The Lucky Ones

Posted: February 8, 2012 in Ugliness American Style
Tags:

Do you know how lucky you are? Do you know what’s important in life?

A Junior basketball player at Delaware State, Elle Delle Donne does. Elle is considered by many sports writers the best college basketball player (men’s AND women’s) in the U.S. At 6 ft 5 in she plays like a guard, has a Gold Medal for the U.S. from the last Olympics, and her stats are off the charts. Her older sister, however, has none of those skills. Born deaf and blind with cerebal palsy her older sister gets very little pleasure from life and what stimulation she does recognize as love comes from the touch of family members that she somehow recognizes. One of her favorite people in the world is her younger sister. For that reason, Elle left a promising start to her college career at U Conn to transfer back home and be with her older sister. That is what is important. That is recognizing that there but for the grace of God, go I.

Why do so many people in the U.S. lack in empathy? Why can they not see how blessed they are and how little they have done to deserve such good fortune? I don’t mean to say that they’re bad people or that they’re lazy….far from it. Americans are some of the hardest working people on Earth. We average 35 hours of work per week (the highest seems to be S. Korea with an average of 44 hours per week). We are one of the most prosperous nations on Earth. We didn’t get to this place without a lot of blood, sweat and tears. So don’t misunderstand me, when I ask “why don’t Americans acknowledge all of those things that come as an accident of birth?”

Perhaps some statistics will help me illustrate my point. According to a 2005 study, there are an estimated 211 million pregnancies that occur every year. Of those, about 6 million of those are in the U.S. Now, we have to make some assumptions. Of those only about 4 million result in live births. That’s a survival rate of about 67%. So anyone born in the U.S. has about a 67% chance of making through gestation and pregnancy alive1.

First, the odds are even that your soul (if you believe we have one and I do) ends up in the particular group of cells that becomes your physical and spiritual presence in the world. Many religions do not believe this. They are considered deterministic in that they believe their deity has special plans for a few anointed people and the rest get the leavings….essentially they believe their god has a plan layed out for everyone who ever lived or will ever live. I don’t presume to know what any deity may or may not plan. But I do presume to think that any deity that we believe is “Good” would not condemn billions of people to live in misery while only an elect few get to live in happiness. To do so would be patently and purposely “Bad” and therefore evil. So if God is “Good”, our paths are not determined by him/her/it. Now some religions say that our souls come back over and over again into new bodies and the status of their rebirth is determined by their behavior in the previous lives. This is called the Wheel of Samsara and the punishment/reward for what we do is called Kharma. This would be the opposite of a determinism by a deity and represents self-determination.2 Honestly, I waver back and forth in believing that it’s all either just blind luck or that it is self-determinism, because I want to believe, just like everyone else, that there is Justice in the Universe. That bad behavior is punished in some form and that my “current life” is a reward for good things I have done in the past. However, if you accept that then you have to accept the opposite scenario–if things are going badly now, then it is a punishment for bad behavior in the past3. Ultimately, my bias is toward science and that leads me to presume that we are not re-born and instead are born in the place and time to a particular family from pure blind luck4.

Now, if you are Christian, Jewish or Muslim you are a this point saying “Wait a second! You didn’t mention Heaven or Hell.” I didn’t and I won’t get into those beliefs because for the purpose of this essay they aren’t relevant. What I mean to say is that these theories are concerned about what happens after we die, not with how we come into the world. And what I am looking it is how we are born, and that is the ONLY reason I mention “self-determinism” and re-birth.

Okay so we have the first assumption of “the odds are even”, i.e., it’s pure, blind luck. This “who we get born to and when we get born” is out of the baby’s control (using the logic above). The second assumption is that the baby also doesn’t control anything about itself while he or she is less than let’s say 2 or 3 years old.5 By that I mean, they are just little “ids”6 running around trying to get their survival needs met and they don’t give a damn about matters of conscience OR completely understand that some things are very dangerous and will kill them in a matter of seconds. Sure they usually have a fear of falling (often after the first serious fall and the booboo that results). They often, but not always, may have an instinctive fear of heights. But these are fears that many animals possess because Evolution has discovered that gravity and falling badly over a long distance do not make for great survival odds. They also may startle at loud noises…again this is an Evolutionary hold over as loud noises usually immediately precede something dangerous and life threatening. But all those instinctive kind of reptilian brain kind of things don’t cover the bazillion threats a child faces in the first couple years of life. That initial interaction with the world is completely up to the parents or guardians of the child. So the second assumption, that the baby controls nothing in the first 2 or 3 years of their life is predicated on the complete randomness of the parents/guardians that you get.

Okay, so to recap. There are about 211 million pregnancies a year, of which 6 million are in the U.S. and where you end up in that 211 million is completely random. That means 2.8 % chance of being born in the U.S. If only 4 million of those 6 million live, then it’s really more like 1.9 %. How many of those are born perfectly healthy with not deformities or limitations of any kind? Congenital defects caused by things passed down from the parents account for ????? and defects resulting from behavior of the parents account for another ????? The odds are getting lower and lower, aren’t they? Now let’s break it down further.

