Flip The Pyramid

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

In a world of immeasurable resources, two thirds of its population is poor. How natural abundance and shocking scarcity co-exist is mind-boggling. In this context, it surely seems that man cannot manage mankind. No wonder that politics, from the argumentative to the violent, remains the dominant color of societies. And no wonder, too, that the poor remain the first victims, and the first public excuse of politicians in promoting their vested interests.

The world of nations is keenly aware of global poverty. In fact, poverty is a priority issue of the United Nations, a constant theme of millennium development goals. There are institutional programs to address poverty. Yet, global poverty defies global solutions.

I am struck by the sentiments of a young man, young at least to a senior citizen like myself. He is the chief executive officer of a national movement that has the poor front and center in its priority. While not studied at all in the formalities of technical protocol, he has achieved outstanding impact in the work of an organization he leads and inspires. Of course, he himself has been well-mentored by an elder of great vision and energy, a virtual builder of dreams.

In our continuing exchanges about the dynamics of poverty, there seem to be an oversimplification from his part. In his mind, he challenges us daily to simply care, and to be the hope for the poor. Even though he is an engineering graduate, what he engineers best are social structures and social movements.

The twenty-year difference in age allows me to be addressed as “Tito” or uncle. And this is a question that he poses to someone older who should know more, and better, “Tito, why not flip the pyramid? Why not put the base of the pyramid, or the two thirds, on top?”

At first glance, the question seems ridiculous. And the answer seems simple. We cannot put the base of the pyramid on top because the pyramid will topple. The structure cannot support itself with the tip holding the whole pyramid in place. Or so it seems.

Reality, however, shows that the structure of societies is, indeed, a pyramid that is flipped. The tip, the small point that sits on top of the pyramid, precisely does that—sits on top of everything. The pyramid symbolizes the dominance of the tip and the lowest position for the greater majority. If the dominant tip were the elite of the world, then that same elite cannot raise its own base. It simply will not have the strength, neither the inclination.

But how, then, will the poor un-poor themselves without destroying the natural order of things? The pyramid, after all, is not only a structure of beauty, it is also a structure of strength. Is it, therefore, the natural order of things that poverty belongs to the great majority and dominance to a minuscule tip?

Not so, says my young leader. He asserts, “Tito, the pyramid is a physical structure. It is more quantitative than qualitative as a physical structure. The base and graduating upper portion provide strength and stability. The tip is dominant only in that it is the pyramid’s highest point but the base is the most powerful.”

Man, however, has followed a natural physical structure but has put greater qualitative value to the tip in defiance of science. Societies have put power at the top, in the hands of the few. Power is qualitative, and that the top has most of it is understandable. But resources are physical. They should follow the natural order of the pyramid where the most goes to the majority. They do not, and this causes tension and chaos to define societal relationships.

“If we flip the pyramid and follow the qualitative formula of societies, then the majority become most important, and the majority are poor. Unless we flip the pyramid, the majority will continue to have the least value, and the least resources. So, Tito, let us flip the pyramid in our lives. Let the majority poor become the first priority in our value system.”

I wonder if it is his engineering background that provoked the image of the pyramid in his perspective of mankind, and his propensity to re-engineer things when they are not working. Maybe an oversimplification emphasizes the glaring imbalance of resources and dominance. It is the naked truth that the global base is weak, and that the powerful tip holds on to dominance on very delicate grounds.

How much of the ground is now shaking the top? How much of the world is in turmoil? How many wars are ongoing, how much terrorism now threatens the world, and why is barbarism resurfacing in many parts of the world?

How can a young man see what the powerful and learned cannot, or refuse to see? His point of view in any anti-poverty campaign and program is to simply care the most for the majority, and that our intolerance for poverty must result in our being the hope for the poor. How impossible is this solution? Or, how long can mankind afford not to adopt it?

The physical structure of the pyramid is solid, but the qualitative structure that societies have imposed on it is flipped. In the anomaly, however, might be the clue to its own correction. Flipping the pyramid again might be the only way to placate a severely imbalanced human existence. Flipping that pyramid means flipping our value system.

He is right, of course, notwithstanding the seeming impossibility of what he believes in. The funny part is that he sees the impossible happening, not in another lifetime, but actually emerging in the new generations of Filipinos. When more and more of them want to help the poor and the weak, when more and more of them want to be heroes for others, the pyramid is flipping.

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