things like that. When I watched the news this past week, and saw Haitian families literally standing waist deep in water, because there was no help at all coming from their government, it contrasted hugely with the way we send in our emergency responders, followed by the much maligned FEMA, to help when there is a natural disaster. All those things make us affluent, even when we are personally living on a very tight budget. It can be easy, when you’re pinching pennies day in and day out, to forget those supports that we have in our country.

    Don’t let yourself get too discouraged about the debt reduction. Been there, done that, and it does get better!

  • I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I think it’s valuable to get Americans (and inhabitants of other wealthy nations) to acknowledge their affluence compared with other countries’. We need to both realize how well off we actually have it, and to accept our responsibility for helping those who are less fortunate. But on the other hand, as you said, using the term “affluent” for this kind of a movement is going to alienate a lot of people who might otherwise want to help, and it doesn’t acknowledge the difficulties that being “affluent” by world standards but poor by American standards actually causes.

  • While I do believe we have to think of ourselves as part of a global community, I don’t know that labeling myself “affluent” helps. I just don’t like labels, they limit. It sure does cause a conversation though!

    Affluence, as you’ve demonstrated (and really as APLS is demonstrating), is a comparative term. I am only affluent in comparison to individuals from poorer nations, certainly not here in the USA.

    To a certain degree, it’s luck, fate, whatever you want to call it, that determines what world you are born into, what opportunities you have. I see my role as to live as sustainable as a life style as I can, in the environment I was born into. To make choices that don’t hurt others. Thinking of myself as affluent, doesn’t seem helpful. Because in my day to day life, I’m not.

    I like your suggestion of “all” Melinda and I like the goal you’ve stated.

  • At the beginning of this discussion in May I wrote: Yeah, I like the idea of All People Living Sustainably, even the top 1%, as a goal.

    (I also like American People Living Sustainably – instead of the slumbering sheeple who we hope to wake.)

    All is of course inclusive and it might invite participation even beyond the the core (couldn’t resist) of homogeneity where it started.

    In my opinion, if my own concentration now is this nation and its colossal failure to participate in saving itself and all of humanity, I could always think of APLS as American People Living Sustainably as my own private mantra, my vision. As Lily Tomlin says, “We are all in this together, by ourselves.”

  • While I am not wealthy, I am not bothered by the word “affluence.” To me, it’s a matter of perspective: I live in an area of southern California where many people have WAY more money, things, whatever than I have – and just as many have WAY less. And of course, even the people with way less have way more than people in developing nations.

    I would define affluent as anyone with enough income and education to have choices in their purchasing decisions. Sadly, many affluent people have to learn to live sustainably: we’re used to driving our Hummers a dozen miles to a supermarket to purchase tomatoes from Chile in January for $4 a pound. When you understand the waste and the harm to the environment, that choice seems deplorable. When you haven’t been educated about it, however, it just seems like a harmless tomato.

    But what about the American poor – those folks eating fastfood several times a week because it’s cheaper and more filling than eating organic, locally-grown food? They, too, are contributing to global problems (greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, beef feedlot practices, etc.), but in order to get an adequate number of calories per day at their income level, they feel they have no choice. “Living sustainably” isn’t on the agenda – “living” is.

    So to me, calling upon the “affluent” to live sustainably is logical: choosing not to use your air conditioner even if you can afford to or riding your bike to work instead of driving send a message and set an example for others. If everyone affluent enough to have a choice exercised sustainable options, the global effect of those who DON’T have choices would be mitigated.

  • I also shied away from the Affluent term – and I live in the priciest zip in my state. I consider my neighbors affluent.
    I do not consider myself affluent at all. Just darn happy ;)

  • I agree with you, Melinda. I cringe every time I see that sign. Stepping away from the mainstream to live sustainably is definitely something to be proud of, but naming yourself as ‘affluent” in the same phrase, in my opinion, diminishes its worth. The term “Voluntary Simplicity” implies that one has voluntarily rejected mainstream materialism – they don’t HAVE to live simply, they choose it. It’s proactive terminology.

