Monday, November 30, 2009


I don't think I'd heard of Dubai until last year, when I was flying to (or from) Europe, and the airline's magazine had an article about the place, describing its phenomenally quick growth, its amazing wealth, and a Disneyworld-like project that was underway.

I remember thinking it sounded crazy, a city growing that quickly and that extravagantly. But the article was so positive, as if this were the normal way for things to happen when smart people learn how to manage money.

I didn't think much more about it until a few months ago, when I heard a story about Dubai on public radio. The economic problems had finally reached that area of the world, and all those construction projects were put on hold, or stopped completely.

It was a very sad story, because men from other countries had moved to Dubai, hired by these big contruction firms, hoping to be able to send money home to their families. Instead, they were now stuck in Dubai without work, living ten and fourteen to a two-room apartment, with no income and no way to get back home. And the companies that brought them there were not offering to help get them back home.

It was terrible.

Today I heard another brief reference to Dubai, again on the radio. Ky Risdall was talking about being over there last year for a story on the amazing growth of the boomtown (my word, not his, as I recall) and how now there is no doubt that the amazing growth was built on untenable risk-taking, like certain enterprises in our own little part of the world that led up to the current situation.

I was struck by his saying, "The funny thing is that everyone over there knew what was happening, but no one seemed to care."

Seems true of so many projects undertaken by us human beings. Maybe some can claim ignorance, but a lot of people know that what we're doing isn't smart (e.g., polluting the very world we depend on for life), but we really don't seem to care.

What does it take to get people to care? I don't know for sure, but I think it has something to do with the building of community that Wendell Berry so heartily champions. When we think only of ourselves, we take foolish risks and don't think about bigger pictures and longer terms. When we think about how our decisions affect others, present and future, we act more wisely, and, I hope, more kindly.

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