Air Date 6/13/2022
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we should take a look at the struggle to act ethically, at least by our own measure, relating to the purchases of both the necessities of life we all need, as well as the more luxury items that get added on top.
Sources today include @professor_neal, The Kavernacle, Kuncan Daster, poppysaw, Pullback, The Gray Area, Wise Crack, and Like Stories of Old, with additional members-only clips from Roundtable and Parkrose Permaculture.
No ethical consumption under capitalism: short deep dive - @professor_neil - Air Date 4-13-23
NEIL SHYMINSKY - @PROFESSOR_NEIL: So the idea of no ethical consumption under capitalism has its origin in the nineties and the practice of ethical consumerism. The ethical consumer acknowledges that capitalism is exploitative, but that that exploitation exists on a scale. Some companies offer better pay, are less environmentally destructive, and so on. So a $1 chocolate bar made from cocoa harvested by slave wage child laborers is less ethical than a bougie [00:01:00] $10 bar made from cocoa harvested at a living wage.
But as soon as people started talking about ethical consumerism, it came under fire; for one, because it is unavoidably classist. Who gets to call themselves an ethical consumer here? In our chocolate example, very few people can afford to buy the $10 bar. The ethical product serves this dual purpose of alleviating the wealthy of their guilt, while also shifting blame to the middle and working class who can't afford it. Because if they're not part of the solution, they're part of the problem, right?
The philosopher Slavoj Žižek mockingly calls this "consumer activism." He criticizes it for reframing problems of inequity and inequality as a problem created by consumers that can only be solved by consumers, both of which are demonstrably wrong.
It is highly unlikely that $10 chocolate bar will change anything. Particularly since buying ethical usually happens on such a small scale, it's unlikely to be able to alleviate the harms of capitalism anyway. And so all that the practice of ethical consumerism might actually accomplish is to alleviate the people who participate of their obligation to look deeper, and to accomplish actual meaningful [00:02:00] change. Because that $10 chocolate bar is not making change; it's more like purchasing indulgences.
Which brings us to 2014 and the appearance of the "this is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt, which was a collaboration between the feminist organization the Fawcett Society, LUK Magazine, and the fashion brand Whistles. And within weeks of the shirt's debut, it was revealed that this $45 t-shirt was being produced in Mauritius at a factory that paid its workers 62 cents an hour and slept them 16 to a room. It was a huge embarrassment, a PR disaster. The shirts were pulled.
But, should they have been? Because it was subsequently revealed that those wages were well above average for Mauritius, and the factory had on the whole a good reputation. We'd also have to wrestle with the fact that if we pulled a different shirt out of our closet or bought a different one, it would likely be made in even more exploitative conditions. And doesn't the pro-social message still matter?
And this is the moment in which "no [00:03:00] ethical consumption under capitalism" emerges as a slogan and a meme on Tumblr. It didn't mean that because there's no truly ethical form of consumption that you're free to do whatever. Rather, it means that if you are trying to be an ethical consumer, you have to do your homework. If you don't wanna fall for corporate ethical consumers marketing, that's actually just pink washing or greenwashing, you need to interrogate their claims.
We also have to remember to be kind to ourselves, because we might be making the best choice from a range bad options. Because the consumer isn't the cause of exploitation or unsustainable practices; corporations, the whole system of capitalist production, is the problem.
Hasan and The Left's Paradoxical Relationship with Consumer Capitalism - The Kavernacle - Air Date 5-26-23
THE KARVERNACLE - HOST, THE KAVERNACLE: I'm not criticizing everyone for being a consumer, because it's absolutely impossible not to be one. But that does lead to a mindset of this. And I remember this cuz of the Hogwarts Legacy drama.
"'Buying this video game means you support transphobic values.' I say as the metal in my cellphone used to record this was mined by child labor."
So now it's taken on a meaning of its own where it's just, like I said earlier, "do whatever you want." Yeah, enriching someone that spreads transphobia is bad, but have you thought about, [00:04:00] you know, your phone? How is that made? Do you need your phone? Do you really need your phone? You need a phone in this day and age. You need clothes. You need food. So I'm not gonna criticize most people for not really caring where a lot of these come from or not really investigating it. It's more when you get to the consumer products that are pretty needless: designer clothes made with really exploitative labor, which we're gonna talk about. And then even the ideology of materialism, like buying yourself, you know, really fancy cars for no reason is something, personally, I would never do. And I always think about if I won the lottery, I would just buy a house where I live and live in it, and I'd probably even fix my car or I'd buy like a modest one.
Like I said, I try my best to live with my values, but it's impossible in consumer capitalism because we all have to compromise, because there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. That doesn't mean we all have to be rabid materialists and just buy stuff for the sake of it and not feel bad and feed into this global system.
I dunno about you, but to [00:05:00] me it's important to live my values. So I didn't buy Hogwarts Legacy. I won't play that game. I've had RAID: Shadow Legends reach out to me for a sponsorship. It's an Israeli company. I said, no, I'm not gonna buy Israeli product. And I know, me as an individual, that's not gonna change anything, really. But I'm doing it because I want to ethically consume as much as possible.
If there's something I really don't agree with, then I'm gonna do that, right? Just to feel better. I don't want to partake in this system. I don't wanna be complicit.
I don't think everything in your life has to be about changing the world. I think sometimes it is what makes you feel better about yourself and how you live your values.
And as left wing people, I think more people should not be materialists. And I think more people should kind of reject consumer capitalism as much as possible.
But now we're gonna get into Hasan [Piker]. So a lot of left wing people absolutely hate Hasan. I don't personally hate him. But I do think sometimes his response to criticism is really bad. He's explained why, because he feels like so [00:06:00] much of it is bad faith. Now lots of people meme on him and make fun of him, especially right-wing people. Cause they're like, well this is the king of the socialists, the king of the socialists who spends $1,000 on a Gucci shirt he'll wear once, and buys a car for $200,000, or pays $140,000 and is paying the rest off later and stuff. And I know this is old drama now, but I wanna go through it and I want to just let Hasan explain himself, and then talk about how as leftists we should even feel about someone like this, who clearly does good work in a lot of ways -- educates people in a lot of ways, like recently had LolOverruled on explaining about prison abolition. You can't say Hasan is doing damage. And maybe you can say even the aesthetic is appealing to people cuz he seems like a normal rich celebrity. But then I'm gonna get into some of the criticisms as well, and we'll look at him responding to the backlash for his shirt and for the car, which streamer Hasan came under fire after he wore a thousand dollar outfit at [00:07:00] Coachella, which critics argued went against his socialist views. He hit back saying, it's wild how he's been made the villain in this dispute. So let's have a look at him respond to the shirt and the car.
HASAN PIKER: Like, look at this. She literally said, Hasan bad. My outfit good. I'm a better leftist. 67, 68,000 likes.
I know where it it comes from with right wingers. Like, oh, socialism is when no money. Socialism is a poverty cult. Socialism is a poverty cult. Dude, I never said I don't like luxury shit, okay? I mean, the shirt was not a good purchase regardless, when I am a normy facing, leftist content creator, perhaps the only one who is not a weirdo. I'm just a normal dude. So all of the abnormal weirdos that are permanently online are like, Whoa, he's not behaving in the way that we would want.
idea that you're a good leftist or a bad leftist revolves around like how you spend your money is so stupid. People think you're just a performative socialist. I don't, but that's okay, fine, like, who cares? Yeah. I'm a fake, I'm not real. I'm not a socialist, I'm a capitalist. Okay. I love capitalism. Num num mm mm. The reason why I got Gucci shirt -- which is [00:08:00] incredibly expensive and felt disgusting, not that it matters. I can buy whatever the __ I want. And anyone that gets mad at that can suck me from the back. So I was like, I, I wanna get something. I wanna get something nice, okay? I wanna get something nice, wear at Coachella, this is gonna be douchey.
Every celebrity, every famous person, everyone that has a decent amount of money at some point has worn Gucci. But not a single person getting mad at them.
So I went and I bought the shirt, and the shirt is very expensive. But that was the reasoning behind it.
