July 2005

I got into an interesting if not heated IM conversation the other day about Laura’s post. (As an aside, Laura: GET A BLOGGER ACCOUNT. LiveJournal doesn’t have a permalink feature, so I’m hoping that linking to the comments page will work). Anyway, I’m going to copy the part of her post that we were discussing. It’s long so I’m going to bold some things for emphasis.

The second thing I’ve been struggling against is a growing feeling of disillusionment with the world in general, particularly American society, more particularly American consumerism and religious fanaticism and racism and the media. And apathy, maybe that one most of all. Most of this is a result of my experience with teaching social science classes (as I said already, a very positive experience) and with attending lectures and optional seminars at GS, and from hotseat conversations. We discussed a lot of issues that are really important to know about, and that I wish I had learned about at the students’ age, but discussing so many in such a short period of time is discouraging. So many of these problems, like the injustices and human rights violations that go along with free trade; the racial inequities that have developed from a hundreds-year-long legacy of private and governmental discrimination; the objectification, sexism, racism, and heterosexism displayed by and transmitted through advertising; the inadequacy and misplaced values of American primary and secondary education; and the despicability of corporations in general require an entire transformation of our culture to be addressed or solved. They require changing the minds of an entire citizenry, as well as the unconscious assumptions, values, stereotypes, and priorities that shape opinions. I just feel so insignificant. More and more I realize I want to do something with my life that will make a difference; I want to fight injustice in some way. But there are so many injustices, and they’re so big and structural and systemic and fundamental, and I don’t know how I can even make a tiny dent. I’ve gotten more interested in being a teacher this summer. Even though it’s just a tiny part of the equation, I believe education is the best tool with which to approach a lot of these problems, and maybe I could give a few kids some moral outrage, if nothing else. One of my biggest frustrations is the apathy of the American public, including a lot of the enormously gifted students I helped teach (although not all of them, and a lot were much more aware by the end). There’s a refusal to accept responsibility for activities we are complicit in, as consumers (i.e. third world sweatshops), as citizens (who allow our airways and government and lives more generally to be controlled by corporations and a media that is the puppet of those corporations), as participants in a variety of unjust systems. If we are just passive participants, we don’t feel we bear any of the guilt. Acknowledging the failures of the systems is a good enough moral accomplishment (most don’t even do that much); actually changing the system is too much to ask. We refuse to recognize our obligations to others because we fear they’re too much for us to bear and that what we can offer is insignificant and that others won’t join in; of course, the problem with this thinking is that as long as everyone thinks that, nothing happens, and as soon as everyone stops thinking that, everything can change. But how to make everyone realize that our society is fucked up and we have the power to change it–that is the question. I have to content myself with smaller goals than an entire cultural transformation, maybe. I also have to avoid escapism, or at least that’s what I think at the moment. Anyway, look at me, I’m sounding like a crazy liberal socialist conspiracy theorist, so Governor’s School must have been a success. This is all I can handle at the moment. I will write more later. I’ve missed all you readers.

Whew, okay, now this is me again.

After calling me “Friedman” almost immediately in the conversation for saying that working in a factory was better than starving, Laura then asserted that if corporations “force” people off the land and into factories, the people might be going into a worse situation, with which I definitely disagreed.

The reason I disagree is that Americans seem to have a kind of romantic nostalgia about indiginous peoples living the same way their ancestors have for thousands of years and see anyone who would change that as evil. This is despite the fact that most of the ancestors in question probably died of disease at the age of 30, if they made it that far. Life on the farm in the countries where people are being “forced” off the farms is nasty, brutish, and short. They are coming to the cities because if you have a few bad weeks in the city, no big deal – if you have a few bad weeks in the country, you’re dead. The more people that are no longer living a subsistence farming lifestyle that depends on the weather, the better.

Laura then said that these companies are making huge margins and it wouldn’t hurt them at all to treat their workers a little better. I disagreed with this as well because

  1. Going to the other countries to find cheaper labor isn’t free. The company still has to pay enourmous transport costs, so you can’t directly compare American wages to foreign wages when you’re looking at how much of a margin a company has.

  2. If there’s a company that could be paying its overseas employees more and still be making enough of a margin for it to be “worth it” to make the move overseas in the first place, another company (perhaps with a different definition of “worth it”) would be over there paying its employees more. Which leads into…

  3. Going overseas is not a risk-free endeavor. In order to counter the risk that the government in the country might suddenly decide to seize your assets or that some other catastrophe might occur, a wider profit margin is necessary to get the company there in the first place (to make it “worth it”).

All of this seems to back up the assertion that I am now a raging libertarian, as I first (and more fully) discussed here. I gave reasons and everything.

I’m going to post more but do it separately.