Amberwe found this video a few months ago-it is great, really makes you think about....stuff. We try hard not be consumers. It did inspire us to get rid of our flame resistant pj's for our kids.KT
Yeah--KT. It really does make you want to think carefully before you throw away one more thing or buy one more thing. I'm editing a story today at work that is about a mother in Honduras who works in a T-shirt factory that exports their T-shirts (probably to the US). She has to live 5 hours away from her family at the factory, and work crazy hours just to feed her children. The factories do give jobs to a lot of people who need to feed their children, but they also steal their lives, as they work in dangerous conditions for too many hours for too little pay and benefits. It's more than sad to read these stories each day.
I tried to be optimistic about the video, but it was very hard to watch in its entirety. I would have to re-watch it and take notes to comment on all the things about it that are either factually inaccurate or just gross simplifications of complex processes.For example.... the U.S. does not spend 50% of it's budget on the military, it's about 20%, and that's right now, while we're 'at war'. Granted that was a tangential point, but it was included as it helps paint her picture of the US.One thing I do agree with, is that it is silly to be fickle about goods, no sense in wasting money on a new microwave if the old one still works, etc.Regarding the simplistic view of 'toxics' aka toxins, being poured into all of our products... well, there are a lot of scary sounding chemicals, but the fact is that today we are more conscious about adverse effects of substances than at any time in history, and 50 years from now they will presumably know more about how to avoid detrimental practices than we do now.A good example is the recent history of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, flame retardants which were found to cause thyroid problems and affect the nervous and reproductive systems. These ethers are most commonly found in computers, televisions, mobile phones, automotive and construction materials, mattresses, carpets and upholstered furniture. Other types of brominated flame retardants have been used in children’s pajamas, but it is extremely uncommon. Europe has banned the usage of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and similar legislation is in the works in the US. Long story short, there was a problem with furniture burning too easily and spreading fire in households, killing people. The 'evil corporations' find a way to mitigate the danger. Then down the road it's discovered that their solution has a downside, better solutions are developed, so on and so forth. The question is, do the benefits of the original solution outweigh the costs? Based on the reduction in housefires, it is estimated that fire retardant materials account for ~400 lives saved annually in the US. I would argue that it is better to save lives than to do nothing out of fear of some unknown unintended consequence.Here's a tangent to think on... people love talking about toxins and how cancer rates have increased over the years. Now, consider that today's life expectancy is longer, we've got treatments for many more life threatening diseases (including cancer) than we used to, and that we are better able to detect cancer than ever before. Given those considerations, would you rather have lived 80 years ago or today? The statistics need to be framed in the context of reality, the reality is that cancer rates are affected by life expectancy, and also should be viewed alongside deaths from other diseases to understand that while cancer deaths are up, death from things like, I don't know... tuberculosis are way down.Anyway, sorry to vent/rant/whatever this might be, but oy! Stuff like this video gets me going, it annoys me greatly when people lie to promote their cause du jour. It saddens me that so many obviously well-intentioned people are, in my eyes, horribly misled (Think PETA, Greenpeace, etc.)Well again, sorry to dump on the vid, guess it didn't suit me. The Onion video though, that made it all better! And I hope I don't come across as a big jerk, at least not a bigger jerk than I normally am.-Jonathan Hart-Jerkwad Extraordinaire
Hi Jon! Thanks for your comment. You're not a jerkwad extraordinaire. (At least, that post isn't why you're one.) You're smart and I appreciate your perspective. The real question is what will Jon Hart do with his tremendous brain power? Mike and I were wondering that today, but that's another topic. The reasons you mention in your post are partly why I mentioned not to be deafened by her political insinuations. I don't, personally, agree with much of what she says. But I also don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.It seems so many times that those who are trying to convince others that important changes need to happen regarding environemntal use or human labor go too far. And then because the rest of us can't swallow everything they have to say, we don't swallow anything. I don't mean this about you, Jon, it's just what I've observed happen before. What I actually found the most compelling about the video was the attitudes toward consumerism/materialism. Mike and I talked about this last night. It really is true that our mindsets on buying and discarding have radically changed in just 50 years, and that change happened as a result of a calculated effort. Now, were those people who made the calculated effort evil? Maybe. Maybe not. But many of them who implented the marketing strategies perhaps just didn't realize what the end result would be. But now it's here, and it's good to know that we can, once again, change our mindsets. Although lately it seems our mindsets are only being worsened right now. Who decided it was OK to create and market toilet brushes that you use once and throw away? Frickin' clean your toilet brushes and use them again!!! (Sorry, tangent.)One of the interesting things that is happening in the world right now is that India and China are starting to get wealthier. And they are starting to live like Americans--adopting our eating and purchasing and discarding habits (though they are much less conscious and worried about the last, as far as I can tell). It was not so noticable on the earth when it was just America and small other European pockets living like we do, but it's clear that we can't have the entire planet living like us. It's in part to blame for the food crisis and for the worsening, no, destruction, of the environment around the world. No matter what we believe on many of these subjects, the human factor is what gets me in the end. We can believe different things about chemicals or global warming, but we can't deny what we see happening to people. People are being used up and thrown out by factories (God help the factory owner on Judgment day). The poorest are the ones living on the garbage heaps and pilfering their livelihoods out of it once their rivers are choked with refuse. That's part of why we don't see it. All the butt ends of our decisions are discarded onto the poor. I don't know that I'll ever personally experience the consequences of the system. I'm rich enough to buy clean water, buy more expensive food, ship out my trash, or move someplace better. The poor are powerless and speechless. And this isn't some doomsday future thing. And it's not propaganda. It's right now. I look at the pictures every day. I think even if we don't agree with everything this video says, as Christians we have to make choices that care for "the least of these."
