For a few days now I have been reading a book by Janine Roberts entitled “Glitter & Greed : The Secret World of the Diamond Cartel.” My wife and I met Ms. Roberts last fall when she was on a U.S. tour promoting the book. She only had a short night to visit in Chicago; her speaking engagement was scheduled for the following morning, after which she was scheduled to fly to her next stop. We met her at her River North hotel and took her on a drive through the downtown area. We stopped briefly along the Chicago River, getting out of the car long enough to take a look at the skyline from the close perspective that East Wacker Drive provided. We then drove north to Devon Avenue, taking Ms. Roberts to our favorite Indian restaurant (Hema’s Kitchen).

It turns out that Jani (as Ms. Roberts prefers to be called in a familiar context) has spent quite a bit of time in India, and she was impressed at how Hema Potla grinds her own spices daily (this gives her cooking its distinctively full, sharp flavor). Over dinner and mango lassis we listened as Jani regaled us with a barrage of information from her research and her travels over the years. I discovered that Jani is quite a beautiful human being, and that she is a tireless and generous soul. I was quite impressed with how much energy she has put into shedding light on the plight of her fellow human beings, as well as with how she has often taken great personal risks to expose the complicity of those who profit handsomely from exploiting others.

I won’t give too much of the book away, but it will suffice to say that it is about the human rights horrors that have been generated in the service of the diamond trade. At the time when my wife and I met Jani, we were engaged to be married. We were in the process of buying rings, too. Though we didn’t stop ourselves from purchasing diamonds, my wife was compelled to order a copy of Jani’s book. Thus my current reading.

I am about a third of the way through, and I must say that I am quite disgusted with the sociopathic greed of the Oppenheimers and their ilk. More than that, though, I am disgusted with the apparent indifference that most of us consumers have to the trail of blood and misery that follows our precious little nothings. It isn’t just diamonds, either: oil, Coca-Cola, and cellphones are just a few of the raw materials or products that come to mind when I think of U.S. mass consumption in relation to suffering and death.

I know that the conditions and circumstances surrounding the production and manufacture of these goods, and the related political dynamics that create much suffering and death, are quite complex indeed. There are no simple or easy solutions to these issues. However, I think a good place to start might be the simple recognition that our materialistic culture of mass consumption could use a bit of introspection and revision.

Can we afford not to drink Coke if we know that people are being murdered in the name of the Coca-Cola company’s profits? Can we afford not to shop at Wal-Mart if we know that those rock-bottom prices are achieved at the expense of workers’ rights and well-being (in the U.S. and abroad)? Can we demand that our government enact policies that don’t put the profits of oil companies ahead of the lives of other peoples’ children? Would we demand that if we knew it might cost us another dollar per gallon of gas?

I’ve been to a few countries in the industrialized Western world, and I can say for sure that we here in the U.S. have some of the cheapest prices for goods such as gasoline and food. However, from all I’ve learned and what little I’ve seen of the ‘developing’ world, our easy living comes at quite a cost to others. How many of us would be willing, if only for a time, to sacrifice some of our comforts so that others might not have to suffer daily depradation or violent death?

This subject brings to mind a real-life anecdote. My wife and I usually place our city trash cans along the side of our garage in the alley, as our main garage door opens onto the street (we have a corner lot). The next-door neighbors don’t have the space to conveniently place their trash cans behind their property, so they place them next to ours. Last night my wife called me (I was at work) and told me that the next-door neighbors had trimmed the low-hanging branches of their backyard tree and left them in the alley. Before my wife saw the scene in the alley, the neighbors showed her the cleared area and exclaimed how happy they were that they now had the working space to plant a tomato garden. That was great, except that now there were these hulking, leaf-laden monsters hanging all over and behind the trash cans. I saw the spectacle when I arrived home this morning.

Now, in addition to risking a possible fine from the city, there is the ugly appearance of the huge branches covering and interfering with access to the trash cans. There is some doubt as to whether the city garbage collectors will readily discard the branches, as they are rather unwieldy and obnoxious. Furthermore, today is Sunday and garbage collection isn’t until Friday morning. My wife is concerned that if the branches dry out, some mischievous kid might come along and set them afire (such a thing happened last summer with a pile of dry grass); this would be bad, since the roof of the garage is made of wood. We will be out of town starting Thursday afternoon, so if the branches were to be left after Friday we wouldn’t be around to deal with any problems until late Sunday night– you get the point.

Whatever the possible repercussions of leaving those branches might be, there is the simple fact that the neighbors could have avoided all this with a simple bit of extra effort. Had they taken a few minutes of extra time to cut the branches into smaller, more manageable pieces, they could easily have stuffed those pieces into trash bags and put them to the side until it was time to place them out for collection early Friday morning. Instead, an unsightly and inconvenient potential nightmare was left behind my wife’s property for us to deal with.

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. In my time I’ve done less considerate things to neighbors, friends, ex-girlfriends (and ex-wife), etc. I am by no means condemning my neighbors; they are really great people and even better neighbors. However, they, like me, are still human beings. They accomplished something good for themselves, and in the process they left a mess that could potentially have bad repercussions for someone else. They most certainly didn’t do it out of malice, but they probably didn’t give much thought to the possible effects of leaving the branches out as they did.

I will leave you to draw the parallels between this anecdote and the subject I was ranting about before.

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