liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
[personal profile] liv
So I was chatting to my brother Screwy over Christmas, and he asserted that making ethical consumer choices is just a way to express your values, it doesn't really help to bring about change. Now, Screwy is a philosopher and fond of making provocatively sweeping statements, and he's also way to the left of me politically. But when we were chewing over this one, I realized I couldn't entirely refute it. So I'm bringing it to DW, to see what my thinky interesting readers think.

Since I am a capitalist, ethical consumerism is really quite important to me. It just seems right to me to prefer to give my money to people and enterprises that I approve of. I mean, that's not a moral absolute, there's a trade-off between what I want and what I consider ethical. And what I can afford, both in terms of paying a premium for more ethical purchases, and at this point in my life more importantly, in terms of time spent figuring out exactly where my money should be going. Partly cos a lot of the information I want when making purchasing decisions isn't readily available. But ethical considerations are a pretty big factor in how I choose to spend (and invest) my money.

Equally, as a capitalist, I am biased towards considering individual factors and bad at recognizing structural factors. (Some places on the internet, including the subtitle of this journal, I use the handle individ-ewe-al, which is a bit of a silly pun on my name, but it also reflects my politics and my tendency to think about individual human beings more than collectives like countries or women or the often nebulous "society".) I do try to correct for that bias, and a lot of the time that means listening respectfully to my leftier friends. But to a great extent, I tend to see morality as more about repeatedly making good choices rather than bad choices, based on making better what you can influence, not so much in terms of "changing the world".

So I suppose emotionally, I want it to be the case that when I buy fair trade food and put my money in a bank with an ethical policy, it matters, I'm doing some actual good. And in that sense, yes, I am expressing my values by making those choices. To an extent it seems a bit like voting; most of the time a single vote doesn't matter at all, and I do agree that if you really care about democracy and improving your society, you have to do more than just vote. But voting is a way of expressing your values; I believe strongly in the principle of a secret ballot, so it's not about "sending a message" as such, but it's still an expression. I am the sort of person who wants low taxes and lots of individual freedom and innovation / I am the sort of person who wants a strong welfare state and a mutually supportive community. So by voting, you're reinforcing to yourself that you are that sort of person, and that makes it more likely that you will make decisions that relate to those values in the future.

I mean, one of the examples that Screwy gave was vegetarianism. He said that an individual person being veggie does very little for animal welfare, so it doesn't really matter how strict you are about making absolutely sure you have no meat-based ingredients in your food, you're generally expressing your values by choosing not to eat meat. It doesn't matter whether you're vegetarian or vegan or somewhere in between, because you're really just being the sort of person who cares about animal welfare, and any expression of that is about as good as any other. (I hope I'm not misrepresenting him here.) That doesn't seem quite right to me, because surely if enough people stop eating meat, the meat industry will shrink and then fewer animals will be killed for food, so change will in fact be effected.

There's been a lot of discussion on Facebook recently about the possibility of voting Green at the upcoming election. And it's a discussion on Facebook, so of course it's very much about expressing values. Am I the sort of person who rejects the Neo-liberal economic consensus? Am I the sort of person who cares about the environment? I think very few people in the discussion really believe that the Green party is going to be substantial force in the next parliament, let alone that they're going to win the election. But maybe they want to be the kind of people who vote Green, perhaps because they want to protest against the entrenched political system without voting for racists. Several people are very vocal about refusing to vote Green because they're seen as an anti-science party; I think the fact that at some point in the party's history they supported homoeopathy is a very minor issue and the mainstream parties have done far worse things in terms of failing to base their healthcare policy on evidence, but for lots of people, being rational and therefore rejecting homoeopathy and other "woo" is a big identity thing.

