Sundry Anecdotal Evidence That Things are Really, Really Bad (and We Must Be Good)

Yesterday, in an historically upwardly mobile local neighborhood,  I talked with a women who had stopped to load a broken air conditioner into her car.

“Need help?”

“I think I got it.”  She was struggling. “I’m going to recycle this.  They always say whenever you see an air conditioner out for garbage, grab it.”

“You’re going to take it to scrap?”

“Yep.”

“How much is scrap going for these days?”

“I don’t know. I got 15 yesterday for little odds and ends.  And this is heavy.  I need everything I can get. I have cancer.  I can only work 2 or 3 hours a day.”

I didn’t ask if she had insurance.

 

Yesterday, Amazon papered the Lehigh Valley in “come work for us” post cards.  There’s just one problem with that.

Last night, I heard the Executive Director of Turning Point, a regional shelter, counseling, and advocacy organization for survivors of domestic violence/partner abuse say that this year, demand for services has increased 40%.  This was in response to a question from another non-profit director about possible correlations between the continually failing economy and increased instances of domestic abuse.

 

A few hours ago, I found out about Hallmark’s new line of job-loss sympathy cards.  They are selling well.

 

A few minutes later, I saw that infographic showing the percentage of Americans who are millionaire (1 percent) vs. the percentage of Congress with that kind of wealth (50).

 

Things are really, really, and I mean really bad.

 

Thank God for good things like this:

 

 

Things are bad. But we can be good.  Quite simply, we must.

The High Cost of Cheap Goods: Going to Hell In a Hand-Held Device

091208- Mike Daisey @ TBA08 1c
Mike Daisey image by djbrokenwindow via Flickr

Three Pillars Trading Company is a client of mine. I’m producing blog articles for this fair-trade, sustainable import business, and from time to time, I’ll be sharing pieces of them here. My first post at Three Pillars is about the disgusting conditions that factory workers in Shenzhen, China endure while they put together our computers and hand-held devices. Yes, as fellow Apple fanboy Mike Daisey exposes, even our MacBooks and iPhones.

An excerpt:

Monologist and raconteur Mike Daisey recently spent hundreds of hours exploring the treatment of industrial workers in the Shenzhen region of China. His findings are nothing short of chilling, and he’s taking to the stage (and Internet) to get the message out. Mike makes the stunningly simple observation that while most justice-minded people work very hard to integrate their ethics and consumer choices when buying socks and sneakers, very few of us ever really stop think about the fabrication and delivery chains that produce our favorite hand-held devices.

Continue reading here. Whatever you do, be sure to click through and watch the video interviews TechCrunch conducts with Daisey. They’ll make you angry, sad, and sick. The fact that people like Mike Daisey exist might also make you feel some hope. As I’ve said before, if I ever link to anything I’ve been paid to produce, I’ll say so. That’s the case here, but, as you might know, I only take jobs from organizations I can get behind.  It would be great if you surfed from here to my cool new client, but much more important to me and to Three Pillars is that you please, please, please hear what Mike Daisey has to say. In fact, here’s a direct link right to the TechCrunch article with three video segments. They are worth your time.

As for Three Pillars, one of the chief goals of their blog is to provide a place of interest and information gathering around the the kinds of issues that people interested in fair-trade goods are likely to also care about. If you do make your way there, I know the Three Pillars folks would appreciate any feedback or comments you might have about how to make the blogging experience on their site all it can be. My job is strictly on the content side and I get to pick the issues I blog about there.  If you have suggestions, please let me know.

While we’re on the subject of sustainability, and since I used “hell” in the title (that’s just a figure of speech, Rob Bell), I’ll also say this: after watching Daisey speak, I’m seriously worried about the state of the Western soul. Most of us don’t know that a company as seemingly with it as Apple is party to the things happening in Shenzen. We get great products for low Western prices, but at an unknown human cost to people with even less access to power than most of our own unemployed homeless.

