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Thread: another ethical dilemma

  1. #1
    sans le cafe Arianna's Avatar
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    Default another ethical dilemma

    So, I'm not usually one to post here in the deep thoughts, much less to start a thread... but I made the mistake of listening to NPR's This American Life (for those who don't know: this is a radio program in USA that showcases different stories - it is considered very liberal here) and, as usual, I started to assess my life.

    Specifically this story which is about an hour long but an interesting (and fairly entertaining) listen - the first half specifically.

    It is about a man who visits China to see the working conditions that produce the technology we use everyday. And it is heartbreaking to me. It makes me want to avoid this type of product because I don't want to contribute to the lifestyle it is causing. This is all stuff that I (and probably most of you) already know but choose to ignore because the alternatives are difficult if not impossible. It is a system that is so embedded that it is daunting to even think about the steps to altering it in any significant way.

    So, I ask: (and attempt to answer)

    1. does this system bother you? Enough to prompt action?

    yes. and another yes (or so I would like to believe, though I have been here before)

    2. what can the average (lower income) person DO?

    My attempt is always to buy used products and to buy from local business (but if the product is made in China, I'm just paying more of my hard earned money for the exact same product sold cheaper at a big box store) and/or locally and ethically sourced products. but it seems that owning a cell phone and computer is unavoidable today and there are no real alternatives that I can find to the large name products made in China. If our society depends on this system and the system depends on our participation than it seems that we would have the power to break that chain. But the scale is so massive, and many citizens cannot afford to do anything other than buy the cheapest product, that I'm at a loss. There would have to be a viable and affordable alternative and enough of a push that people would embrace the new alternative. and how can anyone possibly compete with the cheap labor that China has made from its citizens? the system makes so much money for so many people that there is a huge backlash for anything or anyone trying to alter it - like the Western corporations turning a blind eye to child labor, and the jailing of Chinese union members, etc. And it has gained such control that any uprising seems easily stoppable for them which is why nothing has changed yet. It seems so far away from us here (and even when one visits China, this type of labor is kept from the public eye as much as possible) that we always seem to be able to forget about this travesty.

    Is change impossible? Is it just too hard?
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  2. #2
    major major major major dark fuschia's Avatar
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    Default Re: another ethical dilemma

    It's a hard one, everyone seems to have their head in the sand about Chinas poor human rights. However, as a nation they are experiencing huge economic growth, with the average standard of living improving markedly all the time. I predict that eventually it will be us working in factories producing stuff for them. So maybe we should make the most of it?

  3. #3
    Quick! To the Volcano! High House Moon Eyreplenh's Avatar
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    Default Re: another ethical dilemma

    Like Fuschius said, this is a big one.

    I'll try to honestly answer your questions first. Yes, it bothers me. That was the easy part. Enough to prompt action? Sigh. Well, I like to think I'm doing something, and probably my habits in the area is better than the average Joe. Considering that average Joe is a pretty awful guy when it comes to this though, my effort isn't really that impressing.

    So, what can we do? I believe anyone can make a difference if they really want to. Simply changing your purchasing habits is one. Doing as you are, and buying at second hand stores, is in my opinion awesome. It's just plain and easy better for everyone. Or, one can always do as me, and try to stop purchasing stuff other than food alltogether. Just try to remember why you're doing it, so you don't just end up like a cheap bastard. I'm trying hard not to forget

    Besides paying attention oneself to ones patterns, there are other small things I think is possible to do also. Whenever at a store, you can make sure always to ask for ethical products before bying it, to exaggerate the demand there is for these things. Overall, I think most stores will probably rely on their statistics, but some store-owners could be swayed, perhaps. Also, there is the sometimes awkward thing that is trying to convince friends and others to follow your lead. This can be a bitch, I know, because it's not always cool to be the "umm, but" person. Over here there's already been quite a few succesfull small campaigns on facebook and twitter to make stores/producers change their products and stock etc. But then again, we're a small nation over here, so these things might not be as applicable over yonder

    When it comes to China specifically, I don't really know to much. The kind of working conditions you can find there I think you can find a lot of other places too (not that it makes things any better), and of course it's not good. China is still experiencing a quite fascination economical growth though, and I think that's going to change the country alot, even as it has changed already. Part of the problem is that even though more and more people are lifted out of poverty, and thus maybe are able to refuse taking on the worst jobs/able to demand some better conditions, there so many more! Lifting 600 million out of poverty leaves just as many still poor!

    In class the other day we talked about how part of what sets humanity apart is our social dimension. Before, this was limited to people of our own family, then same group, nation, race, and so on... Now, we've come a long way, and for normal people it is impossible to kill one another in cold blood (war not accounted for). However, our way of life in the west ultimately leads to the premature deaths of millions in other parts of the world. How long can we live with that before reality catches up with us?
    High Marshal of Decadence


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  4. #4
    major major major major dark fuschia's Avatar
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    Default Re: another ethical dilemma

    I have a new thought. The nuns always taught it was okay to steal if you are starving... so applying that theory this topic... we should partake of ethically sketchy technologies only when we percieve we need it to survive. Therefore, if we need a smart phone for our job to survive, we should get one. But if we are predominantly using our smart phone for faceboking etc... maybe we should rethink. Smartphones come to mind due to the recent scandals about the dangerous processes used to make iphone screens and horrendous working conditions.

