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Journal for Saturday 10 April

Thanks to Twitter I discovered Vi Ransel, whose writing is of a similar style to Arundhati Roy's non-fiction. I read a couple of articles - one "The American Workplace: Sweatshop USA".

My own growing up in America gave me a view of it that was fairly unreal. First of all, because Northern Virginia is wealthier than most places and secondly because I left in "the good years", when jobs were secure and money was easy. But still I left, because I couldn't tolerate America. How I ended up in Israel is a mystery, but again 1978 isn't 2010, and I was fairly naive.

Just this afternoon I found myself thinking in patterns framed by that upbringing. When I considered my objections to the existing order, my mind raised the objection: but it really gives me, and a lot of other people all that we need for our happiness. I can afford more food than I could ever eat, live in a comfortable home that can be cooled in summer and heated in winter, can afford nice clothes and consumer electronics. Just a couple of generations ago, all of these things would have been a problem.

And, I reasoned, so what if my style of living, and purchase of consumer goods, permits others at the top of the pyramid to accrue countless millions? It isn't bringing them any more happiness. I had a small corner of doubt that my lifestyle, besides that of the billionaires, is what is keeping so much of the world poor.

But Ransel helped me to realize again that the security and relative affluence that I currently enjoy is hopelessly fragile. Beneath all the glitter of our 21st century civilization, the basics of food and shelter are still a problem - not only in Africa but also in America. They needn't be a problem but remain so because of greed and social disparity. There has always been enough food to go around, if only it is shared, and shelter could always be available if neighbors helped with the building - as they traditionally did in Palestinian society.

We live in a period of great complexity. It's comparatively few people who can see through the illusions thrown up by our civilization, without getting embroiled in other illusions that are still more tenacious - such as ideology or religion.

The important lessons are all about learning how to stay balanced on a ship caught in a hurricane, acting sanely when surrounded by mad people and insisting on freedom while being aware of the invisible bars.