In the grand scheme of things, $200K isn't even that much. No, it's a lot of money, man. You're crazy. Don't be this person either, okay? Don't be the type of person who's like saying $200K isn't that much. Of course, it's a lot of money. It's not $200,000. It's like the, the car itself is $140,000. Okay? Like if we're talking about actual numbers. It's a load of money, man. Are you crazy? Most people don't make that kind of money in a year. Are you insane? Of course. It's a lot of money. No, it, it is, it is. It is a lot of money. Don't be delusional. You know. That of course. It is totally, totally an abundant purchase. [00:09:00] It's a luxury car. I'm 30 years old. I don't want to, I don't want to be like a 50-year-old guy and then finally be like, you know what? I'm gonna have a nice car now. Like, eh, no.
No matter what I got, the people were gonna be mad. For example, if I were to have bought a cheaper car, if I were to have gone with another Toyota, they were gonna say, I'm LARPing as a poor person, like I'm LARPing, and LARPing as a poor, and trying to make it seem like I'm a poor person to be more relatable.
THE KARVERNACLE - HOST, THE KAVERNACLE: So do I hate Hasan for buying a $1K Gucci shirt and a $200K car? No. Would I do that if I was him? Like, would I feel comfortable doing that? No as well. So I wanna talk about that because I've outlined how, I'm not materialistic. I would never spend that amount of money on anything, even if I was as rich as him.
But it is a guy who seems to like the life of celebrity and wealth, and it's not a guy who is socialist because he hates consumer capitalism. He very much enjoys consumer capitalism more than most of us [00:10:00] do because he's allowed to.
And you guys can ask yourself, if you were that rich, would you do what he does? I personally wouldn't. But a lot of you might say, hell yeah, I would buy loads of cars. I would spend all that money and I would flex all the time. Which is fine.
He made a good point as well in a tweet afterwards, he says Markiplier has his reputation has been an amazing guy, way wealthier than me, and no one ever criticizes him.
But I can see both sides really. Because there's been lots of socialists throughout history, communist revolutionaries, who have come from wealthy backgrounds. And sometimes you need that, because they need to be removed from everything so they can actually write the political theory.
Karl Marx was bankrolled by Engels. He was a very wealthy man, right? If I'm gonna give fair criticism to Hasan, I respect a lot of the good work he does. I respect a lot of the people he has on his stream. I respect a lot of the ways he teaches his audience about things. Out of all the political Twitch streamers, I would say he is actually one of the best, who has politics that fit in more with my own.
But like I was saying earlier, I still think if you are an actual socialist who wants socialism on the path [00:11:00] to communism -- dunno if he does -- then I think you still have to live your morals. Like we all have hypocrisies here and there, like a $200K car. And I know he jokingly flexed it and stuff. But when loads of your audience are young working class people and you are teaching them this theory and then you are buying very material things and showing them off, like a $1K shirt you're never gonna wear again. I don't think it's personally the worst thing ever, but it just speaks to your worldview, and that's why people might have a problem with it.
Like I said, Hasan, net benefit, net positive. But my main problem is, is if this is what you are teaching people, there's a limit in how they will reimagine society, and that's what we actually have to do as left wing people.
"Separating Art vs. the Artist" doesn't work for Harry Potter - Kuncan Dastner - Air Date 4-14-22
DUNCAN KASTNER - HOST, KUNCAN DASTNER: When people bring up this debate, the art versus artist question, I think they expect it to end with a yes or no answer. And that might be why this debate is still ongoing and remains unresolved.
I strongly believe that there's no universal answer, and it [00:12:00] does depend on the artist in question. Because art does not follow any universal codes, associating artists with that art probably is not going to be so cut and dry and will be similarly challenging.
Dr. Seuss wrote some charming-ass children's books, but he also drew insanely racist caricatures. I think it's totally fair to judge this Seuss guy as a person, but because his books have an audience of children still with their baby teeth, I don't know if it's fair to remove all of his books from the library just because of his negative views of people.
When the movie Baby Driver came out, the editing and the camera work blew me away, and it instantly became one of my favorite movies. And now I can't watch it. It has two despicable humans in it who I can't support. The editing and camera work of this movie haven't changed; it's still something I love. But I personally can't look past [00:13:00] the inclusion of these actors, so I don't want to watch this movie anymore.
And it is very important to acknowledge that when we engage with any kind of Harry Potter media, we are still paying money to JK Rowling because she is still so financially relevant in this franchise. We can't exactly separate the art from the artist if that artist is still pulling in revenue from the art if we support it, whether or not we agree with her position.
Basically, art versus the artist comes down to a personal choice, because association is something that our brains do on a personal level. I really do think it's about what we as individuals decide, right? What line do we draw? What can we excuse? And do we want to engage with this media, despite knowing that the author is still benefiting from it?
So what does this mean for us as [00:14:00] people? What can we do about this media franchise that has corrupted itself to the point that it's at? This is when the topic of boycotts come in. Would it do anything if we decided to withhold supporting this game or this movie? And would it do anything? Is it going to affect the corporation behind it? And the answer is yes, of course it would. Boycotts are famous for working because they withhold financial reward from companies when they pull stuff like this. And these corporations care a lot about money. We are just walking, talking wallets to them.
But there are a lot of talking points in place in order to discourage us from even thinking about boycotts and let alone if they might work. Critics will argue that we have to watch this movie in order to support gay representation. And gamers will say that we have to buy this game in order to support the developers that worked so hard on it.
As for the movie side of things, there are tons of amazing movies with gay representation in it nowadays. [00:15:00] I think Hollywood and other movie studios know that there's a good audience for that. And if Fantastic Critters and Where To Catch 'Em flops, I'm pretty sure they're going to know it had something to do with JK Rowling and not so much to do with Dumbledor having two lines about being gay.
And for the gaming side of things, I wish that game developers got paid based on units sold, but if they did, I think the gaming industry would be a lot more lucrative than it is right now. The developers got paid way before this game is ever going to hit the shelves and they're probably already moved on to their next project. So crying about how not buying the Goblin game is going to hurt the people at their desks working at this job, that's not true, and we shouldn't even listen to that point.
Vote with your wallets is kind of a cheesy saying, but at the end of the day, I think there is a lot of power that goes behind what we financially decide to support. [00:16:00] There is evidence that the studios are listening to crowd reactions, and we might actually have the power to impact some change, depending on whether or not we support these things. And if boycotting is how we do that, I think it's necessary to consider that as a legitimate option.
So if you are serious about standing up to JK's actions and supporting the trans people who are affected by her negative rhetoric, don't watch Fantastic Beasts 3. Don't buy Hogwarts Legacy. Don't even buy Lego Harry Potter, because supporting anything tied to this franchise is paying JK Rowling and giving off the idea that we want more of this franchise that is rooted in bigotry. I don't know how many times I have to say that. It sucks, but it's true.
And I promise I'm not here to tell you what and what not to like. You can still like parts of the Harry Potter franchise. I still do. I grew up on this stuff, and I do [00:17:00] like parts of it still even now, but it's just hard for me to ever think about that without associating it to Joanne's legacy.
Hey, remember those Survivor's Guilt skeleton horses? That was a pretty interesting concept.
Oh, yeah, Joanne's a bigot.
My favorite movies are the third and fourth ones, because all the actors are awkward and gangly, and I think that's pretty funny.
Oh yeah, Joanne's a bigot.
Hogwarts would definitely be shut down in real life. You got a monster dog on the third floor, a spider in the forest, a tree that kills people, a snake in the pipes. No 11-year-old should have been admitted to that school. It's a death sentence.
Oh, and also Joanne's a bigot.
But now it's the time where I stop making this silly little video and you get to decide what you're going to do moving forward. Are you going to buy the Harry Potter game and play it in secret? Or are you going to watch this movie and then fight with people on Twitter about how good it was? I don't know. It's up to you now. I've [00:18:00] done my part in giving you the information, but now you get to decide how you're going to move forward knowing what I've told you.
And it is an option for you to engage with Harry Potter and just not tell anybody. If you catch the movie on live TV and you just want to sit through it without judgment, you can. And on the other side of the spectrum, you can try to ratio JK Rowling online, and that's another option you could try.
And at the end of the day, that part is not up to me. I've decided how I'm going to carry forward, and you get to make your own decision about that as well. It's just, I would consider everything behind what you're going to do in regards to supporting or not supporting this franchise.
There are many forms of ethical consumption under capitalism, you just have to understand ethics - poppysaw - Air Date 2-11-23
POPPYSAW: You know, I really have an issue with the phrase, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism because it isn't true. Ethics is not about making perfect choices that cause no harm. Ethics is about how we make decisions in an imperfect world in which it is [00:19:00] impossible to do no harm, or at least impossible to do no harm a hundred percent of the time.