For myself, I dislike the fact that the Greens are against genetic manipulation, which is kind of what I do for a living, and nuclear energy, which I am generally in favour of, but that's pretty minor compared to individual policies I disagree with proposed by any of the other parties. A higher value priority for me is that I want to be the sort of person who treats all human beings with respect, including people with disabilities and foreigners, so for that reason maybe it's worth my voting Green even though I have very little time for their economic policy, because they're against austerity and pro immigration. Basically they're kind of positioning themselves as economically left and socially liberal, at least to an extent; lots of people who are economically left tend to be somewhat statist and authoritarian, so they don't quite know what to make of this. I have the opposite problem, in that I'm socially liberal but economically right, so I likewise feel like the Green party is an awkward fit for me, just for different reasons. But the Liberal Democrats, er, basically failed to do anything actually liberal at any point in the last five years, so I am reluctant to vote for them even though on paper I agree with more of their policies.

Of course, when it comes to actual voting, I am aiming to vote for an MP as well as for a party, and I will have to vote tactically to some extent because FPTP forces that. And I doubt that the Green party would enact their somewhat Utopian policies even if they did get into power, which seems pretty unlikely anyway. But in terms of figuring out whether I'm the kind of person who could vote for a party who don't want to invest in science and economic growth, but do plan to roll back draconian laws against "terrorism" and punitive welfare cuts and abusive immigration policies, these considerations are less important.

But precisely because I think of myself as an individual more than a member of an identity group, I feel vaguely uneasy thinking like this. I don't like the idea that my vote is merely a way of being a middle-class over-thinker who likes multiculturalism and dislikes austerity, or who likes science and dislikes wealth taxes if I decide to vote the other way. I don't like the idea that in choosing to be mostly vegetarian, I'm just being the kind of person who cares about animal welfare (and Jewish dietary laws), I'm not actually helping animals or the environment at all. And I don't like the idea that it's not worth making more effort to cut down on the eggs and dairy I eat and prioritize buying produce that comes from decently treated animals. Even though that would make my life easier, I want to feel like I'm actually making a difference, even if it's a small one, even if it's only on balance and the sort of thing that only helps if lots of people do it.

Maybe this is why I tend to put time and effort into community volunteering, and don't feel comfortable with efficient charitable giving. If I do stuff that actually makes people's lives better where I can see it, that is at least satisfying, even if it doesn't have globally significant effects. If I give what I can afford, which is really quite a lot in relative terms, to buying cheap medicines so that children in the poorest parts of the world are more likely to survive treatable diseases, I don't actually change the situation where there's huge global inequality such that a billion people need handouts from rich Westerners to get basic medical care. And isn't picking causes just one more consumer choice, one more way of expressing values without effecting change? The Effective Altruism people are expressing their values, which is that they're rational and care about spending their money where it can do most good and aren't moved by sentiment, and I'm expressing mine by preferring to volunteer and make personal connections with people, because I'm the sort of person who believes in having a strong responsibility to people whose lives I'm directly involved in. Does any of it matter, given that although my friends and I are mostly rich in global terms, we're hardly rich or influential enough to actually have a meaningful effect on international politics?

There's a locked discussion elsejournal to the effect that you have to be either a teenager, or hugely privileged (unattached, high earning 30-something white guy was the sort of example), to be arrogant enough to believe you can change the world. I think I've never been a change the world sort of person, but I do think you can make a positive difference to the people in your life, and if everybody did that, the world would get incrementally better. But I also think there are ways to bring about real change that aren't just consumer choices, or else the kind of activism that you can only engage in if you are really comfortably cushioned and have plenty of spare money, time and energy.

Well, last time I talked about the philosophy behind my politics it went reasonably well, so let's see if this sets off some equally good discussion, even if I am not quite aligned with many of my readers in some ways.
ETA: My brother turned up to explain what he meant a bit more clearly than my summary: his clarification

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 12:34 am (UTC)
ceb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ceb
I look at it as, my choices won't in general make much of a difference to the world[*], but picking the crapper choice because it's easy and everyone else is doing it and oh it doesn't make any difference anyway *can't* change the world. And we know things can change, and it's not all high-profile stuff, some of it is just a trickle of people gradually making the same change until that's the new default.

Relatedly I get very annoyed at some people's[**] tendency to hold organisations who attempt to do good things to higher standards, such that they'd rather have an organisation that isn't making the effort at all than one that's 90% succeeding and 10% failing because it's all somehow the same to them. I don't understand this at all.

