How ought we promote a better world? How should I behave and believe? What is my purpose? What is meaningful? These vital questions of ultimate concern are universal to all people.

It is extremely unsettling that the significance of these questions has subsided in importance to materialism. It is quite easy to get caught up in the concerns of everyday life and to lose a sense of detachment from temporary problems. This has led to a great deal of suffering among humanity. People are not asking these vital questions, and this has allowed for leadership with corrupt morals and unchecked power to remain in place. Left unchecked, these actions put us on a path to irreparable global damage, from which many people will die. In order to prevent this catastrophe and to better the condition of human lives, it is important that we change our way of life to better accommodate what is important. To quote J.K. Rowling, “Dark times lie ahead of us, and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” Speaking from the point of view of an American, I believe that the three most important things that we can do to remedy this is to change our political structures, adopt more humble lifestyles, and reform our education systems.

One of the most telling quotes from Michel comes from his postscript, in which he says, “Incidentally, if you want to attract good politicians, start by cutting their salary to that of a suburban bank manager and you will find that there are fewer applicants, but those who remain will be sincere human beings and genuinely want to do something for the people.” I believe that it is in the best interest of the United States to take money out of our elections (particularly from corporations and PACs) and restrict its influence in the legislative processes. “The Great Hack” is an excellent Netflix documentary that entails how social manipulation has been used to influence several national elections worldwide, and this film has influenced some of my opinions. While I do respect rights to free speech, I believe that the voices of large organizations can drown out the voices of individual citizens and the ability to think independently. We have allowed a space in our society in which it is acceptable for politicians and celebrities to speak blatant lies without being held accountable, and this influences individuals to act on them.

Another issue we must face is reforming our voting systems. Members of both parties are liable for gerrymandering because they are responsible for redrawing districts. These districts often remain unchallenged and they are not addressed until it is too late. At a minimum, we ought to appoint bipartisan district boards to better safeguard against these issues. Additionally, we should ensure that there is no voter suppression and hold people that enforce such policies accountable. By pulling the money out of the system, ensuring voting is fair, and preventing vulnerable people from being influenced by misinformation, I believe that US democracy would be more just and would be held more accountable than it is now.

In addition to campaign reform, there are several other policies that the US ought to support in order to minimize global. I was deeply moved after reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (which entailed many of the hardships faced by meat workers during the Gilded Age), and it reminds me of when Thao described Earth as, “The Planet of Sorrows” because, “It is not because life there is so difficult that you have to intervene - you cannot lightly go against Nature, destroying rather than conserving what the Creator has put at your disposal; that is, interfering with ecological systems, which have been intricately designed.” Unchallenged consumerism is coming at a steep price to the Earth and to other people. In talking about working conditions, Sinclair says,

“Here was a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation, and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers; under such circumstances immorality was exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it was under the system of chattel slavery. Things that were quite unspeakable went on there in the packing houses all the time, and were taken for granted by everybody; only they did not show, as in the old slavery times, because there was no difference in color between master and slave.” While this is a rather Marxist example, there is a point to be made that it is immoral and unjust that the West is taking advantage of economically vulnerable people elsewhere to fuel their relatively elaborate lifestyles. I am not saying that trade is inherently bad; in some ways, it has pulled people out of worse situations, but I do take issue with the terms and conditions of the trade. There has certainly been a great deal of damage caused by colonialism, and the West has not done nearly enough to ensure better treatment of the workers it employs. Two prime examples of this are child labor and electronics manufacturing. Children would not work in factories if they had access to schooling and if their families were not economically pressed to do so. Electronics manufacturing is often exported to other countries to save money, but the workers that process it do not have the machinery to do so safely, and they often die from exposure to toxic materials. It also says nothing about the political instability of the regions that conflict minerals in these electronics cause nor its environmental damages, which most corporations deflect responsibilities. My argument is thus: If the West wants to use relatively cheaper labor from overseas, they ought to ensure a better quality of life for those workers. Child labor is abhorrent, but children that work should be fed and provided free education. All workers should have the ability to work in a reasonably safe environment. If the United States was “built off the backs of immigrants,” to create a better life, why would we limit those capabilities from other people? Finally, the West should invest in infrastructure in less affluent and previously exploited countries in terms that are disfavorable to it as reparations and similarly renegotiate its trade deals to reflect this.