Ethics is also not just about the decisions that we make in the moment. But about what we do surrounding those decisions, what we do before and after, how we change, when we have more power and more toys. So it's untrue to say there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, which by the way, so many people use as an excuse to just like not care about the impact their choices have on other people.
There is no perfectly harmless consumption under capitalism. That is true, but there are absolutely ways that we can make ethical choices regardless. Of the systems that we're in.
Ethical Consumption - Pullback - Air Date 3-7-23
KRISTEN PUE - HOST, PULLBACK: I've been listening to an audio book called How to Be Perfect. It's by the guy that wrote The Good Place.
KYLA HEWSON - HOST, PULLBACK: I finished it. It's so good.
KRISTEN PUE - HOST, PULLBACK: Ah, I'm, I'm still working my way through it, but one of the things I really like about that book is. He talks about inquiry as a really [00:20:00] important moral act.
So the mere fact that you're asking questions and trying to know more about consumption decisions. I mean, he's not framing it as consumption decisions. He's framing it as like all moral actions, but that that has some kind of value to it. And I think that sort of notion of ethical consumption as a gateway that you were talking about, that inquiry is a huge part of that.
Right. You, maybe you start at this realization that you know, Cadbury or Nestle has some issues maybe that prompts you to look into sugar and you're like, holy shit, sugar has a fucked up history. But maybe like our friend Lex, did you stop eating sugar for a week until you realize that's not feasible and you start to ask some more questions?
So I think that's the kind of journey that ethical consumption can ideally take people on. But I do think there's something to this notion that capitalism presents ethical consumption basically is an avenue for buying your way out of moral dilemmas, right? So that's [00:21:00] where we get some of the problematic versions of it, like eating humane meat or purchasing carbon offsets for a flight, right?
They're really like indulgences that are only accessible to people who have more money. And obviously these actions can't fix big structural problems like climate change. Um, and the problem with that then is we, we see this sort of limited version of ethical consumption and then that then leaves us feeling disempowered.
Cuz we've tried it. We've realized we can't disengage from sugar. We've realized that carbon offsets are bullshit. We've realized that humane meat isn't a real solution. And that more broadly, um, ethical consumption is expensive, it's transactional, and it's not really effective.
KYLA HEWSON - HOST, PULLBACK: And then that leaves us all feeling like, well, if I can't be perfect, why should I try it all?
KRISTEN PUE - HOST, PULLBACK: Yeah. Um, and that's like a really shitty place to be. I. But I, I think that sort of misses the broader point of ethical consumption, right? So it's not about middle class white influencers who are hawking [00:22:00] boutique health products. That's like the worst version of ethical consumption. It's about finding new avenues to meet our needs and pulling back, ah, podcast name.
KYLA HEWSON - HOST, PULLBACK: You said the name of the thing and the thing.
KRISTEN PUE - HOST, PULLBACK: Yeah. And pulling back from exploitative practices as much as we can. So Marxists actually call this alternative praxis. Um, but basically it just means finding ways to do things differently. That's what I really like about ethical consumption, is it's people trying a bunch of different ways to extricate ourselves from capitalism, and that's an incredibly valuable thing.
Just to give you some examples, in case you're still a skeptic, right? There are lots of ways that ethical consumption gives us tools for combating late stage capitalism through solidaristic relationships instead of, um, you know, exchange ones, right? So we've got mutual aid movements, we've got community swaps and things like that.
There's also, you know, freeganism, which is for [00:23:00] sure more of a fringe movement. Not everybody's gonna become a dumpster diver. I'm definitely not gonna be.
KYLA HEWSON - HOST, PULLBACK: One and done for us.
KRISTEN PUE - HOST, PULLBACK: One and done for us. You know, there's the waste free movement. Um, is it perfect? No, but it advocates for circularity rather than like the take, make waste approach that we typically have.
The EAT local movement is all about connection to community and the way that food is made. Right. And then veganism, um, you know, problematic for sure, but has made incredible progress in showing people that animal protein isn't necessary to be strong or healthy, but it's not an either or, right? You can be for a collective action while also trying to consume as ethically as possible.
Just ask any vegan activist you've ever met. Right? Ethical consumption, for me anyway, it doesn't stand apart from political action, but it's actually part of political action. And it, and its associated movements show what is possible. It shows that alternative [00:24:00] praxis, in other words.
KYLA HEWSON - HOST, PULLBACK: Yeah, and I think, I'm glad you brought up the book, um, how to Be Perfect, because that is just a really approachable book.
Like it's a very easy read and it kind of like sums up a lot of really cool ideas. So if people do like ethics, like Kristen and I do, it's, it's a really cool book to ex like, kind of like goes over this idea that you're not going to be perfect, right? And so, You can't let that stop you from still trying to be better.
And this doesn't just apply to, you know, being a consumer, it applies to creative endeavors and relationships and parenting. And the idea that we all have to be perfect is so toxic and it stops us from just being our best selves, like our best selves won't ever be perfect. Flaws are also part of what makes you like a wonderful, interesting person and what allows you to learn and be better.
I try to look at my own flaws and consider what I like about them and what I don't like about them, and aim to be like the best [00:25:00] version of my flawed self that like I can be. I'm loud, I interrupt people, but I also am like a really engaged listener who loves to have an interesting dialogue and I love to ask questions, and I love that about myself, and there are ways to recognize what I love and to think of ways to grow those parts.
What did we say in the very first episode? Don't let you know perfect be the enemy of good.
KRISTEN PUE - HOST, PULLBACK: Yeah, exactly. And the other thing is like, like it or not, we are all, every single one of us consumers, so. What's the alternative to ethical consumption? Like unethical consumption, you know?
KYLA HEWSON - HOST, PULLBACK: Yes, exactly. And I think when people disregard it as a movement, they're really alienating people who could be stepping in to be allies.
And I think that's something that like the Left really struggles with is alienating each other.
KRISTEN PUE - HOST, PULLBACK: It sounds like Kyla, you might be leaning towards real, I, I'm gonna say real for this one. Uh, but ethical consumption, real solution or false solution.
KYLA HEWSON - HOST, PULLBACK: [00:26:00] Yeah, I think it's a real solution. I think people need to be more considerate of what it is and what it is not, and. I think that's true of both people on the far left who are already like, you know, hardcore activists or living in the woods. And I think that's true of people who are on the far right who also would agree that maybe we should have a planet that is habitable.
You know what I mean?
KRISTEN PUE - HOST, PULLBACK: Yeah. Uh, one of the really horrifying things that I learned at some point a couple years ago is that like a lot of like far right racist movements have like their own version of Fair trade labels, which ew. Blew my mind. But I think it, like it's an idea that can fit into different ideologies and obviously like problematically applied in a lot of cases.
KYLA HEWSON - HOST, PULLBACK: Well, and I think a lot of it is like who, who controls the narrative right now? Right. And I think a lot of it is like when h and m slaps a giant green, you know, window pane up that has like leaves on it and it's like, come shop here [00:27:00] to save the planet and that's not a solution at all and should be illegal.
And I think there was actually a case about greenwashing this year that has gone to court. So hopefully that is a thing that we see more of in the future. Just, you know, you can't just slap a green label on something and be like, we are natural. Which I actually have something to talk about that in a, in a minute too.
But I also feel like we need to really disengage from like, Transactional relationships and not just within, you know, exchange of money and our buying and selling capabilities, but like within our relationships with each other. I think because we all grew up in this capitalist system, you know, I was raised in a family that was very transactional.
Uh, a lot of our generation was the post World War ii rise of the Boomer Middle class in. You know, American identity politics, you know, every person for themselves. It's so pervasive that now I'm trying to recognize that mentality of like, what I can give you to get what I want from you is like not a good way to be, but it's also like the [00:28:00] whole society we live in. And so recognizing that is hard to do and something that I think is really important for people to start doing.
The moral philosophy of The Good Place (with Mike Schur and Pamela Hieronymi) - The Gray Area with Sean Illing - Air Date 12-9-19
EZRA KLEIN - THE EZRA KLEIN SHOW: it seems to me that when we talk about morality this way, we end up having a word that can mean a bunch of different things. This idea of, because my background is in politics, the idea of the rules you would need to build a workable, decent society and the rules you wanna follow are the approach you want to take to being a good person.