    Most of us have come from big spending and debt, or affluence, but I believe that where you come from isn’t as important as where you’re heading.

  • Hi! I’m sure you’ve gotten one of these before but I’ve nominated you for a Brilliant Weblog Award on my blog. Thanks for being so Brillante!

    And yay, this signs me up for comment notification on this post without adding something to it. =D I’m sitting the conversation out this time…

  • I don’t have a problem with being called affluent. I’ve never spent a lot by Australian standards, nor do I have an enormous debt (I do have a small tertiary education debt). I’ve never earned very much money by Australian standards either, in fact, I’ve spent a fair bit of time earning an amount that would put me on the poverty line. And yet I am affluent. Why? Because my worst case scenario in dire circumstances is that I have to move in with my parents or my partner’s parents. Because I am well-educated I have the skills to ‘choose’ simplicity, good food, and gardening instead of cheap calories. I am affluent because I live in a country with a universal health system, and where my child will go to school regardless of my income. All of this (and quite a lot more) give me the security to make different choices, to change tack, and to question authority. I don’t have much in the bank, but I have a whole lotta priviledge as a white Australian, and that is something I think we all have to acknowledge before we can expect anyone else in the world to think of us as part of their “all”.

  • I’ll admit that I’ve hesitated joining the APLS group because of the connotation of the word Affluence. I think the APLS group is a wonderful way to connect folks who are trying to live more sustainably and clearly understand the affluence part but I have mixed feelings. I don’t want to give people who read my blog the wrong impression if they were to see the group’s logo or that I would come across as elitist because I belong to a group of like-minded people. Although, it’s funny because I had no second thoughts about this before when I was part of The Compact.

  • The last part of my comment was eaten.
    A perspective my brother-in-law gave to me, who was also a part of the Compact, was he didn’t need a label or group to show that he was trying to live more simply, sustainably and deliberately. It was through his actions, thoughts, and conversations. On the flip side of this is that being a part of a group whether it be neighbors, fellow bloggers, friends or family, it is rather nice having other people to exchange ideas and be supportive of one another instead of doing it by yourself, especially when living sustainably involves all of us.

  • As I sit here unemployed due to strike, thinking about stupid relatives who think they are affluent I get mad.
    I hate it when I am called affluent. I know that I rank around the same as you on the scale. I have always dreamed of being affluent. Like that would give me some instant importance in the world and everyone would hang onto my every word. I know this isn’t what reallity is (except if your a Trump) To me the affluent means a big-sister-better- than-you. I know that is not what is meant by the APLS group but that is why I could never be in that group. The word offends my lovable, bleeding, heart, liberal, union, democrat spine. But I could never call myself that. That’s too much like someone who believes Sarah Palin isn’t just Dick Cheney in drag.

  • Anyone who has the time to blog, who has a roof over their heads and is not worried about being homeless, who has food on the table, and a table to put it on, is affluent. Plain and simple.

    Please read Ardous’s powerful and eloquent post on the topic from her window in India:

    Affluence is not only monetary wealth. I think the analysis of the term on Fake Plastic Fish might also help you reconsider the meaning of the word:

    Instead of getting rid of the term and denying the fact that we actually ARE affluent and that affluence brings with it certain responsibilities, why not reclaim it?

    Perhaps the only way to get people to stop the incessant struggle for more and more wealth is to persuade them that they are, in fact, already quite wealthy if they’d just take a minute to appreciate what they actually have!

  • Beth, thank you for your comment. I’ve read Arduous’ post, I’ve traveled to many parts of the world (making documentaries that I hope will help change the world), I spend my life and my work thinking, living, breathing ways to improve our world and its imbalances.

    I agree that this country is affluent, that I have more choices than the majority of people in the world (I do not have more money, but someday I probably will), that we have done much damage with our affluence. But continuing to define myself in terms of wealth when I feel this is a large part of the problem… this I cannot do.