At last count there were 312,983,926 people in the U.S. Typically there are more males born than females but males are less likely to make it through infancy (not sure why this is) and are more likely to die younger (most often due to violent ends such as in War, homicide, doing stupid things like in the movie Jackass….). So you have greater odds of being born a male, but over a lifetime, your odds are better for survival if you are born a girl. In the end, the U.S. population averages around 51% female and 49% male. If you are born female, here are some important facts that WILL affect your life. If a woman you would be more likely earn a college degree than a man, but you would earn less than a man with the exact same degree at the same job. In fact, women earn 23% less than their male counterparts in the U.S. REGARDLESS of parity in levels of educational attainment. Over a lifetime that kind of disparity adds up in all kinds of ways. For example, less money made, means less in Social Security earnings, Pensions, 401K’s, etc. for retirement and old age, and since women live longer than men (again, see Jackass) that means they will have less to live off of. Furthermore since womenin cases of divorce are more likely to end up with majority custody of the kids, their “lesser” income has to bear the burden of financially supporting those children EVEN when court ordered child support is factored in.7 Why do I mention all of this? Because I am trying to show you how lucky you are if you are born a male.

So if the odds are better you are born a male and there’s lot of advantages to that, let’s look at race. What race are you MOST LIKELY to be? Although the non-white population has a higher birth rate than the white population in the U.S., the odds are still better that you will be born white. If 80% of the current population is white but the birth rate for the white population is only about 14%…so, your odds are about 14% that you’ll end up white. If you end up another ratce, what are some of the challenges you will face? Need I list them out for you? I think I’ve already done something similar here.

Here’s another thought on income. The wealthier a family is, the fewer, on average, children they have. Thus as you go up on the income scale, those families are having fewer babies than those lower down on the income scale. Furtherore, while whites make up 88% of the top 5% in income (5% of population is 15.6 million people, 88% of that is 13.728 million). So to be born in the top 5% of income and white in the U.S. as compared to being in the other 95% of the worlds 7 billion people….well it is rare, very, very rare.

Are you starting to understand what I mean? If you don’t, you’re willfully refusing to acknowledge the numbers OR you refuse to accept the underlying premise of randomness. If you believe in Kharma, then empathy is crucial to a good path in life and all future lives. If you believe that god/God picks and chooses who wins and who loses and you’re a white male living in the U.S. (actually one could say white and living in the U.S.) then I would hazard to say that you’re in danger of thinking that you’re special. I just wanted to let you know, if you think you’re special that way, I’m telling you that you’re not….you’re just really, really lucky.

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/2012/02/08/146514859/for-love-and-the-game-a-star-shines-in-delaware
http://www.billshrink.com/blog/4724/working-around-the-world/
http://www.prosperity.com/countries.aspx
http://www.who.int/whr/2005/media_centre/facts_en.pdf
http://www.americanpregnancy.org/main/statistics.html
http://easycalculation.com/statistics/probability.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_inequality_in_the_United_States#Race_and_gender_disparities
http://www.wisegeek.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-raise-a-child-in-the-united-states.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_and_ethnic_demographics_of_the_United_States
http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/censusandstatistics/a/moreboys.htm 

Notes:

1. I KNOW it’s a lot more complicated than this, but you get the point that not everyone makes it into this world, even in one of the most advanced and propserous countries the world has ever known. So that’s luck right there.
2. It also implies, to my way of thinking a finite number of souls. I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole here though….
3. Note that regardless of whether you believe in the “blind luck” theory or the “self-determinism” theory, the result as a guide for human behavior is the same. They both remind us to be grateful AND to be Good.
4. Again, it’s a lot more complicated than that, what with the thousands of relationships that had to occur to create your own specific mix of DNA, the thousands of migration and movement of populations and families so that you are arrive in a particular location….etc. The Universe, however, does run on a whole lot of Chaos in its own right and the semi-random (I don’t know if that is the precise term I am looking for) genetic mutations that occur in Evolution certainly play a role in it. By semi-random, I mean those mutations that crop up sometimes that have little or no use until something changes in an environment, and then all of sudden it has a very important use. That’s what I mean by semi-random…there was no way the animals DNA anticipated the change in the environment…it got lucky that it had something innate in it that allowed it to adapt to the change.
5. Why two? My earliest memory is at 3 years of age. I did something I wasn’t supposed to do and I knew I was being bad. That kind of consciousness, self-awareness combined with the ability to know the difference between right and wrong actually occurs at different times for every individual. For some it can come in the teen years and for others it can happen very, very young as it did with me. However the youngest it can possibly develop is in the toddler years, so I chose 2 or 3. If you choose 4 then does it make THAT big of a difference?
 6. Or if you don’t like Freud, then think “animals” which will offend you if you don’t accept Evolutionary Theory (note here how I say accept instead of believe…)
7. Child support only pays for necessities: food, clothes, shelter. Everything else is extra in the eyes of the Court but to many American families, things like a backpack for school, pens, school bus fees, sports teams, vehicle and gas to transport kids, etc are also necessities that child support is not meant to cover. So if you think you are paying too much, you might be but odds are, you’re not paying as much as it will cost to raise them….in fact you’re not paying even half of what it will cost to raise them. Furthermore, on average a man’s income will go up after a divorce while a woman’s will go down. That’s just makes things worse for her.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s