Even at that, there are many practices the West should reduce or stop entirely. Beef is 10% energy efficient compared to the grain used to feed the animal. It is not justifiable to continue a meat-laden diet when hundreds of millions do not have access to food and beef production is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. We should create alternatives to our current diet, but this can be difficult to address since the question being asked currently is not how it would be done, but rather whether or not it should be done. McDonald’s has been quite successful in adapting its traditional burger-based tactics to a mostly vegetarian market in India, so it is feasible that our systems can adapt with innovation and help from food scientists.

We ought to be recycling everything we use- higher costs in the short run and laziness are not good counterarguments. We should also design our products to be recycled more easily (unlike Apple’s Airpods); we have seen the damages overseas electronics recycling without proper protection causes workers (Haskins). We should also be buying less “stuff;” fast fashion is the second highest polluter after gasoline (Chang), and there is no reason that this trend could not be reduced if people wore their shirts longer. The average lifespan of a t-shirt in the UK is about 2.5 years (Kale). The world has seen the shortcomings of capitalism and wealth inequality during the current pandemic as people struggle to balance paying their rent and paying for food while not being able to work. As people go hungry, farmers cannot sell their crops, and food is rotting in the fields. This is but one of many shortcomings our society and the monetary system faces in addressing basic human needs, and I believe that it will force our hand on addressing these issues in the years to come.

Thao has advocated for a switch to hydrogen-based vehicles. We ought to continue research in alternative energies, but I believe our best current alternatives lie in revamped public transportation and nuclear recycling. Rather than attempting to find a place to store millions of gallons of nuclear waste, we could use it to power much of our electricity for the next several hundred years and minimize the amount of time it is toxic to a few hundred years. This struggle will be difficult for people of all nations, but it is vital that those nations that can afford to do so invest in this technology now so that other countries that need it more will cause less damage to the environment as a result.

Finally, I believe that our education systems need reform. It is quite troubling to see the prevalence of articles detailing ignorance in the past few years, such as, “25% of Americans believe the Sun revolves around the Earth,” “Only 8% of [high school] seniors could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War,” and “Conspiracy theorists burn 5G towers claiming link to [Covid-19]virus (Neumann, Camera, Chan et.al) .”

To better reform our education systems, we should give teachers more leeway to teach how they see fit on agreed upon topics. By removing a “standard set” of how concepts are taught, it forces teachers to be more creative in how they teach, which helps aid in student learning. I’ve found that many of my peers do not want to study because many classes have removed application of material in lieu of rote memorization, which is both unhelpful and not particularly educational to the students. It also gives teachers time to spend more time on certain subjects and teach their students in ways that work better for them rather than take a “one size fits all” approach. Far fewer students would fail their classes if they were genuinely interested in the classes they were taking; why would they care about something that will come in one ear and out the other by next week? If they cannot or will not learn basic concepts, this sets up a path for failure because they are less likely to have the knowledge to question their leadership or the things that are important in their lives, and we have seen the unfortunate results of people blindly following other fallible people.

Our education systems are also failing our students because religious and philosophical studies are not a requirement, and in some cases, are not offered. It is important that students are exposed to these wider questions of how people ought to best live their lives by drawing their own conclusions from a variety of different information. It is, I believe, the most vital skill one can have. As a reluctant member of Generation of Screen Zombies (Gen-Z), I will say many of my peers have taken their issues with organized religions and their leaders to mean a lack of spirituality entirely, and I believe that by objectively studying the former, many get a better understanding of the latter than they would otherwise. Sure, one could argue that this information isn’t something that should be forced by “secular education,” but the answer to differences in opinion is not solved by pretending differences don’t exist. This is why many government classes ultimately fail to motivate students to be politically active; they do not analyze the arguments and viewpoints expressed by differing opinions, nor do they discuss issues. Rather, they often explain “how the government works” and leave political education to parents. This ultimately fails for the same reason that religious values from parents fails: individuals do not grow from being exposed to information they agree with, nor will they learn. This is a great cause of division in our country now- people can’t get along with others they disagree with because positive feedback and social media reinforce notions that “the other side” is “evil,” even when people do not always agree with all policies of one political party.