    I’m not interested in re-inventing the term, I’m much more interested in re-inventing our lifestyles. As several comments here indicate, I’m not alone in feeling excluded from the group because of its first word. That just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

    At the same time, everyone is motivated to live sustainably for different reasons. So if affluence is what motivates the people who have joined APLS, then I think that’s great. I still respect you all, and I will still work with my fellow bloggers to continue to learn, grow, and motivate.

    I love Joyce’s comment – she needs to have that idea of affluence in front of her in order to remind her that she is more well-off and therefore needs to do more for the world. I, on the other hand, need that word sustainability in front of me, as well as a reminder that I am just one member of this world. In my mind, my life has no more or less value than someone across the planet who grew up in poverty. And that person and I are in this together.

    I believe most of us agree that our affluence has been a problem, and that we’re working to correct the problem. The only thing we really don’t agree with here is how we define our lives. I don’t want to be defined by my affluence, I want to be defined by my humanity. In other words,

    What motivates me is not what sets me apart from others (my affluence), but what unites us (my humanity).

    But we all do have work to do together, so I hope we can set aside our differences, motivate ourselves however we can, and then get on with living sustainably, building our communities, and working to help others build theirs.

  • Joyce, You’re always so supportive – thank you – and I know the debt will get better, slowly but surely.

    I think it’s a very interesting point, many some people need a constant reminder that they are more well off and to us it wisely. I hadn’t thought of it as a reminder, but as a label, as a definition. Is there a way to remind ourselves of this without having that labeling effect that I don’t like?

    Sarah, I’ll ask you as well: do you think there is a way to remind ourselves without having that labeling effect? There must be!

    Deb G, It does cause a conversation, most definitely! At times I wonder if a conversation that divides is necessarily a good conversation… Which is why I debated whether or not to post this. But I’m glad I aired out my thoughts, and heard what others feel about it. I see that I am not alone, and that feels better. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Katecontinued, Interesting that I don’t have as much of a gut reaction against American People Living Sustainably. Though there are lots of Australian, New Zealander, European, Asian, and South American readers here… hm. I’m still liking “All” best. Down to the core. ; )

    Sonnjea, Your point about Americans living in poverty is a good one. I think the problem lies largely in the fact that we as a country value affluence to such an extent that people will pay for cable television before they will buy organic produce to feed their families. Our whole goal as a society – to achieve affluence and what it represents to most people (big houses, big cars, big televisions, etc) – needs to change.

    It is interesting that I think you’d agree, and yet you believe that using the label is the best way to do that, while I believe that rejecting the label is the best way to do that… All in all, though, as long as our paths lead in the same (sustainable) direction, it doesn’t matter how we choose to get there as individuals.

    Heather, Happy is important!

    Rhonda Jean, Sigh. It’s good to hear that you agree. I am beginning to understand more and more what “voluntary simplicity” truly means. It is, I think, what the group is trying to achieve.

    “Where you come from isn’t as important as where you’re heading.” What a great point. Thank you.

    Stephanie, Thank you!! Very sweet. I love being told that I’m brilliante. ; )

    Kate, “I have a whole lotta priviledge as a white Australian, and that is something I think we all have to acknowledge before we can expect anyone else in the world to think of us as part of their “all”.” That is a very interesting point.

    Ok, so can we acknowledge it without at the same time continuing to distance ourselves from the rest of the world because of our affluence?

    Monica, Thank you for your comments! I didn’t have second thoughts about joining the Riot For Austerity, either. (Aside from the fact that it’s an awkward name.) Anyone can join the Riot For Austerity or The Compact. But not everyone can join APLS.

    Some would argue that a subsistence farmer in India couldn’t join the Riot. I would argue that they can (though they’d probably not need to do much to achieve 90% less than the American average). And certainly a low-income American can join (and there are several), where a low-income American would probably not join APLS because they would not consider themselves affluent.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about groups, too. I don’t think we need labels or groups either. But I definitely moved more quickly to reduce my CO2 output when I became a member of the Riot For Austerity. Some people need it, some people don’t. Some people need groups at some points in their lives and not in others…

    Rob, It sounds like you feel very much as I do. LOL: “The word offends my lovable, bleeding, heart, liberal, union, democrat spine.” Maybe that’s what I mean to say! I hope the strike resolves soon.