[*] With the exception of supporting e.g. small shops or endeavours that I approve of, which may well cause the thing in question to keep on existing a bit longer.
[**] Sorry, not trying to be passive-aggressively finger-pointy; I can't think of any good examples at the moment.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 02:58 am (UTC)
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)
From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid
such that they'd rather have an organisation that isn't making the effort at all than one that's 90% succeeding and 10% failing because it's all somehow the same to them.

This is so frustrating. One factor is that the more ethical a business or org is, the more likely they are to make all their accounting transparent and public, so it's easier to spot when things are inefficient, or when projects don't have the desired outcome.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 09:41 am (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
I can think of an excellent example, based off [personal profile] liv's throwaway comment "the Liberal Democrats, er, basically failed to do anything actually liberal at any point in the last five years"

- raised income tax threshold bringing poorer workers
- free school meals
- extending free nursery hours to the poorest 40%
- massive increase in apprenticeships
- same sex marriage
- refused to let benefits be frozen when inflation was rising
- massively reduced child imprisonment before deportation (not eliminated entirely, but far better than it was)
- killed (repeatedly) internet snooping plans
- forced an actual review on drugs policy, and then forced it to be published


but you know, the compromises to get those things mean LibDems have done nothing liberal

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Date: 2015-01-27 02:21 am (UTC)
slashmarks: (Leo)
From: [personal profile] slashmarks
I think it depends on the specific choice, really. It seems quite likely to me that the psychological processes behind voting, and trying to consume ethically, are pretty similar and more about self identification than anything else.

But as for the consequences of those decisions -- take ethical consumption. Now, there really isn't a way to buy everything ethically unless you're in some very specific circumstances, at least the way the economy works today. I live in the US, and the vast majority of agricultural products are picked by people paid pittances working in inhumane conditions. I can't just stop eating, and my income and lack of easy transportation make the idea of trying to search out all local food where I can personally check the circumstances laughable. Similarly, most of my material goods come from factory produced labor. I can't just stop wearing clothing until I can afford to buy everything from artisan companies.

And what does that choice to support or not support a large scale business do? Basically nothing. My sixty dollars in groceries per week is not going to make or break a corporation. If everyone stopped supporting Wal Mart they'd go out of business, but enough people can't afford to buy from anywhere but Wal Mart that that's not going to happen. A serious boycott isn't just customers trying to be ethical -- it has to include providing alternatives to the community, for all the people who don't have the sort of lives where shopping at Wal Mart, or riding the city bus, or whatever, is necessity and not a choice. So I think that deciding to not support a corporation makes very little difference absent activist organizing.

On the other hand, there's the choice *to* support a business you *do* know is ethical. Let's say I'm not grocery shopping, I'm buying jewelry for my girlfriend's birthday. I can spent twenty dollars in Macy's, or not, and that choice will do pretty much nothing either way for the corporation. But if I go to, say, an online store supporting indigenous artists, that twenty dollars could make a much more significant impact, because my single purchase is a larger slice of the overall income from the business, and it also is a signal about the marketability of that artist's jewelry.

Looking back over this it seems like what I'm really talking about is business size, but I think there's still a point to be made with that. My overall strategy is not to try to consume ethically overall, something that would be wildly unrealistic, but to support ethical businesses with the money I can make a choice about spending.

(Also -- hi! I think this is my first time commenting here.)

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Date: 2015-01-27 02:55 am (UTC)
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)
From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid
that twenty dollars could make a much more significant impact, because my single purchase is a larger slice of the overall income from the business

This is a really good point!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 10:25 am (UTC)
sfred: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sfred
Yes, that's the point that stood out for me in a recent discussion elseweb about ethical investment: if I choose not to invest in, say, arms manufacturers, that doesn't make a lot of difference to the arms manufacturer, but if I'm investing that money instead in windpower, it's likely to be making a positive difference there.

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Date: 2015-01-27 02:53 am (UTC)
ironed_orchid: two coffee beans with the fairtrade logo stamped on one (fair trade coffee)
From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid
I work in Fair Trade and this sort of thing comes up a lot.

What I think is that Fair Trade is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. I also think that if people care about things like workers' rights and minimum wages in their own countries, then it makes sense to extend that care to people overseas.

