Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Extremophiles

Listening the other day to a radio show about "extremophiles"---organisms that live in extreme conditions (ie: bacteria that live in ice or in thermal oceanic heat vents)---I was moved to consider examples of human extremophiles.

Aside from the Inuits, the inhabitants of bleakest Siberia, desert nomads, and people who live at immensely high elevations, I was actually thinking of those who subsist and exist on the fringes of society:

Transgendered people live in what might be called extreme conditions, trying to live in a society where gender identity and gender roles are tightly held and adhered to by the majority.

Married gay people in Massachusetts live in a world wherein their legal rights as married people hold no weight once they cross the border into neighboring states. That said, unmarried gay and lesbian couples who share child-rearing, intimate connection, and financial commitment live in an extreme environment of injustice every day in countries all over the world.

The homeless are extremophiles extraordinaire, living on the literal fringes of society and culture, some by choice, others by virtue of untreated mental illness and sociopolitical apathy.

In the garbage dumps of Phnom Penh, Brazil,Mexico and beyond, hoards of children live in extreme poverty, subsisting from the sale or re-use of the wider society's detritus. Among this flotsam and jetsam they also find malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis, cholera, typhus, and infected wounds which go untreated due to the lack of medical care and societal will to face the atrocity of families living in garbage dumps around the world.

Numerous people live without access to healthcare, clean water, and healthy soil. African-Americans in the United States are 80% more likely to live in an area affected by toxic waste and carcinogenic pollution, according to a recently published report by the EPA. Many African women still live with the nightmare of forced prostitution and ritual genital mutilation. If that's not extreme, I don't know what is.

The list goes on.

Some of you might think, "Oh, here he goes again, blabbing on about those less fortunate, dripping with bleeding-heart-liberal-white-guilt." That may be true, but it's a dirty job and someone has to do it. Often the ones who call people's attention to such things are shot down or otherwise castigated, since others ofen don't want to be reminded of such things, especially when in the midst of rampantly conspicuous consumption. I don't mind taking that risk, and if one person thinks more keenly about these issues as a result of reading this, then it's worth the writing.

There are many extremes, including extremes of always thinking about those less fortunate, and perhaps I suffer from that particular affliction. Be that as it may, my mind will often wander down the paths and alleys frequented by the spirits of the downtrodden and disenfranchised, and that's something I have grown to accept and embrace in myself, while also striving to assuage those feelings with acknowledgement of all of the good will that exists in the world.

At this time of abundance and consumerist fantasy run amok, it can only serve the conscience to remember what lies beyond those golden gates of extreme affluence.
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