I guess that's the thing I wonder about, are people in other parts of the world 'third world' worse off than they were 50 or 80 years ago? I understand that there are many shortcomings in the system, heck, any system with humans involved will be flawed, but is the spread of American ideals, capitalism, democracy, freedom and whatnot actually detrimental to other parts of the world? Is the lady working 5 hours from her family better off than she would be if not for the factory she works in? I'm not asking if it's a great situation, I'm just saying, that if working there is all that provides for her children to eat, isn't that better than not having that resource?I remember in my Environmental Ethics course, we talked about the notion of overpopulation, and discussed food shortages and starving. What some maintain, is that the earth can sustain 10 billion people. That number is figured by calculating the current rate of crop growth and using it all to feed people rather than animals which later get eaten by people, which is less efficient than food straight to the person. There exists no global shortage of food available, what does exist are localized shortages. It is a problem of distribution. Myanmar is a good example, as aid is readily available, but the government initially barred all foreign aid and then allowed aid as long as they could control who got it.I guess what I'm not so eloquently getting at, is that I don't believe the problems of hunger in this world are a result of lack of resources, or the rich nations hogging of resources, but rather the failings of governments in these countries. I like the World Food Programme's interactive hunger map, I think you posted it at some point. It is a good visual. How many governments in Africa are stable? How many of those countries are in near-perpetual civil war? Another great example is South Korea, if you click on East Asia, South Korea is the only spec of green (indicating little hunger) in the entire area. Is it a coincidence that South Korea is the only democracy in the region? Well it could be, but I doubt it.I reject the premise that consumption of goods/services is the great evil that so many paint it as. Some resources are finite, sure, but others will go on as long as the sun shines. I agree that people shouldn't be lazy, waste is waste and they could do better things with their money. I also maintain that many people are value driven, and will seek to maximize the useful life of their possessions. A free market rewards efficiency, a Honda Accord is a good example. Someone might by a new Honda Accord every two years... and since the Honda Accord is known to have a long lifespan, the resale value of the car is quite high. This sort of efficiency helps promote conservation of materials, as auto-makers seek to maximize their revenues by creating as much value as they can.That being said, I agree that there are a great many things on the market that seem like ridiculous allocation of resources. I think we see the same wastes and inefficiencies, but we see a different cause behind them.I personally, would much rather be the factory owner than Kim Jong-il on that fateful day.I am glad that there are many organizations focused on righting social injustices in this world, but I think many of their efforts are rendered futile by corrupt governments. I find it a great irony, that so many of these organizations support politicians who have non-interventionalist foreign policies. I think Reagan achieved more in the way of humanitarianism by fighting communism than all of the 'world hunger' and 'social injustice' organizations combined.In my mind, Anne Leonard is starting from a set of false premises, which makes me think that the baby in her bathwater is a phantom. And phantom baby needs to go out with the bathwater.... :) But seriously, greed can have terrible consequences, and it'd be a better world if everyone cleaned their toilet with a non-disposable toilet brush, or maybe a sponge, or leaves on a stick...and also peanut butter and jelly mixed together in one jar... that's ridiculous. I think we can all agree on that.-Jonathan Hart-Capitalist Pig-dog
"Phantom baby" is rather an apt analogy. Those living in poverty in the developing world are an inconvenient truth to those who live around them and to those who live far away from them, and so they remain ignored, phantom people who can be used and discarded out of sight. You and I will never have to look into their eyes.Let's assume that working in a factory isn't all that bad. (The objection isn't to the existence of factories, but the lives they give their employees in order to keep prices down.) Let's look at what the factory workers' lives look like. (Note, that none of this is based on something Annie Leonard reports, but from interviews with the women themselves, done by the church, read by me.)Look through your closet, you probably have a piece of clothing made in Indonesia. It might have been a T-shirt you paid 7.99 for. The average woman working in a textile factory in Indonesia will make about $1 a day. Let's assume she works every day that month (which is unlikely; they are hired as day laborers, not permanent employees, so that no benefits need be paid and so that no worker ever has security or can save).That woman will make $30 a month. This amount won't pay any respectable rent, so she lives in a slum in Jakarta. This slum popped up on government land, basically squatters who have nowhere else to go. Someone pieced together a one-room 8x8 "home" from scraps of wood and sheet metal from the garbage dump a few steps away. The woman pays $15 to $20 a month to live here with her 4children, leaving 10 or 15 bucks a month for the rest of their necessities. The slatted roof of their home doesn't really keep the rain out at night. Her first baby