    I do agree that needless consumption is so damaging to everyone, but there is a capitalist in me too that says moderate consumption is good for everyone. There is a socialist element to me too though, because I do believe consumption should be regulated rather than subject to the free market. Of course both approaches have their ethical advantages and disadvantages. I know it is complicated.
    I do think that the western lifestyle comes no where near resembling moderate consumption and it has knock on effects that really makes us big losers too, as people become isolated and disconnected from community, and have to spend more and more time working, often in unethical jobs themselves, to support a lifesyle they don't really need and is ultimately unfulfilling.

    We could all make a commitment to try and live more modestly, rather than cutting things out. Think of something we don't really need, and think of the ammount we spend on it, and then equate that to the time we spend working to earn that money, and consider if it is worth it.. (both to ourselves and the others who produce it) hmm you have inspired me to think a bit Arianna. I have already had these thoughts brewing a bit.

  5. #5
    void Anita Blake's Avatar
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    Default Re: another ethical dilemma

    Part of me wants to go the route of "China has too many people anyway, and every person who dies making technology is one less person on this overpopulated planet". Than another part of me says "what a bitch you are, people's lives should not suck to the point of suicide just so that you and your compatriots can have cool toys."

    I'm of the moderation mind. I don't think that we should buy the newest thing because it's newer than last year's thing. I don't think we should toss perfectly serviceable items away in order to have something newer and flashier, and I try to live by that, but don't always succeed.

    But I also think that we should let companies know that operating sweatshops in order to keep prices down is not acceptable, even if the sweatshops are in another country, out of sight and out of mind.

    I think that the solution for the ethically-minded, lower income individual is to stop trying to keep up with the joneses. Stick with the necessities. It's hard, and it sucks a lot, but if you want to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. For the average lower-income individual, I don't know, because if you don't have ethics stopping you from buying cheap crap at Wal-Mart, and you are average and want to have all the things that mass media tells you you are supposed to want to have, I don't know what on earth is going to stop you. There are powerful psychological forces at work in modern society, and the bulk of people are susceptible to believing that more stuff = better economy = more personal happiness.

    I can only think that subversive counter-culture is the cure, but only when it reaches the point of becoming actual culture rather than counter-culture.
    Your sense of self is defined by what you think other people think of you.

    I'm a militant Agnostic: I don't know and neither do you!

  6. #6
    ~sigh~ High House Dawn Buck's Avatar
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    Default Re: another ethical dilemma

    My opinion may be biased by the people I work with (most of them are Chinese!), but here goes:

    A single person decision to not buy anything made in a country that takes advantage of its labor force won't work. Especially with China, the industrial exportation is on too large of a scale to seriously think that opting out of your next phone, tablet, or whatever will have any impact. This sort of problem needs to be tackled globally through trade embargoes. If you really feel strongly enough about this, by all means write your local representatives/senators and plead them. Start a petition even.

    Yes it sucks what's going on there, but the current issue is just one cog in a large contraption. And one that will not last long, China is definitely turning into a fully developed country. Yes, they have some major issues but what countries don't have their own problems? At the rate they are expanding markets, educating their people, and building infrastructure, they'll be considered a "first world" country within the decade; making them a much fiercer economic world power than they have been in the last 5 years.

    How exactly that will impact their economy is a whole other can of worms. Not straying too far off topic, I will just finish off by stating that all sorts of people get taken advantage of all the damn time. China is full of people aware of the problem and they are capable of solving their problems without external influence or hand holding. There are already Chinese who speak out against the government, and generally speaking it's a bit safer to do that now than it has been in the past.

    I'm not a huge fan of an external power or government meddling in the affairs of other countries. Unless it's help asked for, don't over meddle, imo. Voicing concerns is about as far as I'd go with this problem. That and trade sanctions as mentioned above.


    I won't feel guilt for my laptop, phone, and other knick knacks. Nor will I try to justify it either. This sort of issue will continue to crop up due to the mechanics of how modern capitalism works.
    Last edited by Buck; January 31st, 2012 at 18:27.
    I wanna be like a goose and fly to new orleans for the winter and to canada for the summer.

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  7. #7
    Quick! To the Volcano! High House Moon Eyreplenh's Avatar
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    Default Re: another ethical dilemma

    [offtopicjoke] Hah, but take a look at all your knick knacks from an environmental perspective, does that move your guilt-shakers? [/offtopicjoke]
    High Marshal of Decadence


    And all I loved, I loved alone

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