12 Steps To Third World Living

One of the articles in What Is Enough? (IC#26)
Originally published in Summer 1990 on page 7
Copyright (c)1990, 1997 by Context Institute


While there is much to be admired and preserved in the cultures of the people of the Third World, guest editor Duane Elgin recently sent us this reminder that current economic, political and social conditions prevent millions of people from expressing their cultures. Instead, they practice survival.

It generally is very difficult for Americans – surrounded by the detritus of decades of industrial production – to comprehend the realities of daily life for the billion-plus people who constitute "the poorest of the poor." For these people, the question "What Is Enough?" has a very different meaning.

This little exercise – adapted from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s magazine Freedom from Hunger, and based on excerpts from The Great Ascent by Robert L. Heilbroner (New York Harper & Row, 1963) – may help to get you in touch with the reality of life in the shadows cast by our relative wealth.

First, take out the furniture: leave a few old blankets, a kitchen table, maybe a wooden chair. You’ve never had a bed, remember?

Second, throw out your clothes. Each person in the family may keep the oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. The head of the family has the only pair of shoes.

Third, all kitchen appliances have vanished. Keep a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a handful of onions, a dish of dried beans. Rescue those moldy potatoes from the garbage can: those are tonight’s meal.

Fourth, dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, take out the wiring and the lights and everything that runs by electricity.

Fifth, take away me house and move the family into the toolshed.

Sixth, by now all the other houses in the neighborhood have disappeared; instead there are shanties – for the fortunate ones.

Seventh, cancel all the newspapers and magazines. Throw out the books. You won’t miss them – you are now illiterate. One radio is now left for the whole shantytown.

Eighth, no more postman, fireman, government services. The two- classroom school is 3 miles away, but only 2 of your 7 children attend anyway, and they walk.

Ninth, no hospital, no doctor. The nearest clinic is now 10 miles away with a midwife in charge. You get there by bus or bicycle, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Tenth, throw out your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, insurance policies. You now have a cash hoard of $5.

Eleventh, get out and start cultivating your three acres. Try hard to raise $300 in cash crops because your landlord wants one-third and your moneylender 10 percent.

Twelfth, find some way for your children to bring in a little extra money so you have something to eat most days. But it won’t be enough to keep bodies healthy – so lop off 25 to 30 years of life.

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