Commentary, Politics, Uncategorized

How do we prioritize good deeds?

and not just good deeds, but ethics?

It seems like everyone has a cause, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot: not all causes are created equal.

Some people put a lot of money, blood, sweat, and tears, into a cause that amounts to a lot of nothing. And it isn’t just the thought that counts. Having good intentions is a good place to start, but it’s not enough. People want to feel good about themselves for doing good, and don’t necessarily wonder how running a half marathon actually affects Cancer. The idea that they’re doing a good thing and that other people see them doing a good thing, and their genuine desire to help is enough.

I’m skeptical of everything, I guess its just how I was raised. My parents gave to charity, but there was sometimes a discussion about where the money really went, and an acknowledgement that some charities are better than others. It’s very important to me that if I do give to charity or champion a cause that I can be sure it’s really doing something and that it isn’t just an empty gesture to make me feel good about myself. At least if you give money to a homeless person, you can be sure that he is getting the money, and not some CEO.

I tend to err on the side of not giving, which I guess is pretty shitty. I can’t stand the way that breast cancer has been commercialized into a trend, and I’m still not sure if the way that we aid foreign countries is really helping them.

I’ve written a little bit about this before, but I have been thinking about slavery and human trafficking recently. Last month, on Facebook, I was invited to the page “END IT: Shine a Light on Slavery,” an event taking place on February 27. As far as I could tell, participation consisted of drawing red X’s on your hands. On the website it states, “This February 27th, join us and other Freedom Fighters from around the world as we SHINE A LIGHT ON SLAVERY. Draw a RED X on your hand. Tell your world that slavery still exists and YOU WON’T STAND FOR IT. Just use your influence any way you can to help us carry the message of FREEDOM so even more people know. Let’s make this SHINE A LIGHT ON SLAVERY DAY even brighter than ever.” Unfortunately, that’s the end of it. They don’t actually tell you what steps you can take to end slavery. They just tell you how to spread the word that we should be ending slavery, to get more people to seemingly spread the word. It’s a good message, and a good way to spread it, but without any plan on how to actually do anything about it, once people are aware of it.

You see, most people don’t outwardly support slavery. Slavery is bad, and we supposedly have known this for like 150 years. Most of us thought that it was done with. Well, it’s not. Although the End It campaign fell short, it did get me thinking about slavery, which was a good thing. I thought about what I personally can do to stop it, that is buying products made by slaves. It seemed like a long shot, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was something that I had to do. It’s something that anyone can do, really. It isn’t going to be easy to end slavery, when it’s something that already isn’t accepted. It isn’t out in the open. But we can stop supporting it. We can stop buying cheap products made through exploitation. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s something that a lot of people will need to do for it to make a difference. I never thought about the fact that most of the clothing that I purchase is made in sweatshops. Nice, fashionable clothing, is manufactured in dangerous conditions, by underpaid workers, at best. Sometimes the workers are trafficked in. Sometimes they are abused. Sometimes they are children. I feel disgusted with myself for ever contributing to another person’s misery in such a way.

I’ve been looking online to try and find good places to buy ethically made clothing. What I’ve found really interesting is that a lot of these websites bulk ethics together. Some of what they sell is fairtrade, sweatshop free, etc. Some of it is eco-friendly. Some of it is vegan. But a lot of it is not all of the above. Here is something about the hierarchy of ethics that baffles me–you can buy an animal-friendly Vegan handbag that is made in a sweatshop in China. Someone is actually feeling good about themselves for not killing a cow, essentially at the cost of another human being’s human rights. Where does that fall on the scale of ethical?

Here’s the thing: when it comes to picking causes, I’m always going to choose humans. Animals are helpless, and they do need champions, but so do people being forced to work 15 hours a day. It would be great if we could eliminate all cruelty, certainly. I guess what I’m saying though is that if it came to choosing one or the other, I’m picking humans.

It’s been a few weeks since I decided to be a more conscientious shopper, and I haven’t bought a single item of clothing. I’ve made a wish list on pinterest, and when I really need a new items of clothes, I’ve found some great ethical manufacturers. At this point I have enough to keep me clothed.  I feel good about buying clothing with real value, stuff that’s well made, by people who aren’t being exploited. I won’t be able to buy as much clothing as I have in the past, but I think that the stuff I do buy will be better made and last longer. That’s the practical side of it. I also don’t have to feel bad about myself.