  • ‘Anyone can join the Riot For Austerity or The Compact. But not everyone can join APLS.”

    I disagree. It depends on how you are defining the word “affluence.” That, I think is the crux of our difference. Anyone who feels rich and full of life, no matter how much money they have, can consider themselves affluent.

    The disease in this country is that people work harder and longer to have more “stuff” because they do not feel affluent. They define affluence as having a more and more things. And making more and more money.

    And then there is the person with no material possessions who may feel completely full. And the only difference between the two is their mindset. Their value systems.

    Here’s a thought: Is there another word for affluent that doesn’t have the same connotations for you but whose meaning is “one who realizes that they actually already have everything they need to be at peace in this world?”

    And, on a side note, has anyone in this group read Byron Katie?

  • I love the suggestion to change “affluence” to “all.” I think there is definitely an underlying issue that people are reluctant to admit they have so much more than so many in the world, but calling the “A” “affluence” in APLS isn’t going to fix that.

    “All,” on the other hand, includes everybody and it results in practically the same thing since those on the low end of the world income scale are already living sustainably (they have no choice!) and those of us higher on the income scale have to work a lot harder to live sustainably. Does that make sense?

    I like your new logo better, although it still uses the same green apple on the black background, which is so close to the picture I remember from Snow White. Nice work, though!

  • Beth, I’ve been thinking about this since last night, trying to think of an answer, a good word that would that doesn’t have the same connotations.

    Rhonda Jean makes an excellent point that “voluntary simplicity” is a term people have been using to get at the same ideas: that we don’t have to live a simple life, but we chose to do so for the sake of the planet and our families.

    It’s interesting, I think you’re defining affluent here very differently than Ruchi is. Ruchi is suggesting that we need to own up to our affluence, while you are trying to redefine affluence as richness of life and happiness. Ruchi seems to be setting us apart from others so that we can learn about our own effects on the world. But you are saying that we can all be affluent, that it can be all-inclusive.

    I think Donna’s comments here and on Green Bean’s post are very important to the discussion. It is admirable and important to bring attention to the fact that we are in a wealthy part of the world, where we have choices that others don’t have, that we have food and water and shelter that others cannot take so much for granted.

    But many of us have been thinking about this for a long time. Many of us have already come to terms with this, and we have been working toward change. Many of us have reacted against our affluence (and our strive toward more affluence) and started work toward a better ideal. So to define ourselves by an ideology we have been rejecting does not sit well.

    And to define ourselves by our affluence sounds to others like we are taking pride in that affluence, and I am not proud of all that our affluence has done to the world and its people. I am not proud at all.

    Any term like affluent: wealthy, privileged, first world, … they will have have that same stomach-turning response in me. It’s an important discussion to have, it’s an important thing to remember, but I don’t want to be defined by it. I am a human being. I am lucky to have been born in the United States, to a family who had more money than most of the world. But that is not solely who I am. I am more than that.

    I have dedicated my life making the world a better place for all of the world’s people and other species. Yes, I can do that because I’m affluent (though I’ve met a lot of people in the world who are working toward the same thing but who are not affluent). But my affluence didn’t make me do this, my affluence has very little to do with my wanting to make the world a better place. My compassion, my sympathy, my humanity is what drives me.

  • Here is one more thought I’ve had: because I have come to be friends with Green Bean, Ruchi, and many others, I felt I had to entertain the thought of being a part of the group. I didn’t want to feel different, excluded, outside of a group of which you all were a part, because I felt that we were all learning and growing together.

    But now I wonder if this was the right approach. You all seem to feel very strongly about this notion of Affluence as a definition of who you are, and as a motivation to change your relationship to that affluence. Everyone comes at sustainable living differently. The important thing is that we do all get to sustainability. So if you all, as my friends, seek a different path to get there, that is ok.

    Let me pose this question to you: will you still be excited about changing and growing and doing more if you are a part of a group that uses “All” rather than “Affluent”?