I recently had Peter Singer on the show who, um, Mike, I know you wrote the Forward to the new edition of A Life You Can Save. Yeah. Or the Life You Can Save. And something I found really striking about that book is it has, it has a version of both of these ideas in it. So the initial thought experiment, what do you do if you're walking by the pond and you see a child drowning and you're in your nicest suit If you just keep following the logic of that.
And it is powerful logic. Mm-hmm. It never stops. And he basically admits that it doesn't stop until you're essentially risking your own life without of your families to save others. And on the other hand, at some point he. Basically makes a tactical concession and says, [00:29:00] well look, if everybody making a lot of money, would just donate 5% of it.
The world would be a lot better place. We wouldn't have extreme poverty. So at least maybe we can all agree on that rule. And when I had him on the show, I was trying to get him to, to distinguish between this a little bit. And I think for tactical reasons, he was a little loath to do so, right? That if you're, you're gonna turn people off if you tell them the only way to be decent is to basically annihilate the self and their partiality to those closest to them to to, to be a good person. But nevertheless, he seemed like very different questions to me. This question of what do you need to just be a participant in a good participant in a community and what does it actually mean to be living a good life, um, that we're somehow trying to answer in the same words.
MIKE SCHUR: Yeah, I mean, that is, the singer is fascinating to me. And, um, I wrote the forward to that, to the 10th anniversary edition of that. And the, the point of the forward is basically to say that when you read this book, you're gonna read a lot of insane [00:30:00] things, right? You're gonna read a story about a guy who, um, calculated that the odds of dying from only having one kidney are one in 4,000.
And then he said, well, that means if I don't give away one of my kidneys to someone who needs it, that I'm valuing my own life 4,000 times greater than the life of a random stranger who's not me. And that's absurd. And he went into a hospital and said, I wanna give away a kidney. And the the hospital said To whom?
And he said, I don't know whoever needs it. And they had no protocol for this. The hospital had never experienced a person who wanted to give a kidney to someone like it was to anyone. Right? And, um, and the, the point of the forward that I wrote was, you're gonna read that story and you're gonna have a lot of feelings, I think, um, it's not just thoughts with Singer. I, I, I think the thing that's so interesting about Singer is his writing causes me to have feelings that I don't have when I read other moral philosophy. Because the feelings you have are things like shame and embarrassment and, um, and fear. Uh, like is this the only way to be a good [00:31:00] person?
I have to walk into a hospital tomorrow and offer up a kidney. Like, uh, that's a terrifying idea, right? But the reason that I really like him and the reason that I think he serves a really valuable, um, uh, it does a really valuable thing in our society is he shakes you out of complacency. Like you, it's very easy to get complacent, I think in America. Even if you're living a life of, um, any life of even relative comfort in America puts you at the very top of the heap, right? Like compared to people in the world. And, um, it's very easy to get complacent if you have an air conditioner and a, and a TV and electricity and clean water. You're in the, you know, the top 5% of comfort of all human beings on earth.
And it's so, it's very easy to kind of say nothing of all human beings in history. That's right. Yes. Um, in fact, one of the things I wrote about was like, you know, if you are in that situation right now in America where you have a roof over your head, air conditioning, um, a stove, a refrigerator, clean water, [00:32:00] um, electricity, cable, tv, whatever the, the sort of things we think of as basic utilities, your life is better than Louis Catour.
Like you're by far like Lou Louis Catour, that if you ever go to Versai, my wife and I went to Versai for our 10th anniversary and, uh, it's, you know, it's obviously an insane thing to walk through that, that building. But then you're like, well, yeah, they had no running water and everything was stunk and everybody had terrible Bo cuz there wasn't, we didn't have to deodorant.
Right. And then it's like, there, there are aspects of the daily life in America, even at a moderate income level that, that make you better, your life is better than kings and queens from years past. Right. So singers purpose to me is to constantly shake you out of complacency and to remind you that people in other parts of the world are not less valuable intrinsically than people that are next door to you.
That's an incredibly valuable service he's providing, I think. And you don't have to give up a kidney to live by the tenants of Peter [00:33:00] Singer's writing, I don't think. I think you just have to, in my mind you have to just internalize what he's saying and, and understand the truth of it. And it, like you said, it's very compelling.
It's incredibly compelling writing to me, and it forces you out of this ability that you have that's, that's provided to us here in America in 2019 to utterly forget about the rest of the world. Um, his particular philosophy is not my particular philosophy, I would say, but I, I really enjoy reading what he writes because it constantly, Shifts and changes my outlook on the world in a way that I would not otherwise maybe have be shifted or changed.
PAMELA HIERONYMI : So interestingly, when I teach Scanlon's Contractual, uh, the key quote from the original 1982 article that he wrote about it is about Peter Singer. Really? Yeah. And, and exactly this point about how it makes you have feelings as you just put. So the quote is something like, when I read Peter Singer's article about famine, in addition to the thought [00:34:00] about how much good I could do to people in these countries, uh, there's the further seemingly distinct thought that it would be wrong not to aid them when I could do so at so little cost to myself.
So in addition to the thought about how much good I could do, that's the utilitarian thought. Scanlan says, I have this further seemingly distinct thought or feeling right? That, that it would be wrong. And, and then scanlan. That's the starting point for his reflections about what is that distinct thought.
It's not just that I could do more good, there's something else there. And then what he lands on is this contractual, what he lands on is this claim about community or about living together on minimally respectful terms, which then, as Ezra was pointing out, gets, um, complicated by the idea of a global community.
It's like we're not built for that scale to to, to take in, um, e ethically.
Ethical Capitalism: Is It Possible? - Wise Crack - Air Date 7-19-21
OSCAR NUÑEZ: Ethics is a real discussion of competing conceptions of the good.
MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: Why yes, Oscar [00:35:00] that's more or less it. And for most ethical theories, the point is to both be able to deduce what the good is, i e, how we know what's ethical, and then figure out how to do it, i e how to be ethical. Now we can start with figuring out if one can be ethical under capitalism by judging three primary schools of ethics.
First, we have virtue ethics, usually associated with Aristotle. It argues that to be ethical, we first gotta develop virtuous moral character marked by things like courage, loyalty, and wisdom, and then do moral things which further reinforce moral character. It's sort of like how if you wanna start getting up earlier, you force yourself to do it for a few weeks and it sucks really bad, but eventually you get used to it and then you pop out of bed, rested without an alarm and ready to create surplus capital for your boss.
For Aristotle, the virtuous person's actions will always be oriented towards some type of moral good. I e You wake up earlier to exercise or meditate or get to work, and importantly, virtuous character is marked by a. Spirit of moderation. I e with money shouldn't be too greedy [00:36:00] or too frugal. This emphasis makes virtue ethics feel incompatible with capitalism whose logic necessitates a lack of moderation and service of constant economic growth.
After all, Ronald Reagan didn't call for moderate growth, saying instead that there are no such things as limits to growth because there are no limits. To the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder. Next, we have deontology associated with a manual cont de ontology's. Clearest articulation is con's, categorical imperative.
Act as if the maxims of your action were to become through your will, a universal law of nature. This means that every moral decision should be based on the idea that you would want your action to be a universal moral law, for example. Only lie if you think it's always good to lie. K also thought that the moral value of an action depended on the intent behind it and not its outcome or consequence.
This logic plays into an accompanying formula for Deontology, Kant's Principle of Humanity, which states that we should act in such a way that you treat [00:37:00] humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end. In other words, if you're treating another person as a means to an end, you're not being ethical. So is Deontology compatible with the C word? Oh, come on. You know that I meant capitalism. You know that. That's what I meant. Well, a hardcore Iron Rand acolyte could do capitalism and feel like they are in line with the categorical imperative because they want everyone else to be doing capitalism too.
But it's complicated when we bring in the principle of humanity. That's hard to imagine both being good at capitalism and treating people as ends in themselves. For example, how could you justify laying off a bunch of employees for the sake of increasing profit if you also think you're being ethical in deontological terms?
Finally, we have consequentialism the idea that we can best judge the ethics of an action by its consequences if for con intent matters more than outcome For consequentialist, outcome matters more than intent. Consequentialism operates by establishing what results are deemed. Good or desirable then [00:38:00] evaluates actions on their ability to arrive at these results.
