Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The way Americans think

I saw this article on how dairy farming in Vermont was suffering because of low milk prices. This, in spite of several Vermont dairy farms employing illegal labour with no papers, working 80 hours a week for low, low wages and living in constant fear of being arrested and deported -- to the extent of not mourning for, or even acknowledging, one of their own who died in a farm accident. This article looked at how dairy farmers are being forced to sell out, or sell their cows to weather the winter.

The article was put up on Jan 4, 2010 at 8:21 am. Within hours, by the time I read the article, as many as 44 reader comments had been logged on the story. While this article was eye-opening (Americans also run sweat-shops - and that too, in America!), what struck me was the content of the reader comments.  
  • The first comment was that farmers should, instead of processing and selling their milk to dairies, sell raw (unprocessed, unpasteurised) milk because it was not only better for health but would also fetch the farmers higher returns. Over 30 of the comments were comments on this suggestion. 
  • Three readers commented in defence of 80-hour weeks, but never addressed the glaring issue of exploitation of fellow-humans.
  • Not a single reader commented on America's holier-than-thou attitude of lecturing countries like China, India, Brazil etc. on better conditions and pay for workers in their factories, while their own dairy farmers used illegal labourers who lived and put in hard 80-hour work weeks in constant fear (a recipe for exploitation, if ever there was one) in their own motherland.The nearest was one reader suggesting that it would be better to see how we could put more money into the hands of everyone, and how these workers should have been given citizenship much earlier.
  • It struck me that milk prices could be low because of over-supply in the US domestic market. Not one reader commented on why this problem arose and how to address that problem.
What I deduced from this encounter about the mindset of the average American is two-fold: (a) He is so self-absorbed that he cannot empathise with non-American fellow-human beings. (b) The average American has strong opinions on the fads of the day while having entirely un-reasoned, stilted opinions on matters like economics and human rights.

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