got pneumonia. On one dollar a day, she can't afford any medical care. She took him to the medicine man, but it didn't help, and her baby died. Her other children are left alone all day--no day care for the poor. Sometimes her mother or her neighbor will watch her children for her. Most of the time, the children do as they please. There are no services in this slum of course--no electricity or water or trash removal or sanitation. So a feces-infected stream trickles outside their front door. The 2 year old plays in the stream during the day, making mud cakes out of it. This child gets diarrhea. The mother is illiterate and has never been taught anything about how to handle this. She doesn't know that the baby needs purified water or that he needs to be rehydrated. So he's constantly sickly and will likely die before he reaches 5. There's not much hope for the children to go to school--there's no way she can afford the fees and books and uniforms for all of them. So she saves pennies a day to send one of them. He goes, but doesn't do very well. He's usually too hungry to concentrate, having eaten no breakfast and only one bowl of rice the day before. Sometimes the family eats two bowls of rice, sometimes one. The father is away on a fishing boat most of the time. When he comes back, they might have a piece of fish on their rice once or twice a month. The boy going to school doesn't see much point of it. He's never seen anything but the garbage dump around him and unemployment and hopelessness. He sees no hope there will ever be anything else. This family's life is just one example. The causes of poverty are many, and it would be a vast over-simplification to state that their poverty is a result of consumerism. These people were in poverty before the factory arrived, most likely. The factory is exploiting a bad situation, putting its foot on the back of the poor and keeping their faces in the mud, in order to keep the few wealthy and in order to deliver unknowing consumers a cheap T. Should the local government be responsible to help these people? I think so. But that doesn't mean we can wash our hands of them either. The Bible lists verse after verse after verse about helping the poor, and gives no ifs and or buts about helping them if the government is corrupt or inefficient or inept, or any other reason we typically give to ignore or blame the poor. It says simply this:"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58)"When the Son of Man comes in glory, all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people...He will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me. I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of teh least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment."Matthew 25Harsh words, but they're not mine.
I don't have anything to add to this discussion, really. I understand where Jon is coming from because what he says are the things that pop into my mind. However, I've gotten to learn a WHOLE lot more than I used to about situations that I really knew very little about (after all how many of us spend much time in Africa or Asia) through Amber and her trips and her book and working with Compassion. Issues like this are always a problem because there are so many sides to the problem and there are aren't any perfect solutions or simple solutions (or even ways of understanding the problem). It was good for me to read Amber's book. I got a much broader understanding of the situation and a greater sympathy for everyone involved. There's a lot more similarity between us as people with those people in the slum across the globe than I thought, and there's a lot more difference between the culture they inhabit and the one I inhabit than I thought.Argumentation isn't really fruitful, but I will say the the whole "better off than they would have been" argument doesn't hold water (it came up in my ethics class at CU as a way of justifying a quite astounding number of things). It's a pretty slippery slope and a dangerous argument to use, and not really fruitful. For one things, it's very speculative. For another, it's really a case by thing, and in lots and lots of cases the people are worse off (it's worse to be poor in an industrialized urban situation than an agrarian subsistence situation) and in some cases they're not. But it's not a simple thing where you can change one thing or turn back one occurance that led to this situation; it's a whole enmeshed history and process. And the real truth is that just because someone isn't worse off than they might have been had we not become involved in this way or had this or that not happened doesn't justify or excuse what IS happening and how things are (particularly if we've become involved). There's a paper I had to read for my ethics class (a very famous paper) on the subject of how it doesn't matter what situation we leave the earth for future generations (or what we do to future generations) because, without our actions (such as the introduction of idustrialization and medicine) they wouldn't have existed. So no matter what, they're better off than they would have been. But, in my opinion, by coming in and helping to create the situations (even inadvertently) that caused the existence of these future generations in these ciurcumstances, we've made ourselves responsible for them. In any case, we're still responsible for our current actions, especially once we've become aware of the effects they're having.Really, though, the verses Amber gave are the far better response. All of the arguments don't really matter. These people are our brothers and God has asked us to care about them and for them (it's one of the reasons he gives wealth to the wealthy, to help the poor, as a way of testing and developing our character to be mor like his) and to understand their problems.