One of my favorite quotes on this matter comes from British theologian N.T. Wright. In describing the role of Christianity in America, he says, “N. T. Part of the problem here is the word evangelical. I know a lot of people who have basically abandoned it since the whole [Donald] Trump phenomenon. In England, people are a bit embarrassed about the word. But I’ve taken the view that the word evangelical is far too good a word to let the crazy guys have it all to themselves, just like I think the word Catholic is far too good a word for the Romans to keep it all to themselves. And while we’re at it, the word liberal is too good a word for the skeptics to have it all for themselves. It stands for freedom of thought and exploration. Everything gets bundled up together, whether it’s abortion or gun rights or homosexuality or whatever. All issues are seen as either you’re on that side, and it’s the whole package, or you’re on this side, and it’s the whole package (Green).”

This cultural ignorance not a uniquely Western issue, either. Many “religious” conflicts today are fueled by underlying political and monetary issues, but these are pushed over the edge by ignorance. As Michel points out in the postscript, “The only TRUE, IMMUTABLE thing is the law of the CREATOR, the one He WANTED in the beginning, the UNIVERSAL Law, HIS LAW, and absolutely NOBODY will EVER be able to change that.” Truly religious people understand that all religious people are attempting to gain a closer connection to the divine, even if the expression of that relationship manifests itself in many different ways.

In sum, there are several steps that the United States and other Western countries can take to create a better world, and many of these ideas can be implemented by individuals or consumers. The US can drastically change its current policies to support green initiatives and to assist other countries that are less able to do so. These policies would be more easily enacted if political elections were reformed to mitigate the undue influence of money and if politicians’ salaries were slashed. Our education systems should include religious and philosophical studies as a part of the curriculum so that young people are able to draw their own conclusions about the nature of the universe and how to best live their lives. In doing so, much of the global pain caused by ignorance and consumerism will lessen.

I am thankful to the Chinasona foundation for this wonderful invitation to read Thiaoouba Prophecy. While I found it difficult at times to identify with the manifestation of Michel’s experiences, his principles have resonated strongly with me and given me a unique angle from which to view the world. We must live sustainably, the world is a place designed spiritual growth, we must be kind to others, and we are not the only important life force we believe ourselves to be on this or any other planet.

Sources Cited:

Camera, Lauren. “Students Aren't Learning About Slavery.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 1 Feb. 2018, www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2018-02-01/students-dont-know-slavery-was-a-central-cause-of-the-civil-war-report-shows.

Chan, Kelvin, and Beatrice Dupuy. “Conspiracy Theorists Burn 5G Towers Claiming Link to Virus.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 21 Apr. 2020, apnews.com/4ac3679b6f39e8bd2561c1c8eeafd855.

Chang, Angel. “The Life Cycle of a t-Shirt - Angel Chang.” Youtube, TED-Ed, 5 Sept. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiSYoeqb_VY.

Green, Emma. “The Crisis of American Christianity, Viewed From Great Britain.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 2 Dec. 2019, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/12/nt-wright-american-evangelicals-and-trump/602749/.

Haskins, Caroline. “AirPods Are a Tragedy.” Vice, 6 May 2019, www.vice.com/en_us/article/neaz3d/airpods-are-a-tragedy.

Kale, Sirin. “Slow Fashion: How to Keep Your Favourite Clothes for Ever – from Laundering to Moth-Proofing.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 Aug. 2019, www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/aug/01/slow-fashion-how-to-keep-your-favourite-clothes-for-ever-from-laundering-to-moth-proofing.

Neuman, Scott. “1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says.” NPR, NPR, 14 Feb. 2014, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/02/14/277058739/1-in-4-americans-think-the-sun-goes-around-the-earth-survey-says.

Piet, Steve. “Why Aren't We Recycling Used Nuclear Fuel, Part 1.” Youtube, Steve Piet, 10 May 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t-j8pVsnc0.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. 1905.

Amer, Karim and Jehane Noujaim, directors. The Great Hack. Netflix, Netflix, 26 Jan. 2019.

Verge Science . “The Dark Side of Electronic Waste Recycling.” Youtube, Verge Science, 4 Dec. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=vufLW4xOsS4.

Runner-up of A Better World" Spirituality and Technology Advancement Scholarship for 2020