Being in Fair Trade, I get to see the stories from people to whom it has made a concrete difference. A different like "since we joined the co-op, our kids go to school, and we get medical checks twice a year", or "since I started working for [certified producer] I have been able to get the power on and buy a fridge."

In a lot of cases, the WFTO and FLO are the ONLY organizations who check for things like child labour and safe working conditions, so the choice isn't between an imperfect organization and a perfect one, but between an imperfect organization and nothing at all.

I also suspect that some people have not spent much time thinking of the actual living conditions in most parts of the world.

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Date: 2015-01-27 03:16 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
Hmmm... "a way of expressing values" - yes, course, and to that extent I guess he's right that ethical choices in personal consumption work as a kind of internal ribbon-wearing, a way to assert (to oneself) that one is a good person. But I think he's looking too high when he dismisses such choices as being of no effect. Of course they're of effect - the meat industry is feeling the effects of rising vegetarianism. Ethical chocolate-buying hasn't done much yet to crush child slavery, that's true - but it has taken it to the point where plantations are closing ranks and hiding information about conditions on their farms - i.e. they're on the defensive,because they feel the push (tiny as it is).

To take a not-ethical example, there's the anti-vaccination movement. It has spread in the same way as many ethics-based campaigns, that is, outside government or professional circles, person-to-person; it is now having some clear (small, but visible) impact in disease outbreak, as in the current rise in measles in the US. Individual unorchestrated decisions do have effect.

Not the quick, over-powering effect that legislation can have (I'm not sure what your brother is suggesting as a way to bring about change, but that's one route, obviously) but still, effect.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 09:11 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
That's a really good point (if also really sad)

Some Clarification

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Date: 2015-01-27 03:48 am (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
I think there's possibly an intersection between your assertion your brother likes being provocative and your liking of individualism, because if you look at consumer movements on the individual level, then no, they don't make a difference, but if you discard the individual and look at them on the aggregate basis, then yes, they do make a difference.

Take vegetarianism; you deciding to be veggie or me deciding not to, or individual degrees of going vegetarian, don't make a difference, but when you look at vegetarianism as a whole, and look at the changes made it the market as a whole, then yes, it's clear it had made a huge difference - it would be unusual, for instance, to find a restaurant that didn't offer a veggie option, but I remember when it was unusual to find one that did, and ditto for supermarkets etc. That change, and it's a massive one, is down to the aggregate effect of individual consumer choice, a choice that started out as 'odd' and 'radical' and is now absolutely mainstream.
Edited Date: 2015-01-27 03:50 am (UTC)

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Date: 2015-01-27 02:58 pm (UTC)
green_knight: (Ordnung)
From: [personal profile] green_knight
I was living in Germany when Germans started to leave packaging in supermarkets for the supermarkets to recycle. Each individually superfluous bit of plastic or cardboard didn't make a great difference to the world, but thirty or fifty people made a very noticeable difference to each individual supermarket, and supermarkets complaining to suppliers has led to products in Germany being sold with minimum packaging.

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Date: 2015-01-27 04:11 am (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Since I am a capitalist

Oh no, say it ain't so... ;)

WRT voting Green, I have very mixed feelings. I have similar thoughts as you WRT their science position (though better theirs than UKIP's wanting to ban teaching global warming!), I'm even less happy with their Foreign/Defence policies which I see as actively dangerous (I've got a very weird mix of policy preferences, simultaneously anti-authoritarian and pro robust Foreign and Defence policies) and while I like their tolerance and support for people as a whole, I'm not really in a place where I would feel comfortable voting for them.

Historically I've voted Labour (often unhappily, I call my politics centrist but apparently everyone else would call me very left wing), with the Lib Dems as a fall back vote if Labour did something egregiously stupid. I can't remember ever actually doing that, but I've certainly considered it e.g. after Labour's introduction of the WCA. The problem this time around is that I'm really not happy with Labour's drift to the Right, so there could be a genuine case for invoking my fall-back vote, and there is no way I will consider voting Lib Dem given their demonstrated willingness to sell their votes to the first person who comes along, yet equally I'm not happy voting Green.