It's good to hear an account of someone living in the situation. And I would never argue against scripture unless it was being misapplied somehow.I think it's good that so much aid is directed at poor parts of the world, all of the organizations that seek to feed the hungry are undertaking a noble endeavor for sure, and it is no doubt good to encourage people to donate more.I wouldn't use the 'better off' argument to support the conditions, but was just asking if the people are better off having work, given Amber's account of one typical situation, it doesn't sound like 'better' is a good way to describe it, maybe just different, maybe worse.I don't think we are freed from responsibility just because the governments' of poor countries are largely (if not entirely)responsible for the situation. Supporting organizations like Compassion seems a great way to be involved in helping, I also feel that we have a great responsibility to use the government we've got to help promote change in other countries.Many think it's ethnocentric or jingoistic to push other countries toward democracy/freedom, but the historical evidence seems overwhelming, take the power out of the hands of evil tyrants and give it to the people, and they will be better for it.I have no arguments regarding what either of you have said, I just disagree with the premise that the video uses. Like Mike said, there is no parallel universe in which we can see how things would play out if they had been done differently. I see the US, and capitalism (even consumerism, to some extent), as a source of solution, not as the root of problems in the world. Which is what I had intended to communicate without getting too into the political realm.I apologize if I seemed in any way dismissive of the deplorable conditions that many people live in, personally it is hard for me to be affected emotionally by situations that I feel so incredibly removed from. My passions on the issues in the realm of worldwide human well-being have been stirred most by learning about politics. Learning about the amazing changes in countries where the US supported anti-communist movements, with people like Reagan having an enormous impact on generations down the road. My reaction to the video is not a dismissal of the problem of hunger and poverty in the world, but rather a defense to what seemed an attack on American exceptionalism. That phrase certainly doesn't elicit positive thoughts for many people, but it is what I see as a credit to the rich Christian heritage of the founding fathers of this country.Really, like most American's I probably won't do more than donate what I choose and vote for those that have a foreign policy that I can get behind. And people like you, Amber, provide information which serves as great motivation for the average Joe to choose to give more.-J-Dizzle
Hi J-Dizzle. I agree that government needs to be involved. (Whether that's the local govt or the American govt is a topic for another day. :) ) But govt does need to regulate labor laws, and in this case, the American consumer needs to be willing to pay more for products in order to pay their workers fairly. The factories aren't evil per se, though I would argue the conditions working in a factory are worse than before a rural agriculture existence, in that the santiation in urban slums where the factories are located are what is causing a lot of infant mortality, and then also gangs and delinquency (...sorry, tangent).Giving money to NGOs isn't the only or best way to fight poverty. For example, it's rather backward that we buy the products created from this factory for far too little to support the workers and then instead send monetary aid to the children of the worker through Compassion. It would be better to pay the worker rightly. But that's also a vast oversimplification. In Compassion's case, they are focused on holistic child ministry, meaning that they don't just give monetary aid, but seek to develop the children into responsible Christian adults who can be the ones who change their countries. For example, Compassion now has a Leadership Development Program which sends those who have gone through Compassion to college in order to become servant Christian leaders of their countries, lawyers, politicians, doctors, to change their country from the inside so that international aid will be unnecessary. You're so cerebral Jon. Thanks for bringing lively conversation to my blog!
Yo, Miss Amber, I'd be curious to see where we agree and disagree on our political views :)- scubalou
Well, Louis, although you couldn't tell it from this string of comments, I actually completely abhor discussing politics. Really, I really hate it more than going to the doctor or the dentist or anything I can think of. :) I think I just hate conflict (and often misread disagreement as conflict), so I avoid it most of the time and talk about food instead. :)
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