  • I like the term “voluntary simplicity.” But it does mean the same thing… you have to have a certain level of material wealth in order for your simplicity to be voluntary. Otherwise, there’s nothing voluntary about it.

    I realize I’m talking about more than one kind of affluence, which is where I went with my post… starting with affluence of money, and then time, and then just simply being. Maybe I just confused the issue.

    So, here’s another question. How can we change the world and help others who do have more than the rest of members of the planet to realize that they actually do have all they need and to give up the struggle for more, more, more?

    Don’t they (we) have to first acknowledge that we are in fact as wealthy a we need to be?

  • “Let me pose this question to you: will you still be excited about changing and growing and doing more if you are a part of a group that uses “All” rather than “Affluent”?”

    Of course. We already are doing that. Changing the name just changes the focus, I think. And perhaps the educational mission as examples to others that we are a group of people who recognize we have all we need to be happy and have given up the struggle to continue to get more. That’s the part that attracts me to this particular group (well, and the cool people.)

    But we were already “changing and growing and doing more” way before this group began.

  • Beth wrote: “How can we change the world and help others who do have more than the rest of members of the planet to realize that they actually do have all they need and to give up the struggle for more, more, more? Don’t they (we) have to first acknowledge that we are in fact as wealthy a we need to be?”

    It’s a good question. And a difficult question. I don’t think you can tell people they’re as wealthy as they need to be. I am happy, but I’m not as wealthy as I need to be, I’m many, many, many, many dollars in debt (educational debt). That debt keeps me from doing all I want to do, it keeps me from being as happy as I could be. Others who come to this blog are just barely getting by, but still doing their best to reduce their impact on the world.

    I guess what I mean is that for me, it is not about wealth as much as it is about how you live your life and how you spend your money. I’d like to make more money, so that I can first pay off my debts, but then do more good in the world.

    How do we get others to realize that they don’t need more money to buy things they don’t need, things that are bad for the state of the world? And further, how do we get them to help the state of the world by redistributing their wealth?

    Well… How did we all get to this point where we are changing and growing and doing more? For me it was learning about other people in the world who are less well off, meeting them and finding that I am not different from them, but that they were not as lucky as I was to be born into a country where running water and food and shelter are taken for granted (by most people). And seeing the clearcutting of the Brazilian rainforests and the pacific northwest rainforests. And remembering that when I was little I saw monarch butterflies all the time, while now it is a big deal when I see one, every so often. And a hundred other such experiences, all revolving around building my compassion.

    Donna wrote: “If the “One Laptop Per Child” project ever really takes off, maybe there will be kids from the developing world who will find us.” What if APLS found a way to connect to such a group, and we could interact with them? Maybe building these types of connections would get the same idea across in a proactive way?

  • Fix

    Hi, all –

    The point is moot, in my opinion, as a subsistence farmer in India won’t be logging on here to debate the finer points of this acronym. And the truth is, when a (usually) white person jets around the world offering “humanity,” what people more likely see is their money. Or other resources: publicity, skills, knowledge, etc.

    I didn’t feel strongly about the acronym before I read this post, but now I find it pretty naive and possibly offensive to expect those who don’t have the resources we do to see past what we offer, particularly if they’re sick, hungry, or otherwise desperate. Which isn’t to say “they” don’t appreciate “our” humanity and compassion, just that other priorities come first. I wonder if someone not in this privileged position would want to be included in the “all” label? I’m guessing they’d probably feel pretty separate.

    I kind of like how “affluent” immediately requires an evaluation of what that means; a quick rejection of it implies a shortsightedness that is also exclusive, in my opinion. For myself, I’m not a joiner, so I reject most labels on those grounds. I respect all of your voices and thank everyone for sharing!

    Megan from Fix

  • Megan, thank you for your comment.

    A subsistence farmer in India may very well log on here. That person won’t be arguing about the acronym, but they may be looking for ways to extend the seasons of their crops, or they may be looking at some of the projects I’ve been working on, or they may be here for some other reason.