And of course there's the potential need to tactically vote, given a UKIP MP in the neighbouring constituency.

It shouldn't be this hard to find a party you approve of!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 05:23 am (UTC)
mathcathy: number ball (Default)
From: [personal profile] mathcathy
I mainly agree with Screwy, but not entirely. For example, the publication of NHS records idea went on hold because so many people were angered by it and opted out.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 05:25 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
Your brother sounds like he's taking the "one vote won't matter so don't bother voting" line! He's completely right, of course, that one person's ethical consumerism makes little to no difference, but he's conveniently overlooking that individuals can be part of a group that causes change.

If I lived in the UK with the first-past-the-post system I'd be cautious about voting Green, too: fortunately here it's preferential so I can vote for the Greens all day long. (They're the only major party opposing our hideous immigration policies.)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 05:55 am (UTC)
alexseanchai: Blue and purple lightning (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexseanchai
Something I saw elsewebs, and I can't prove it but I don't think it's false: If you're concerned about animal welfare, you have the option of going vegetarian or vegan. (General you, excluding some specific yous for personal health reasons.) If you're concerned about human welfare, the only way to eat nothing that violates your ethics system is to grow it all yourself. (Or to not eat.)

Which is tangential, really.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 06:27 am (UTC)
monanotlisa: Diana as Diana Prince in glasses and a hat, lifting the rim of the latter rakishly. HOT! (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
I don't think I've ever said it quite so directly, but I really love you: the way your brain works, sure, but mostly the choices you make with it -- to engage, to question, to discuss openly. (In my my milder moments I have the hope of having that capacity, but let's face it; I'll never have that patience.) Guess what I'm saying is that I am very thankful for knowing you.

It's 10pm here, and they just stole my bike; I haven't had hot water in my home in 11 days now (and counting), so I'll keep it brief, but I'd love to respond to at least a few of the many good points you raise here:

1. Screwy's argument against vegetarianism is weak in light of a whole subcontinent already showcasing how much resources you can save every single day. Based on FAO data, Indians eat under 5kg of meat per capita per year at this point. If each Indians chooses the meat-eating habits of even, say, some other Asian nation like the Chinese, at under 60kg (let's not even go the end of the spectrum with the 'muricans) that would mean they would consume MORE THAN TEN TIMES as much meat as they do now. There's 1.3 billion Indians on this planet. Happy mathing, and good luck ever finding a piece of non-soy protein again...

2. Green voters have it so hard, by which I mean that of course we never do have it actually hard; it's just that we do face ethical quandaries at rates that I don't think the constituents of some crusty rural Bible-Readers Party do. I vote Green in all German elections where I can influence the slice of the pie -- we have, as you probably know, a Mixed member proportional representation system (MMP, see also http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-election-system-explained-a-923243.html). There are some granola-crunching people who think homeopathy will save our bodies and souls and who bike to their community jobs with jute bags only, but most of us are urban professionals forever torn between things we hold dear: Queer rights, education, and more open immigration on the one hand, and the struggle against genetic engineering, pharmaceutical structures, and key business investments. I cast my vote with the side of the first three every time, and grind my teeth at the latter policies, but deep down I cannot choose differently because they are about human beings' fates right here, right now (versus the fallout in the future). Would I vote for a party that is more, let's say, REALITY-based when it comes to the science side of things? Yes! But it doesn't exist, not in my country and not in yours either, it seems.

3. This is the most existentialist argument ever, but especially in a world where ultimate mattering is questionable, we do what we can because we must: If the only thing I can do as an individual is to make purchasing choices that benefit companies that do even marginally better than others -- of course I will do just that. There is the collectivist argument (your voting comparison is spot-on), of course, but it's more than that: If we want to look into the mirror each morning, how can we not decide to do as good as we can in every given situation where it costs us nothing but money? (Said like someone who has that, obviously; I wish I could be like my activist friends, but, no.)


(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 09:51 am (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (Default)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Screwy is both right and very wrong. Personal choices don't generally have an enormous impact, because one person in a whole society mostly can't do that much alone - and some of the popular "good" choices aren't actually that significant, or don't do what they're supposed to do, etc, and end up being mostly about how you feel about yourself.

