An Affluent, Healthy, White Male Born in Canada in the 21st Century
By David Metcalfe
January 24, 2019
In the years prior to human civilization, life was most likely “nasty, brutish, and short”. There was no medicine, no transportation other than walking, you had no idea where your next meal was coming from, little to no protection against wild animals, and fellow humans could attack you with no legal or social rules to stop or punish them. Breaking your leg, not finding food one day, sleeping where a lion happened to be walking about, or eating some toxic wild berries…were basically death sentences.
Skip ahead to present day Canada, and we have healthcare that can save you from almost any disease or injury, vehicles that transport us 100km/hr or planes that fly us 600km/hr while we sit peacefully, easily accessible food in excess amounts, large houses with air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and electricity, and a legal system that forces humans to act co-operatively with one another on threat of punishment from a neutral third party. Breaking your leg means you get a day off school and a cast signed by all your friends, not finding food in your house means you get a burger from McDonald’s, sleeping is done in your house on a comfortable bed, and eating random berries at the supermarket means the produce clerk tells you those are not samples and you have to actually pay for them.
Of course, it’s not like we went from no civilization to the one we have today overnight. As we look through history, we see a slow, methodical, painstaking process that got us to where we are today. From the hunter gatherer societies to agriculture based communities to the formation of city states with authority structures and specialization of labor to the ancient empires to the Greeks to the Romans to the Catholics to the Renaissance to the Age of Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution to the incredible advancements throughout the 20th century to present day, we see gradual improvements in science, political structures, human rights, and the use and application of technology, among other things. These have resulted in dramatic improvements to the quality of life for people in every possible metric.
But this improvement is not completely shared globally. For most of the world’s population, the best of scientific advancement in healthcare, transportation, and other important things are not available to them. Their political structures are authoritarian dictatorships where human rights are cast aside in favor of conformity and ideals told to them by the state. The internet and other communication technologies are hard to get or very restricted. For many, food is scarce, persecution and war violence are constant threats, disease ravages them, and their houses are old, broken and lack temperature control.
And then there are the wealthy, industrialized, western nations that have an extremely high average quality of life. Emphasis on average. Even in places like Canada and US, children are born into homes where their parents are drug addicts, abusive, or so poor they cannot afford to give them proper food. Black and First Nations people are significantly more likely to be imprisoned and in poverty. People have to work three jobs just to make ends meet due to insane rent prices. People are too poor or lack the ability to pursue higher education. Women are paid less for the same work and are significantly more likely to be subject to sexual harassment and violence. People are born with severe deformities or develop long term impairments due to accidents.
And then, in Camrose, Alberta, Canada (one of the wealthiest and easiest to live places in the world), a healthy, white male of British descent was born to rich, well behaved parents and received every possible benefit of well being, from unlimited food, instant access to top quality healthcare, advanced education, social communities, and personal autonomy.
That baby was me, of course.
Statistically, these odds are insane. Why was I not one of the billions of Chinese or Indian babies born in the late 20th century? Why was I not one of the hundreds of millions of aborted fetuses who never even made it to birth? Why was I not born in a random tribe in Tahiti in the year 1400? Why was I not born in 1200 Italy, 600 BC Babylon, a hunter gatherer society in northern Africa in 10,000 BC?
Even within Canada in 1995, why not in a First Nations reserve? Why not a single mother who had been knocked up and only had me to get paid maternity leave? Why not a deformity? Why not a disability?
Out of the entirety of history, current society, family structures, identities, and possible health outcomes, there is literally nothing I would pick above where and how I was born. How could I possibly deserve this, when so many others were not granted this?
I suppose I could just hold my head high and look down in superiority at all those who were not so lucky. I could say that my high income potential is a result of personal “merit” and that anyone could achieve what I have if they just worked harder. I could say that my health makes me genetically better and that the “strong should survive and thrive”. I could say that having advanced education is something I achieved because I am more talented than others and should be rewarded for that. I could say that being a white, Christian man has no connection to social advancement, and that women, blacks, and gays should stop complaining.
There are so many lies I could tell myself to justify the miracle of my completely undeserved birth. But rather than self-aggrandizement, I want self realization, and I want that self realization to teach me what my response to this miracle should be.
I often think of what Jesus said in Luke 12:48, that “to whom much is given, much is required.”
For those of us who have been given the greatest possible of everything, and come to the realization that it was very arbitrary and we don’t inherently deserve it in any way, there is only one rational response: the use of this gift in service to others.
The work of Martin Luther King Jr. was incredible, of course, but it makes sense. After all, he was black, and was fighting for his own rights. What’s strange is when white people who had nothing to gain fought for black rights, like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln.
It makes sense that Gandhi sought to help his people, but why did Mother Theresa move to India and help the people there, when she had no vested interest and would’ve been better off staying in Europe? Why did Bertrand Russell campaign for the rights of women and homosexuals, when he was a straight male? Why did Bill Gates give over $30 billion to the poor when he is a rich person? Why did Dietrich Bonhoeffer insist on standing up for the rights of Jews against the Nazis when he was a white, German Protestant?
The problem of identity politics is not that we should not understand our personal identities as they relate to our political ideas, but rather the notion that we cannot transcend them. Not only can we transcend them, we have an obligation to transcend them. When we realize that all people are equal, and that we have been given profoundly more than others, we feel a strong urge, not to lift ourselves higher by stepping on those below us, but to get down with them and lift them up.
White, Christian men born into good homes in Canada and US should be the most strongly affected by this. With the incredible gifts granted to us, we ought to come to terms with this miracle, and live it out practically. The pursuit of equality and a better life for all means giving our money, our time, our energy, to the betterment of people who were not granted the same miracle we were. We should be constantly grateful, profoundly generous, and replace self-serving aggrandizement with an inspired devotion to the service of others.
So, consider in your own life what kinds of advantages you’ve been given because of the time, place and circumstances by which you were born, and consider your responsibility to champion equality for those who were not as fortunate in whatever capacity that may be.