    Not all people in the developing world are so desperate that they cannot see outside of themselves. A lot of people in the developing world are equally interested in finding ways to change the state of the world, the imbalances, the devastation, and many other issues. Our relative affluence does NOT stop us from working TOGETHER with other people around the world who are in different situations, with different needs.

    And I will take issue with you implying my “quick rejection” of affluent. On the contrary, it was not quick.

  • Fix

    Sorry, Melinda – I was debating your point that people are quickly turned off by the “affluent” part and therefore reject the group/cause. I didn’t mean to imply that /you/ quickly reject the term – the thought you’ve put into it here obviously indicates that you don’t!

    Megan from Fix

  • (Cross posted at Green Bean Dreams – not sure where folks are looking for the discussion right now)

    As to the discussion over dropping Affluent, I hesitate, in a way, to jump in. I’m not entirely sure how I feel and I obviously cannot speak for Ruchi, who’s in India.

    I’ve already written that I feel Affluent, in a manner, defines our group and sets it apart. It reminds me of my duties to reach out and work to make a difference instead of just focusing inward. However, from viewing the poll, I am clearly in the minority (all of whom seem to be located in the southern western portion of the US, interestingly enough). The poll is pretty small numbers-wise though – fewer than those in the bushel basket and I think fewer or about the same of those who participated in the carnival.

    Melinda, you asked in the comments of your blog, whether those of us who started APLS would still want to continue with growing and changing. I’m not sure whether the question was posed regarding the growing the group or growing myself. Of course, with respect to the latter. I can think of very little that would stop me in my quest to make this world a greener place.

    Would I still be as excited about the group? The honest answer is maybe. I think taking away Affluent turns this group into one of any number of groups moving toward sustainability. I would still work hard and be excited about the regional groups that we are trying to set up with this and about using those as a means to grown the green social movement, which I believe is necessary to gain political and corporate power. There are so many avenues for change that dropping Affluent wouldn’t foreclose that . . . but I do think it is essential – if we are to shift our paradigm – to own up to our relative affluence.

    I don’t know where to go from here. I’d like to get some more votes, some more input, talk to the other APLS cohorts. I am completely open as to where this group goes and my place in it.

    And Beth, perhaps someone has alternatives to offer.

  • Hi all. Sorry I’m so late to the discussion. My internet is pretty spotty here, due to, um, the electricity going down all the time here in the villages.

    Melinda, thank you for your contribution. I see what you are saying about wanting to talk about what unites us, i.e. our compassion and humanity. I think a lot of people have gone your route. Famously, Mahatma Gandhi accepted an award wearing nothing but his traditional everyday garment. Plenty of people have argued that if you want to work with the people, you must give up your creature comforts. You must sleep with them on the hard stone, and not use modern appliances and such.

    But the problem with that, is that generally speaking, such a life is not sustainable. Unless you are Mother Teresa or Gandhi.

    I am not sure if you know, but my uncle works for a non-profit that does watershed development in India and that’s where I am now. They do a lot of good work, and have really turned around the villages. Using sustainably built dams, ponds, etc, they have been able to increase the water table while still not affecting the land or the other animals who live here.

    Such work is truly amazing. But it took money, education, and skills. In short, it took affluence.

    Personally, while I see your point about focusing on the things that unite us: our humanity and our compassion, I think when we don’t acknowledge our affluence, then we’re refusing to talk about the proverbial elephant in the room. The tribal people KNOW I’m affluent. Because I can read, I can write, I speak English, I wear my hair short, I wear jeans, etc, etc. They already know I’m affluent. To me, it would be obtuse and insensitive if I failed to own up to that, if I didn’t acknowledge that. But without my affluence of education, money, skills, etc, I would be in no position to help them, would I?

    I can’t speak for all subsistence farmers obviously, but the subsistence farmers here would only be able to reach a computer because of an affluent (to them) person or NGO’s help. Tribal women literacy rates here are at 2%. TWO PERCENT. And after that, to log on here would require the effort of knowing how to do a Google search, a pretty comprehensive understanding of English, etc, etc. Given the barriers to access of information, both educational and physical, I highly doubt any Indian SUBSISTENCE farmer would ever reach this website and this discussion.