But equally, where does he think change does come from? Lots of individuals making individual choices is literally the only thing that can ever change the market - even if you look at the impact of legislation, that still comes from somewhere, and the somewhere is eventually going to be people. So I call bullshit.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 10:24 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
I agree that one person doesn't have a huge impact on the world, but get enough people do take the same action and change happens. People are persuaded one by one to do the thing because it's good, and the more people who do it the easier it becomes so more people are easier to persuade. Right now voting Green is unlikely to get you a Green MP - but every time their vote-share goes up more people (who may already thing that the Greens are the BEST party but not) will think that they are a *viable party* worth voting for and give them their vote. Right now vegetarianism isn't making the meat industry vanish - but enough people want vegetarian food that I can't remember last time I was in a restaurant or cafe that didn't have at least *something* vegetarian on offer. Not all chocolate is made ethically - but Fair Trade chocolate is clearly marked, so you can easily choose to buy it if that's what you want.

Big changes usually happen slowly, creeping up on you, not allofasudden *bam* change.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 12:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Basically, I agree with ceb. It's true that one person doing one thing won't change the world - unless they influence the people around them, and so on.

I disagree on the whole individualism, which is a fundamental personality difference. I don't understand why helping someone here is more satisfying than helping someone I never meet - and I don't understand the whole inclination to take the side of someone you know. I've trained myself out of saying 'actually, they sound perfectly reasonable and I would have acted the same way' because I know that's not what people want to hear, but it does leave me looking at this whole idea a different way.

But, my main point it this - you may never change the world. You may never influence other people to go your way (although actually, it's only a few months ago that Colin was saying he would never go vegetarian because I couldn't cope with a vegetarian partner, and here I am being influenced at least partly by you to at least eat less meat if not entirely give it up). But do you want your money to be going to pay for someone to kidnap and enslave a child? Do you want your money to go to a local indie dress maker or a factory owner in Bangladesh? You might not change the world, but you can change your influence on it.

Now, I know other capitalists who say that slavery is a valid business decision, boycotts never change business matters, so there's no point, that's capitalism, a few kids die, a few workers get burned down, where's the harm? But I don't think that's you. I don't want to think that's you, but I also think that doesn't fit the way you present yourself as well as my mental 'Liv-as-hero' model. So maybe it does matter, even if it doesn't change the world. Maybe acting as true to your values as you can is the important way to live.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 01:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Ah, I remembered the other thing. I actually find S's comment quite reassuring. It implies that so long as we try our best, it doesn't matter if we screw up occasionally.

Now a lot of people tell me this, but they've usually an axe to grind - they want to say I should ignore my morals and ethics around them, or they're selling universal salvation - but I don't think that's the case here so I'm more inclined to listen.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 01:37 pm (UTC)
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
From: [personal profile] wildeabandon
It seems to me that this:
If I give what I can afford, which is really quite a lot in relative terms, to buying cheap medicines so that children in the poorest parts of the world are more likely to survive treatable diseases, I don't actually change the situation where there's huge global inequality such that a billion people need handouts from rich Westerners to get basic medical care.

is somewhat in contrast with your earlier:

my tendency to think about individual human beings more than collectives like countries or women or the often nebulous "society".

For me at least, the thing that makes effective altruism so appealing is the knowledge that for the kids who are now surviving their childhood diseases and their families I have, in fact, changed the world.
Edited Date: 2015-01-27 01:37 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 03:06 pm (UTC)
chess: (Default)
From: [personal profile] chess
Yes - effective altruism for me is not so much about 'change the world' as it is about 'I saved _that_ one' - for as many 'that ones' as I can reach out and touch, even quite indirectly.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 03:06 pm (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
I think that a flaw in his argument is that when a lot of people make consumer decisions it does have a clear effect. For example, most laying hens in the UK are free range. This is because British consumers prefer to buy free range eggs. All those individual choices have added up to a major change in farming practices.

My preference is for changing the world tends to be in terms of incremental change individual by individual. When I give to cost effective overseas charities I tend to think of it in terms of the people that money will help. It's statistically very likely that the things I have paid for have saved at least one person's life. That's a pretty amazing impact.