So if I'm thinking of lying or donating to charity or helping a friend move, I will consider what to do on the basis of what will come of each of those actions. Consequentialism has a tricky relationship to capitalism as it's easy to use and ends justifies the means logic here, which means that.
Technically, if the machinations of the capitalist market help provide the funds to do good stuff, then why not? And this is all very much in line with Silicon Valley nonprofit culture, often referred to as the California ideology. So if you're a Bill Gates type, you can make potentially ruthless business decisions as long as it provides you with the surplus capital to buy vaccines for the developing world.
Sometimes talking ethics can feel a bit speculative as so many of the examples are abstract. So let's look at the way in which various political and social philosophies are actively trying to change the world for the better. There's a lot of different ways to do this, but I'm gonna focus on three; revolution, accelerationism, and long-termism.
Revolutionary philosophers usually [00:39:00] share a common point of orientation in the French Revolution, an 18th century French. Event that ended up shaping lots of 19th century German philosophy in case you forgot. The basic gist is that under the French monarchy, economic and social inequality were terrible, and rather than politely asking them to fix stuff, the people took over and established a new system of government grounded in the principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood. This also helped inspire the age of revolution in 18th century Europe, and this exemplifies the basic logic of revolution. If a system isn't working for a majority of people, then it needs to be fundamentally upended and replaced, sometimes non-violently, sometimes violently.
For most contemporary philosophers, sympathetic to revolution, the logic of capitalism fundamentally contradicts the egalitarian pursuits embodied by the 18th century revolutions, and maybe most importantly, the Haitian Revolution, which so for them, the only way to build a more ethical society is to get rid of capitalism. Accelerationism is a post-revolutionary political philosophy that argues that the best way to change the world isn't to just destroy [00:40:00] capitalism, but rather to actively accelerate capitalism and technological development because again, there is no outside of capitalism from which to resist.
For thinkers on the left wing of this movement, accelerating technological development leads to egalitarian and liberatory innovations and practices like automation and universal basic income. According to the Accelerate Manifesto, acceleration is want to unleash latent productive forces. The material platform of neoliberalism does not need to be destroyed.
It needs to be repurposed towards common ends. The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-capitalism. It's sort of like, rather than destroying the death star, we're talking about accelerating the technological forces of the empire to use them, to move beyond it, towards something better and hopefully more Jedi friendly.
It's also worth noting that there's a right-wing side to this movement. For more on all of this, you can check out our video on automation where we talk about contemporary accelerationism at length. Finally, we have long-termism, which is an outgrowth of effective [00:41:00] altruism, and it's a contemporary brand of consequentialist thought focused on changing the world, not so much in the here and now, but for creating better conditions for future humans.
An ungenerous reading of long-termism was recently given by David. Z Morris, who called it another excuse for mercenary corner cutting today, so long as you commit your loot to improving tomorrow. A more generous description offered by Dylan Matthews is that long-termism is the argument that because so many more humans and other intelligent beings could live in the future than live today, the most important thing for altruistic people to do in the present moment is to ensure that the future comes to be at all by preventing existential risks, and that it's as good as possible. Is when I drive by unhoused people.
These days giving them nothing. I scream at them, but I'm making things better for people in a thousand years. And they say, oh, thank you Michael. Thank you so much. And to be clear, the phrase, other intelligent beings is intentional as long termist are concerned with making conditions good for future AI as well.
So back to our main question, can we be ethical under [00:42:00] capitalism? Is only revolution going to change things or in well-intentioned Silicon Valley geniuses use their bags of money to save us. And is there any hope of things getting better within this system for the revolutionaries? Capitalism itself is fundamentally unethical and those trying to use it for ethical means are like people trying to use condoms to get pregnant. Because the system is morally flawed the onus is on individuals to foster ethical commitments counter to the dominant system, while acknowledging that no one could be held responsible for pure morality under capitalism, for example. You can be against the fossil fuel industry and its effects on the climate, but you're not a bad person if you still have to drive to work.
But it is also worth noting that doing a revolution is pretty hard and often gets really messy. So don't try one before consulting your local political philosopher.
Ethical Behavior in Modern Society – Can We Still Get Into The Good Place? - Like Stories of Old - Air Date 4-30-19
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: Many academic studies of society distinguish between three dimensions; the market, the state and civil society. In an ideal society, these three are well developed and imbalanced with [00:43:00] one another, meaning that a civilian with good intentions could act within that society and ensure good outcomes.
TED DANSON: In 1534, Douglas Winegar of Hawk Hurst, England gave his grandmother roses for her birthday.
He picked them himself, walked them over to her. She was happy. Boom, 145 points.
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: So what has changed? Well, there's no one definitive answer to this, and our modern society is obviously shaped by countless of interrelated developments. For the purpose of this video, a good starting point is the treadmill of production theory, which was presented by sociologist Allen Schnaiberg in 1980 to address why environmental degradation in the West had increased so rapidly after World War ii.
The treadmill of production is in essence an economic change theory about Western economies accumulating capital in a seemingly insatiable quest for more profits. This, of course, had social and environmental consequences as more resources were extracted to meet higher levels of demand. [00:44:00] Toxic output was released into the environment, and workers became replaced either by new technologies or by cheaper labor forces as production shifted towards the global south.
Schnaiberg just painted a picture of a society running in a treadmill without really moving forward. With each round of investments, profits were increased and consumer products became more accessible, but the social and environmental consequences became fastly more complicated, therefore, making it more difficult for individuals to estimate the moral implications of engaging with the market, which is an issue that the Good Place frequently emphasizes.
JAMEELA JAMIL: But every time I do something nice, Spit backfires. There are so many unintended consequences to well-intentioned actions. Feels like a game you can't win.
WILLIAM JACKSON HARPER: I brought blueberry muffins. Oh no, you shouldn't eat blueberries anymore. Read an article. The migrant workers who picked them up horribly mistreated.
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: For a [00:45:00] long time, the state facilitated this expansion as the dominant neo-liberal ideology of the time argued that economic growth was the only path for social progress, and that more modernization would eventually iron out any negative side effects, even when the limits to growth became more evident.
Governments were still either unwilling or because of the size and transnational nature of the market, incapable of stepping in. As a result, the burden of responsibility increasingly shifted towards civil society, towards the consumer, and this is where we find ourselves today. Having to consciously consider what we once took for granted and having to educate ourselves on what we once unambiguous decisions.
TED DANSON: Humans think that they're making one choice.
But they're actually making dozens of choices they don't even know they're making.
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: Sociologist Ulrich Beck also talked about a growing focus on what he calls the apolitical level, where the pursuit of morality is not done through traditional [00:46:00] politics, but through personal lifestyle. According to Beck, this movement is not a choice, but a faith, the result of a neoliberal society that assumes individuals as independent self-reliant actors who have the capacity to master the whole of their lives on their own.
MAYA RUDOLPH: Your big revelation. Is life is complicated. That's not a revelation. That's a divorced woman's throw pillow. You don't want the consequences. Do the research. Buy another tomato. What else? You got?
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: This perspective, however, doesn't seem completely fair for places of responsibility on individuals that they are bound to fall short of.
TED DANSON: Hello.
MICHAEL MCKEAN: Hello.
TED DANSON: Hope we have the right house. I'm looking for a Doug Forset.
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: The Good Place shows this true a character named Doug as a result of trying to carry the weight of the world on his own shoulders. Doug lives a life of almost ridiculous levels of self-sacrifice.
MICHAEL MCKEAN: I volunteer to test cosmetics for a local company so they don't have to [00:47:00] test on animals.
It's fun, huh? For the animals who don't have to do it.
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: Leading to the conclusion that this cannot be the right path to get to the good place.
D'ARCY CARDEN: Michael face facts, Doug is not the blueprint of how to live a good life.
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: But the real issue is not Doug's lifestyle. It is the premise that we have to do it all on our own. For not only does it tend to absolve the market and state of their responsibility to change, but it also reinforces the idea that true moral behavior cannot be achieved as any attempts from individuals to act morally will inevitably lead to some degree of hypocrisy. Therefore making it a lot more enticing to just care about nothing at all.
KRISTEN BELL: There's bad stuff everywhere, man. It's impossible to avoid.
DREW BROOKS: Yeah, but shouldn't we just try? Shouldn't we just try to do the right thing whenever we can?