    You write, “For me it was learning about other people in the world who are less well off, meeting them and finding that I am not different from them, but that they were not as lucky as I was to be born into a country where running water and food and shelter are taken for granted (by most people).”

    But to me that is exactly why the word affluent is so important. It is an acknowledgment too seldom given to the poorer people of this world that those of us in the first world were truly lucky to be born there. We must acknowledge the huge disadvantage that some are given, and the advantage others of us are given simply based on the country we happened to be born in.

    Yes, commonalities can be found throughout human beings. Of course. But and here’s the key. The fact that I have found your website is no great achievement. I found it because I have a computer and internet, and I’m educated, and I speak English.

    But if a subsistence farmer from Madhya Pradesh ever found your website, it would be an ENORMOUS achievement. Imagine what a subsistence farmer would have to go through. First he’d have to somehow make time to spare from the fields. Then he’d have to track down a computer which might well be a 20 km journey. Then somehow he’d have to finagle access to said computer which is harder in India where you don’t have fancy public libraries with computers in every city. Then once he logged on, he’d have to teach himself how to use this contraption he’d never been taught to use. Then there would be the language barrier, etc, etc. So if he finally managed to arrive here, and in this conversation, would it be fair to say he is just like you and me? It would not, because we’d be average Americans, and he’d be a super-heroic subsistence farmer rock star.

    To me, the world affluent is an important reminder of the hurdles someone in the third world has to go through to achieve what many of us have already achieved. The word “all” though of course very inclusive, dilutes our meaning I think. And not that I wouldn’t want to carry on the good work, but if it really is all people living sustainably, how is that any different from say Riot, which already exists and of which many of us are already members? Why even bother with APLS?

  • Considering that you and I have some similar experiences, Arduous, I think we’re just going to have to chalk this up to a difference of opinion in our reactions. Which is fine, and good, and what makes the world go around.

    I have met subsistence farmers from around the world who have surfed the internet, who have limited access to computers, who have come to my site because they knew me, because I’d posted pictures of our meeting, or because they are looking for something I have written (the site is translated into many languages – though I know that it is limited, and there are no tribal languages there). And while I know I am affluent, and they know I am affluent, we have worked hard together and that affluence is something we’ve got past and moved on. I would never tell them I am affluent to their face, which is what I would feel like if I had an APLS logo on my site. The low-income Americans for whom I work on grant projects, I would not tell them that either. It’s just not who I am or what I’m about. It sounds like I’m proud and I’m not. It sounds like I’m distancing myself from them and I don’t want to. And even if none of the people I’ve worked with in impoverished areas ever sees my site, I will know, and I will be uncomfortable with it.

    But it is not my group. I don’t have to be a part of it. I will tell you that my heart sank when you guys created this group, because I felt you were distancing yourselves from others of us who were until then working with you. Though I know that we can still work together here, it will just be something that you do that I don’t do.

    But the real question both you and Green Bean have asked is what makes this group different? I will ask you what made it different with the word Affluent in the title?

    The Riot for Austerity has a very specific goal of reducing CO2 output by 90%, to show our government and the world that it can be done and we can be motivated to do it. What is the APLS goal?

    The Riot does not reach out to other people in other areas of the world. The Riot does not work on building community. The Riot does not do a lot of things that we all have been talking about in regard to sustainability.

    So it can be different. But it depends on what you want it to be. What are those regional groups going to be doing, for example? Aside from the blog carnivals, will APLS be doing more? There is a lot of potential for this group to be something that has never existed before. But it goes beyond the title.

  • Beautifully argued, Ruchi. I agree with basically everything you’ve written here. It is our affluence that sets us apart and enables us to bring change.

  • I’m late in the game, but I believe a change to “All” dilutes the perception of the group. Affluence was a specifically chosen word, and it carries weight.

    I’ll admit I was very uneasy with the term (like Robj98168, we’re dealing with unemployment in our household). I had to chew on it. A lot. And eventually I came to terms with it, because we are still very much affluent compared with the rest of the world. And I maintain that as a member of this society, who has the resources to get to an Internet connection, maybe we collectively have a power and voice to make changes.