I think that little personal change is necessary for big systematic change. In a vaguely democratic society you can't bring about big changes without some degree of popular consent.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 07:05 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
I've only skimmed this, so may have the wrong end of the stick, but:

Problems I have with ethical consumerism:
1) being thorough about it means either quite a minimalist lifestyle or spending huge amounts of time -- there's a lot of greenwashing out there.
2) it works if there's a large middle-class who are in a position to make these choices, but it's both cruel and unrealistic to expect people who are really hungry to, for example, not shop at Tesco because of their policy of using coerced 'workfare' labour. I don't do it, but I have a huge privilege in that. Individual ethical choices may make the world better, but the world already has to be pretty good for all individuals to be able to choose where to buy groceries.
3) many of the people who advocate for ethical consumerism don't also advocate for ethical livelihood. I'm not sure at what point my own ethical choices outweigh the harm done by my husband working in a not-particularly-ethical department of a Big Evil Bank.

So, I think there is an element of picking battles.

Regarding community involvement vs efficient giving -- this is hard to measure. What has improved my life the most? Relationships with people who give a damn about me, or money spent by others on my wellbeing, in a detached sort of way? That's a tough one. Antibiotics have probably saved my life several times over by now; vaccines, too. I've had access to both of those things because I've lived in countries where they are paid for by taxpayers who mostly don't know me or don't care about me personally.

Personally, at the moment I'm putting a lot more into community involvement and relationships than into financial donations, efficient or otherwise.

More later...

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-28 01:23 pm (UTC)
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)
From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid
I work in ethical retail (see my comment above) and I agree with a lot of what you say.

I remember being at work and a customer gave us a copy of an ethical shopping guide, and after they left my colleague and I started making a list of how to be an ethical consumer, which began with things like:

1. Have enough money left over after you pay bills to be able to afford to make choices about food and other consumer products
2. Have a stay at home spouse who can spend their day shopping at different locations across the city
2.a. Have a vehicle of some sort to get to those locations (This may conflict with your environmental ethics, so it will probably have to be some sort of energy efficient vehicle.)

I think that's as far as we got before feeling the point had been made.

I also like what you say about picking your battles.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 10:05 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
After reading this and commentary, I'm struck by what a self-described "revolutionary socialist" told me back at university - that the workers need people in high social and economic positions to be their vanguard and advocates, so that change can begin from within the current system before it gains critical mass. Ethical consumption seems to be a good analogue to this, as does voting a preferred party where possible.

In addition, though, I'm looking at it through my understanding of a Daoist method - expend the smallest effort necessary to achieve the greatest change. Which means being personally as ethical as possible, but also taking into the consideration as to whether a chosen course of action will achieve the change desired. Which might mean having to not fight one battle in favor of throwing effort into another that is near the tipping point. So with regard to things like voting or consuming, personal decisions and advocacy might very well met the criteria of least effort for greatest change.

I'll not sure I said anything important or novel, but there it is all the same.

More clarification

Date: 2015-01-28 11:26 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It is of course true that mass change requires individuals to make changes. A communist party has just been elected in Greece. I don't want to deny that collective action affects change. I also think that many of our problems are systemic. The meat industry is one. Our economy relies on industrial agriculture. Vegetarianism is more mainstream. You can eat out as veggie almost anywhere. Do animals suffer less now than in the 70s? Are we eating less meat on aggregate? I don't know, but I doubt it (/me pulls figure out of his arse).

I think that there are parallels with slavery in the Americas and Caribbean. Slavery ended because the British discovered they could make more profit by exploiting 'free' Indian labourers, whom they had impoverished, (and also the then new British industrial working class, whom they had created by chucking them off the land) and probably some US history stuff I don't know about. Of course, the Haitains led by Toussiant Louveture, the Maroons and Wilberforce's abolitionists made a difference. But slavery ended because the economic model changed. We will stop eating meat, and be disgusted by the fact that we ever did, when there is a readily available, easy to cook source of protein available (lab grown meat, for example), or capitalism collapses. That's what I think.

YAB

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