Earrings and the imminence of the third World War
Anxiety and agitation around North Korea and Trump. Nuclear weapons, xenophobic walls, Moscow mule. After some months, I make a new attempt to get updated on what is happening in the world: I check the New York Times and the headline is about which movie won best drama at Emmy Awards. Bad luck? I did try my best towards a global update. I wanted to know what’s the risk of a 3rd World War blasting soon, just as not to get too surprised and upset when and if it does. I guess knowing it in forehand won’t change these reactions, though, but only trigger them much sooner and probably for nothing, making me anxious and agitated about North Korea and Trump.
The day before yesterday, Mauerpark. One of Berlin’s symbol of diversity and freedom, Mauerpark gets every Sunday crowded with people and street musicians from all over the world through its open air karaoke and a large flee market. I wanted to buy a brass earring. Berlin is crowded with brass earrings, of which price ranges from 12-20 euros. Once a girl was wearing the same brass earring as my Berliner one. She was disappointed to acknowledge this, for she had bought it as a special souvenir from her unforgettable trip to India. I thought mine was handmade by Berliner hippies. Apparently, our earrings weren’t that special. The first stalls at Mauerpark charged 20 Euros for brass earrings – touristic price, I thought. But, after a long walk, stalls held by foreigners speaking no German nor proper English were selling the same pieces for 5 euros – with a cute handmade bag included. I was happy to buy two earrings for less than what I expected to pay for one.
I don’t know what’s going on between Trump, North Korea and Russia; and even if I would spend my day trying to find it out, I wouldn’t. What I know is that finding such a cheap earring from Bangladesh with a handmade bag sold by refugees, migrants or hippies has much to do with international politics and with my every day, be it in Berlin or in the countryside of Brazil. There, one can buy cheap traditional Brazilian handcraft produced in China. If you decide to take the cheap one, you might be saving money for your next souvenirs in India. If you choose the triple-priced locally produced one, you might be saving whole lives spent with the preservation and transmission of the ancestral wisdom behind those objects.
Now, what about the brass earrings? Who made them? Who is being exploited in their production and distribution chain, who is profiting from it – besides me by saving 10 euros? Is it fair to buy them from Germans for 20 euros or from who-knows-whose-origin, perhaps helping the needy families of those new foreign sellers for 5 euros? Perhaps I should have acted paternalistically by giving them 20 euros. Would they feed any children with this money?
There’s no way out; I am a hypocrite.
I live in the city of diversity and freedom because I am a hypocrite. But foremost because I am aware of being one. The global trade makes it impossible not to be a hypocrite; you are stuck in it, even if you decide to live in an island or a hippie community far from the capitalistic system. They are still part of it, and you could only choose to move there because you are part of it and, hence, a hypocrite. But your anxiety, agitation and unconformity about the injustice of the global trade and the imminence of a 3rd world war blinds you for this fact.
I cannot change Trump nor the production chain of souvenirs – even if I’d stop changing my earrings. I cannot change the fact that I will always be a hypocrite by ignoring and not being able to know what’s going on in the whole world, nor how to modify it and avoid a 3rd world war. What I can change is the awareness of my individual role in society; not the global one, but first and foremost the one that makes up my every day, connecting me to real people in more or less meaningful and lasting ways.
I don’t regret my cheap acquisition from last Sunday. But I do regret not making any effort to connect with the earrings seller, even if we didn’t actually speak a common language. I missed the chance of knowing better one of these persons I either randomly or intentionally encounter in my every day and, in that case, of knowing whether the value spent represented a fair trade for both sides. Money, in an almost derisory amount, remained the only link between us – if not a wall that I missed the chance to overcome.
Once trades and relations become so derisory, incommunicable and dramatically unfair, walls are erected. Not only by Trump or North Corea, but daily by you and me. The more our geographic distances decrease, so does, paradoxically, our proximity. In the meanwhile, walls, fears, anxiety and agitation increase, turning into stages for war, whether the third world war or the one among your close relatives and neighbours. In this one, however, hypocrisy can still be defeated.