I’ll be honest. This makes me feel like shit. Since I read Karl Rahner in div school (Savvy Sister, are you a fan of his? I am.), I’ve always thought his take on original sin made the most sense: everyday, we’re part of sinful, evil systems that we don’t even know about. Doing something as simple as buying a banana (let alone an gallon of gas or an iPod) might end up supporting unspeakable evil. The same goes for your retirement funds. Unless you’re in a socially aware mutual fund, chances are your IRAs are funding weapons and Chinese petro companies with dirty hands in Darfur. Shit, when I worked in finance, even the so-called “socially responsible funds” invested in Big Pharmaceuticals and Big Banks because after taking out cigarette makers,  arms makers, gambling companies, pornographers and environmentally destructive firms, Banking and Medicine were the only two industries left. If you want a brief rundown on how powerful those industries are, consider if this is true where you live like it is here: most of the most consistent new construction going on prior to the banking crisis and even after was and is for new banks and new drugstores. I’m not saying prescription drugs aren’t legit or that there’s something wrong with taking medicine as directed, but we all know that on the R&D and supply ends, opportunity for corporate abuse is rife. I don’t think I need to say anything at all about banks and financial institutions. You know where I’m going.

Where does all this bullshit evil come from in the first place? I know the following:

  1. everyone we meet is fighting a great war.
  2. Karl Barth, (Karl Rahner’s Protestant Number) said that evil is the aggregation of humankind’s repeated choice of Das Nichtige (very basically: choosing “Not God” (aka “Nothingness”) instead of God, who is life) played out in history.   He’s not very far from Rahner here when it comes down to it: Evil is a given, and it gets amplified as we continue to choose it (or, finally, participate it in unknowingly because it’s so entrenched).  Its the manifestation of everything that isn’t God, actualized by aggregate choices and non-choices framed by the earlier actions of others (which, in fact, may not have been truly free choices, given #1).
  3. be kind, because (see #1).
Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Crunch.

A dear friend of mine, wry with a sort of common-sense Pennsylvania German-Lutheran fatalism would say this leaves us pretty screwed.  But I’m not so sure about that in the end. Shortly after I got out of the mutual fund industry, another friend of mine with many years in the retirement-planning business told me that it was impossible to invest with your conscience. As you might expect, I disagree. You probably do, too. Whether you’re a person a faith or simply a person of faithful ethics, you already know that voting with your dollars, so to speak, requires certain sacrifices. I’m due for a phone upgrade this month. Oh, how I want an iPhone. But maybe I won’t get anything. I know the phone I would have bought will still be made in shit-hole conditions and will still be sold. I know it will be the best looking chunk of original sin on the market. How funny that it’s made by a company who’s logo is a piece of bitten fruit. Well, not funny ha ha. Funny strange. Actually, not so funny at all.

So, friends, what we do we about all of this?

Some Political Sequiturs: Your Extreme Pocket Guide To Political Philosophy

Aristotle Ethica Nicomachea page 1
Aristotle dedicated his most important ethical treatise to his son.
None of the following thoughts originated with me.  I’m just helping curate.
  • Fiscal responsibility is a progressive position.
  • Conservative, liberal, progressive, radical…these are labels powerful people use to keep people with most interests in common apart.  In reality, most voters have no interest in this kind of politics, no use for these kind of names, no time for these games, waning patience for these kind of political “ethics.”
  • Members of the middle class tend to identify with the upper class because they see upward mobility as reachable and good.  That’s fine, except when it keeps us from also identifying with the economic underclass from which most of us came, part of which most of us could still easily be, and to which we have human, civic, moral and spiritual responsibilities, as they have also to us.  As we all have to each other.
  • Prudence is not a reactionary or cautious position.  It’s knowing the good and know how to bring it about and then doing it. (Aristotle)
  • We have more similarities than differences.
  • Citizens of different nations have more in common with each other than they do with their own ruling classes.
  • Information wants to be free, and so do people.
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

Briefly, on David Chase, Mad Men, and Us

‎”It’s about the actual moment-to-moment job of being alive. And being an adult in America.”

David Chase said this about Mad Men, but how often do we forget that life is, in its way, a job, and that living ethical lives as adult Americans is complicated, nuanced, messy, dangerous, and essential?  Be encouraged…we’re in this together.