KRISTEN BELL: Why it's so much harder to live like that and it's not like someone's keeping score.
TOM VAN DER LINDEN - HOST, LIKE STORIES OF OLD: Ulrich Beck also criticizes this perspective for conflicting with the reality of our everyday experiences in which we are not independent, [00:48:00] but in which we are enabled and constrained by our environment.
By other people and by countless of the factors affecting our ability to take moral action. And this is what I believe the good place is really trying to tell us. Whatever hope there is for achieving morality in our modern society it is not dependent on what we can do alone. But on what we can do together.
It may not provide all the answers to our structural issues, but at the very least it does suggest that a road to the good place is not found in one person becoming an absolute moral being, but in multiple people working together. Each with our own individual qualities. The Good Place shows us such qualities with cheat's, conscience, Michael's efforts towards empathy.
Dani's care for the community, Jason's ness and loyalty. Janet's wisdom and curiosity, and Eleanor's will to act. And while the show story is not over yet, I think that ultimately the good place wants to [00:49:00] reject the notion that we should be judged and given points based on our individual actions, to instead advocate a focus on our relations to others, on how we can help each other become better.
And in that process, elevate ourselves as well.
WILLIAM JACKSON HARPER: Why choose to be good? Every day. If there is no guaranteed reward, we can count on now or in the afterlife. I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people, and our innate desire to treat them with dignity at the intersection of empathy and ethics is the realization that we are not in this alone.[00:50:00]
Conscious Consumerism: Does it make a difference - Roundtable - Air Date 7-10-19
GIANA ECKHARDT: What we were able to show through our research is that although consumers say that they care about a lot of these issues, whether they're clothes are made using sweatshop labor, The, um, carbon footprint of the production of their clothing, it rarely corresponds with their buying behavior.
So there's a very large attitude, behavior gap between what people believe and how they actually purchase.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: That sort of seems to imply to me that it's virtue signaling that people are saying that they want this to happen, but aren't prepared necessarily to, to, to pay the price themselves.
GIANA ECKHARDT: I would agree with that.
I think in many cases morality stops at the pocketbook and it is, uh, virtue signaling. I think in addition to that, it's also competing values. So when I decide, well, I could buy food that is organic, but maybe it's shipped from Spain, or I could buy food that's made locally in the uk, but it's not organic.
So how do I know which one is better
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: be? You were nodding there and I expected you to disagree. Vehemently with everything that Gianna was [00:51:00] going to say, because this is, this is your bag. So it really is, isn't it? This is what you want to do. So what was the thing that made you not get there?
BESMA WHAYEB: I think you raised a very good point in saying that there are different values, and as a consumer it can be incredibly confusing to choose whether you want organic food, whether you want fair trade food, whether you want to purchase food that's in a plastic bag, and all of those.
Tie up into a kind of, you are stuck in the supermarket looking at your food and going, you know, I don't have time to make a decision right now. I'm just gonna pick up what's easiest, usually what's cheapest as well. Um, so I do think there needs to be a big education around all of what they symbolize.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: Are you virtue signaling, in other words, sort of shouting from the rooftops how good you are when in fact.
BESMA WHAYEB: I don't believe so. I've been writing my blog for five years now. Um, and before that I've been interested in more of the sustainability side around food, agriculture and then that's gone into fashion, beauty, travel, you know, all aspects of lifestyle.
Um, I think it takes a lot of research and fortunately for me, I've had the time [00:52:00] I've been part of.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: So you make a living out of it?
BESMA WHAYEB: I do indeed. Yes. So I've been full-time since November, 2017. I've been writing about ethical consumerism across a vast variety of different subjects. Yeah. Um, since then, and there definitely is a big outcry and calling for this.
People want to know more about it, but they don't have the time or the energy to go on researching it. So I think we do need to be out there talking about it and simplify it.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: I'm not questioning your motives, but we will examine them. In a little more detail in in just a moment, but Catherine, I wanna say to you, it's not just about time.
It's about price as well. And you, you said, didn't you that, uh, people will possibly go for the cheapest thing if, if there's a lot of choice. Yeah. And now it's more pricey to do it this way.
CATHERINE THOMPSON: Um, not necessarily. I think that you've obviously really kind of pulled on a really great point there in terms of actually how complicated and confusing it can be for consumers to understand all the different complications.
Um, within supply chain. Supply chains are very, very complex. Um, and that's why kind of we at Fair Trade really feel that, you know, looking for the [00:53:00] mark is really kind of what gives consumers confidence that farmers at the beginning of the supply chain have been, um, given a fair deal. And also there's a lot of components of sustainability that come with that.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: However, we check just before this program on the price of six bananas at Tesco, ordinary Bananas and six Fair Trade bananas, 90 P for the ordinary ones, one pound 39 for the Fair Trade. Bananas, a rise of. What, nearly 50 p, nearly 50 p, almost half as much. Again.
CATHERINE THOMPSON: Um, again, this kind of comes back to just, just how, um, complex supply chains are.
If you go to other retailers, um, that price difference, um, might not exist. It might not be there. Fair trade's really about looking at, um, rebalancing trade and looking at kind of how trade, um, works differently. Um, the bananas that you found might, may also have been organic. They may also, um, have had other kind of, um, features.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: But my point is they're generally more expensive.
CATHERINE THOMPSON: Um, not at all. Um, fair trade's about making sure that the, a farmer's been paid a minimum price as well as a small [00:54:00] extra premium. Um, and then through the, the rest of the supply chain that may, um, be additional cost to the consumer, but it not necessarily, it is just about the price that goes to the farmer, making sure that they've got that minimum price and, um, extra money, um, for the farmer to make the most sustainable choices when they're growing their crop.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: It's confusing, isn't it? It's really confusing. We, we may all have the best of intentions. Yeah. But you look at something and you think, well, that's gonna cost me a little bit more, or I don't really know the story behind this. How do we simplify it?
SIAN CONWAY: So I think we've become really disconnected from where our things come from, where our food has grown, where our clothes are made, and what we've lost sight of in that system is that there are people involved at every stage.
And if you take fashion, for example, you can go and buy on the high street now a T-shirt for five pounds that's made of cotton while a farmer somewhere has grown that cotton. Someone who's sewn that t-shirt. It's not made by robots, made by people, but the system is set up that actually the people that pay the price aren't the consumer.
They're the people at the other end. [00:55:00] So the exploitation in the supply chains is causing cheap products to be made as a result of exploitation. And as consumers, we don't know where to go with that because we don't know what the brands are doing, there's not enough transparency. We don't understand the supply chains because they're so complex and.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: Does, does that mean we have to have more regulations so that the sweatshop labor.
Doesn't end up on our table or, or not just on our table, but on our bodies as well. In terms of the T-shirt, we have to have regulation?
SIAN CONWAY: Yeah, I think so. I don't think, I think at the moment the entire pressure is on the consumer as to whether or not you want to do the right thing. If you go to the supermarket or you go shopping on the high street, it's down to you to make the right choice.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: Yeah. The other side of that of course is that, um, if somebody doesn't get paid very much, at least they get paid something. And if I don't buy that t-shirt, they don't get anything at all.
SIAN CONWAY: That's true. But when you look at the conditions that they're working in and the, the, you know, some of the things that we've see in recent history with the Rhino Plaza collapse and that was the exploitation.
Bangladesh. [00:56:00] In Bangladesh. Yeah. Yeah. Um, which killed about, um, I can't remember the figures off the top of head thousands.
DAVID FOSTER - HOST, ROUNDTABLE: Safe, safe that it pancake on itself, didn't it? Exactly. Terrible. Terrible. Exactly. But new rules were brought in after that, weren't they?
SIAN CONWAY: They were, um, it's controversial as to how much that's been enforced and what happened.
I think what really kind of sparked the movement that came out of that, the fashion revolution movement. Um, that caused consumers to start asking who's making my clothes, and really starting to put pressure on the brands. The most shocking part of that was that actually a lot of the brands don't even know what sweatshops or what factories are in their supply chains because their supply chains are so complex and there's so much subcontracting going on.