    Here is what I posted on Green Bean Dreams:
    What is our 10-second pitch?

    APLS is a blogging community dedicated to opening eyes about issues impacting our environment and society.

    The beauty of this group is that we are students, workers, mommies, rich and not as rich, but together we come together with a strong voice. All of our experiences bring value to telling the story of living sustainably.

    (OK more than 10 seconds, but then I’m in marketing, not the PR side!)

  • I’m tired of people saying how lucky and “affluent” I am as an American all the time. I’m aware that the fact that I managed to buy a house at all puts me in the “fortunate” person category but the truth is that my mortgage doesn’t cost me much more than rent would. We have gone greatly in debt while being unemployed and seeking ANY employment. For a whole year my husband has been employed and his pay doesn’t even quite cover our mortgage. Now we’re almost paying all our bills without the use of credit cards…but we have no health insurance. No health insurance means that my husband can’t get the operation he needs to get at some point on his previously broken arm. We can’t afford to be sick, to have regular check ups, and my husband can’t afford to buy his necessary asthma medication.

    The only reason we haven’t lost everything already is because we have credit cards, that great American pretended wealth system. If we sold our house (probably couldn’t in this market) paid off all of our debts and relocated we would be living at a poverty level standard. The credit cards have bought us time, is all. A little time to maybe possibly get a job that will actually pay for an average non-affluent lifestyle.

    We are treading water and gambling on our future. So, we can’t afford to buy clothes, shoes, health care, care for our animals, groceries, maintenance on our vehicle, beer to sooth our stress, electricity, or phone service without our credit cards. Without our credit cards we would have lost everything over a year ago and been getting our food from the food bank.

    Does that sound like wealth to everyone else? There may be a lot of affluence in this country but there are a lot of people who are poised for dire poverty and are only above water because of their plastic cards which are a time bomb. That’s not wealth.

    Yes, I’m lucky to still have a roof over my head, but for how long will I have it if I can’t make more money? Most of the US is in debt and no one more so than our government.

    Melinda, you echo my thoughts when you say that we should start with ourselves. Each of us. Change our own habits first. Being in the precarious situation I’m in has definitely taught me that I must waste less. Buy less first and use what I buy before I buy more. Food comes at an exhorbitant price if it’s bought on credit so seeing myself waste a gallon of milk is like committing a crime.

    I don’t even wish for affluence anymore, I just wish for enough to know that next month I won’t lose everything and end up in a shelter.

  • Angelina,
    I understand completely where you are coming from. My family is in the same boat – my husband has been unemployed since May, and we have been able to stay in our house and keep food on the table only by the grace of God. And yes, I had a good cry when opening my credit card bills, which are paying everything from electricity to gas in my car, last night.
    I know it sounds like empty words, but hang in there. We are all in this together.

  • My parents are in a very leaky boat too. We’re better, but only marginally so.


    Jan. 20, 2009 HURRY UP!!!!

  • [...] know from reading the comments about affluence, that some of you are hurting now. As Rhonda Jean says, it’s time for us all to go into [...]

  • Angelina, Thank you for your comment. We were there a year ago, watching our savings go as we could not keep up, I could not afford my asthma medication. Now that we’ve moved and Matt has a good job, and I have some contract work, we are doing ok and slowly paying off the debt we incurred simply by buying groceries and things we needed. But it was awful at the time. And scary. I’m sorry you’re going through that now.

    You make some very important points here that help put this discussion back in perspective. Thank you.

  • Thank you for the encouragement. I keep feeling like things are going to improve so I keep hanging in there. I hope everyone else in my boat is able to hang in there too!

  • [...] you’d like to continue the discussion of APLS name and the overall (trans)formation of the group, please check out Green Bean’s latest post on the [...]

  • [...] I realized the post has been done more intelligently then I could have written it. Please check out this link to the rest of a discussion regarding affluence what it means and how to integrate that concept [...]

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