“No Ethical Consumption” is Not License for Nihilism & Hedonism. So What Is It? (Hausfrau Friday) Parkrose Permaculture - Air Date 6-3-22
ANGELA BAKER - HOST, PARKROSE PERMACULTURE: We can try to follow our ethics as best we can. We can try to make those conscious purchases. But we may find on the back end, we've done our research, okay, I'm gonna make sure that I purchase from this company where I know that the laborers are paid a fair and living wage. And then I get the product home and I find out like, oh [00:57:00] no, the cotton harvested and milled to make this garment that I've purchased, oh, they use really unsustainable practices and all kinds of terrible pesticides and fungicides, and the dyes are those modern dyes that are really polluting for the environment. And, shoot, I thought I was doing right, because I chose to go with a company that pays a fair wage.
That's what "no ethical consumption under capitalism" means. It means that we are doing our best. We cannot make every purchase in perfect alignment with our ethics. But what my 17-year-old is seeing, and what I have seen in some of the cottagecore farm posting groups and cottagecore groups, if you haven't noticed, I have a little bit of pastoral idealism that I enjoy. I'm a big fan of Tasha Tudor ever since I was a little kid. I love that kind of long skirts and doing your own sewing and your own cooking and all of that kind of lends itself. Gardening obviously lends itself to the cottagecore aesthetic.
But what I've seen is in these groups, the cottagecore aesthetic, being co-opted by capitalism, but [00:58:00] in a way that doesn't say okay, I'm striving to do the best I can, I'm gonna extend grace and forgiveness to myself because I know that I cannot perfectly purchase anything, and I I'm gonna extend grace and forgiveness to other consumers because I know that they in turn are not gonna make perfect choices. So I am not going to judge or look down my nose at folks who make purchases that are not perfectly caring for the earth and caring for people.
What I've seen in these groups is a kind of nihilism, and this is what my 17-year-old B was saying as well. She sees kind of a nihilism in her TikTok sphere, where it's like, well, there's no ethical consumption, so that just means like, sh I can't make any purchase that's perfect, so I'm just not gonna bother. I'm not gonna expend the effort. I'm going to search to satisfy my own wants and desires and my own interests, my own shopping preferences. I want what I want, when I want it. And because that there is a system that makes it impossible to purchase objects that are a hundred percent [00:59:00] ethical, I'm just gonna give up and I'm just gonna buy whatever I want.
So I'm gonna buy those foods that are produced in a really unsustainable way, even though, if I did a tiny bit of due diligence, I might make different choices, but like, you know what, there's no ethical consumption, so I just don't care. I'm gonna buy whatever I want. The same thing like, well, I really want this frilly prairie dress, but the company that I'm buying it from is basically a sweat shop, and they've also stolen the designs from a small woman designer in Europe. And so I'm exploiting a small woman entrepreneur and artist and I am also exploiting the 14-year-old girls that are sewing these dresses. And I know that the material I'm buying is probably poor quality and will rapidly end up in the landfill, but it doesn't matter cuz I wanna wear a prairie dress right now.
So that's the kind of nihilism I'm pushing back against, and that my 17-year-old is expressing this kind of endless frustration with lately in her social media as well.
So how do we balance that? So if we are gonna be [01:00:00] sustainable homemakers, if we are striving to be ecological in the way that we run a home and we purchase clothing for ourselves, for our families, we purchase goods for our household that we need. How do we avoid that kind of nihilism that says like, gosh, this system is so hard to navigate and it takes so much energy to navigate, I'm just gonna give up.
So number one, you can look up the labor practices and the environmental impact of clothing manufacturers. And that means right off the bat, you can just Google something.
And this is where I wanna get to where I failed earlier this week. I pretty much only purchase my clothes from the thrift store, or I make them myself out of thrifted fabric or a garment that I bought at the thrift store and I cut up and remake. So the skirt that I'm wearing, I made this skirt 20 years ago from a piece of thrifted fabric. I think it was a tablecloth originally, and I made a circle skirt out of it.
The petticoat that I'm wearing is a bedsheet that I actually picked up in a recent video on the gift economy. You can see where I got this on By Nothing. It was a bedsheet someone was getting rid [01:01:00] of, and I turned it into two circle skirts, one for me and one for my daughter, or petticoats I should say. And this shirt I got at the thrift store. So I hardly ever buy anything new. I either make it or I buy it thrifted, and that takes life hours. It takes time in order to save money and to repurpose a garment, to reuse a garment and make sure that no resources are consumed in my clothing purchases.
So I often wore tank tops under my clothes. They're almost all thrifted. I noticed the last time I went to the thrift store, tank tops have doubled in price at the thrift store. All of my tank tops are at least 10 years old, if not 15 or 18 years old. So many of them are wearing out. And I thought, well, for that price at the thrift store, I will invest in new ones that are on clearance from a local store that I know really supports women in agriculture. And I think this is a great choice. I'm trying really hard to purchase ethically. Okay. I'm gonna buy new in the hope that this will last a lot longer. I'm gonna buy it when it's on clearance, so I'm being [01:02:00] responsible with my resources. And I am going to support a company that supports women in agriculture, and a diverse set of women with diverse bodies, diverse ethnicities in their advertising. And I think that's really good. I'm making the best choice that I can. So they had a great sale. I purchased online. I had purchased four tank tops, and I'm not gonna show you the name of the company. They arrived today. So I thought, well, these are some staple parts of my wardrobe. Uh, purple, blue, gray, white. I'll wear 'em under lots of stuff. They'll last me for another 15 or 18 years. They're cotton. They'll go in the compost when I'm done, right? They came in plastic bags. Why is everything individually wrapped in plastic bags?
And then when they got here today, My 17-year-old was in the middle of venting about this sort of nihilism that she's seeing in regards to we can't make perfectly ethical choices. And I was like, well, look at these tank tops I just bought. They are from a company that really advocates and supports them, normalizes women in [01:03:00] agriculture. And I'm really frustrated that I thought I was making an ethical choice and here's all this plastic packaging in the order.
And then I took a second, and I looked up the practices of the company, and they are really cagey about where their employees, who their seamstresses are located, their garment workers, and how much they pay them, and what their working conditions are like.
And then they're also really pretty lacking in disclosure about where they source their cotton and how it is grown and harvested and the dyeing process as well. So that didn't feel great to me. I felt a little bit like a little bit of a hypocrite, but I want to extend grace and forgiveness to myself because there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. I thought I was doing a good thing. I had good intentions. I am one individual navigating a really complex system that is set up for profit. Profit for corporations and [01:04:00] CEOs, profit for shareholders. It is not set up to support ethics, it is not set up to support earth care and people care.
So I have to make my choices while existing in this system. And so I can try really hard to be ethical, and I cannot get a home run every time, and that is okay. I can check some of the boxes toward like I'm doing the best I can to do right by other people in the planet, and not get it perfect every time.
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with Professor Neil on TikTok explaining the origins of the phrase, there's no ethical consumption under capitalism. The tabernacle looked at the case of progressive commentator Hassan Piker to analyze the ethics of consumption. Kuter explored the ethics of engaging with the Harry Potter universe.
Poppy saw on TikTok gave a nuanced, alternate take on the possibility of acting ethically under capitalism. Pullback warned against letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and [01:05:00] explained other nuances of conscious consumerism. The gray area examined some of the moral philosophy of the Good Place.
Wisecrack explored the question of whether ethical capitalism is even possible and likes stories of old dove. Deeper into some of the moral questions asked and answered in the good place. That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from rounds table having a fittingly rounds table.
Discussion about conscious consumerism. Park Rose Permaculture told an individual story about how even our best efforts to consume ethically can be thwarted to hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive. Sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com slash support or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
And now we'll hear from you.
Response to cohousing episode
VOICEDMAILER: Hi Jay, the co-housing episode brought [01:06:00] back some memories, and triggered some current thoughts. My second home in summers when I was growing up was just outside Woodstock New York and we hobnobbed with the hippies there, many of whom lived in communes. When I was in college, I lived in two different houses that could be classified as cohousing communities. One was lovingly named Roach Haven, and the communal phone was listed in the phone book as Haven, comma, Roach.
Fast forward to life currently, I have been giving thought about the fact that I hardly know any of my neighbors now. I've been inside only one home in my neighborhood in the 19 years I've lived here, except for helping a lady who was having a health emergency, and that was 18 years ago and she long ago passed away. It is so isolating. I chalked it up to my being a Yankee in deep Dixie, but that TED talk made me realize it isn't just here. It's a much broader issue.
I've also been studying Buddhism, and one of their tenets is, in order to lessen one's suffering, focus on caring for others. Be a Bodhisattva, one who is compassionate to lessen others' suffering.
That has led to my meditating on, to whom can I have compassion? Of course, my wife and adult kids top the list. And I do that the best I can. But beyond that, who? [01:07:00] Perhaps it's the customers who come in to the dry cleaners I work at on Saturday morning. It's the callers looking for help at the volunteer position I have. But with all those, I have no possibility of a real relationship. It's all superficial, fleeting contact.
But I know I need to reach out more to my neighbors. I have only a couple of people in my town that I know reasonably well, but none of them would I categorize as a close friend. I guess I haven't put enough energy into reaching out to others.
But rather than self-flagellate, how to I remedy that? And at the age of 71, how do I develop friendships that have meaning?
And... just as I was typing that, I got a call from an old friend from college and we spent 2 hours talking and laughing.
Final comments on why people being misled into unethical behavior gives me hope
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record or text us a message at 2 0 2 9 9 9 3 9 9 1 or send an email to Jay Best of the Left dot-com. Thanks first to the listener for those comments. I have one quick thought and response that I definitely don't want to be misunderstood as a disagreement.
I don't think that person said anything wrong. I don't disagree, but they did say one thing [01:08:00] that I think highlighted the tragedy of social problems. The ubiquity of single family homes is a structural social issue, not the result of a hundred million individual choices being made. And the result is communities across the country and beyond that are just like, The listener described, filled with individuals and families who barely know their neighbors and struggle to connect with them even if they try.
And so on one hand we might know that the only real solution is going to be a systemic one where housing is built and owned with a fundamentally different long-term plan in mind. But on the other, We don't yet live in that reality. And so people are left to make individual choices about how best to live given the reality we currently have.
And so when the listener said quote, but I know I need to reach out more to my neighbors, I guess I haven't put enough energy into reaching out to others. [01:09:00] It broke my heart in two different directions at once because in our reality, That's kind of true. We sort of do just have to put in the work to have any chance of building meaningful friendships, but we shouldn't have to.
I mean, Building a friendship always takes work, but finding people you to consider putting that work into should be easy. It shouldn't be a matter of willpower and determination. That's almost always a recipe for failure as we heard in that show. Even people who grow up in tight communities and carry those values with them can often fail to foster connections no matter how hard they try.
But to try my best to answer. Their ultimate question about how to remedy this problem and develop meaningful friendships. I would say this, it's almost never going to be enough to simply put in more work, because it's not just that effort is missing. The dynamics are wrong. Friendships develop [01:10:00] slowly, usually starting with lots of casual encounters, with enough casual conversations that allow you to both realize that you have enough in common to build on and then go from there.
So the biggest impact change you can make isn't just putting in more effort. It's putting yourself in more places, more consistently, where repeated. Casual encounters with other people can take place. That's why co-housing is such a good mechanism for fostering community. Repeated, casual encounters are abundant and it's from there that deeper friendships can grow, but you know, lacking the ability to pack up and move to or build a co-housing community for yourself.
Finding some sort of social club or league related to literally anything you're interested in is basically the best most of us are gonna find right now. They create a place where [01:11:00] frequent casual encounters with the same people can take place over and over again. So, In the unjust reality where our built environment has created the inhumane dynamic of making us work for friendships.
I think that clubs and the like are sort of the work smarter, not harder version of cultivating friendships. Of course, the smartest way to work is live in tight-knit communities where you see people around all the time, but we don't live in that world yet. Now, I mean, there's no harm in trying to strike up friendships with your neighbors, but as we've heard, your mileage may vary.
Now on today's topic, I also have some thoughts. The issue of people using the phrase, there's no ethical consumption under capitalism as a sort of carte blanche to indulge whatever selfish desires they have, regardless of their impact. Reminded me of something. The first through line is that in order to take that phrase and use it as a [01:12:00] defense for selfishness and a disregard for the impacts of consumption, you must first wildly misinterpret it.
Its intended purposes to grant grace to all of us, but particularly the poor who cannot consume according to a perfect ethical standard. Even if we try to. And the second through line is humans seemingly insatiable desire to find ethical loopholes to allow them to act. Selfishly, I think there's a tension inside nearly all people between wanting to fulfill our selfish desires and wanting to be good members of society and not cause harm to others.
However, That second part is open to so much interpretation. That's where all the flimsy ethical loopholes flourish. Now, it's generally thought of as sort of pretty solid ethical grounds to say that people shouldn't be overly selfish and should care for others standard stuff. [01:13:00] Uh, in fact, as we heard from the voicemail today, it's literally good for our own health and wellbeing to focus on caring for others.
But the trick is that. If you can convince a person that being selfish isn't in contrast with helping others and sort of fostering a healthy society, then you will get a whole lot of signups to your new philosophy. The problem is those ideas always end up being built on sand. They're nonsense every time.
One example is from a couple years ago when probably a relatively small group of Christians started preaching that empathy was a sin. That being empathetic and deeply understanding where people are coming from can be a bad thing. But of course, they started by wrongly defining the concept of empathy, thereby setting up a straw man argument that they could easily knock down.
So one of 'em said quote, empathy is the sort of thing that you've got [01:14:00] someone drowning. Or they're in quicksand and they're sinking. And what empathy wants to do is jump into the quicksand with them both feet, and it feels like that's going to be more loving because they're going to feel like, I'm glad that you're here with me.
And the quicksand problem is you're both now sinking. Now, to me, that's pretty absurd on its face. It makes a little bit more sense if you understand that quicksand in that example is a metaphor for not condemning homosexuality as going against God's will. But even then, it's an extremely warped and weak argument.
But by effectively redefining empathy, they got a bunch of people on board with the idea that empathy something fundamental to caring for others. Is bad. The next example is from the queen of the craft herself, the godmother of libertarianism. Anne Rand [01:15:00] was a big fan of selfishness, and if you think I'm being unfair in that characterization, this tiny excerpt I'm going to read from her is from her collection of essays titled The Virtue of Selfishness.
Uh, but rather than simply extol the evident virtues of selfishness, she follows the same pattern of creating a strawman argument based on a wrong definition of a concept that she's arguing against. In her case, the opposite of selfishness, altruism, and Rand Wrights quote. Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one's own benefit is evil.
And quote, again, this is absurd on its face. Altruism does generally say that actions for the benefit of others is good, but the inverse being evil. Is nonsense. I mean, [01:16:00] actions taken for one's own benefit might be described as not altruistic, but it doesn't have to be the other extreme and declared evil.
That's ridiculous. Obviously, everyone alive must take actions that are in their own self-interest. And no one would call that evil, but this little bit of absurdity is foundational to the argument behind libertarianism. It's a large political and social movement that adheres to the idea that if everyone acted only in their own self-interest, it would bring about the best outcomes.
And that's the key. Those people who follow the selfish ideology of libertarianism or adhere to the idea that the free hand of the market should be left to solve all of our problems for us, only follow those ideas because they've been convinced that they are moral. And good for society. There are arguments built on sand and wildly incorrect definitions of words or phrases, but it's the through line of people being misled into immoral [01:17:00] behavior by the promise that it is actually moral and good or, or at least that it doesn't matter either way.
That gives me some amount of hope, you know, all of us, as I said. Have selfishness within us and nearly all of us have a desire to not act in a way that's actively detrimental to society and other people, which means that no one is completely lost or completely selfish or acting out of evil or some such.
For the most part, people act in ways that they can justify to themselves as ethical, and if they stuck with more traditional ethics, you know, in short care about other people. They'd be pretty all right. It's only when they're misled by nonsense philosophies that offer sort of snake oil ethics that things go wrong.
You know how to be totally selfish and totally ethical at the same time with this one weird trick and in reality. That's kind of what our [01:18:00] entire economic system is built on. We looked at it today from the consumer side, but I think it may be worth looking again from the business side of the equation to see how this pattern of nonsense, moral ethics became the foundation of the corporate culture that effectively runs the world, but that'll have to wait for another day.
As always, keep the comments coming in. You can leave us a voicemail or text message at 2 0 2 9 9 9 3 9 9 1, or you can email me to j Best of the Left dot-com. That is gonna be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon, Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes.
Thanks to our Transcriptionist, Trio, Ken, Brian and Lewind for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at Best [01:19:00] of the Left dot-com slash support through our Patreon page or from right inside the Apple Podcast app membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes.
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My name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly. Thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from Best of the Left dot-com.