Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The End It Project: ignorance is bliss

I've been researching various items each month and writing about ways to avoid slave-made products, and which brands are Good, and posting about them on the 27th (because there are approximately 27 million slaves in our world today). I'm still researching "hair" (cleaning, conditioning, and removing), but in the meantime, here's a different sort of post...

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I can find any number of articles that will get people in an uproar. 
Car companies are making way too many cars and just storing them randomly all over the world and here are Google maps images to prove it!
Uggs are made out of sheep skins - they're killing sheep!
Chobani yogurt uses milk from cows who are fed GMO grain diets!
And those are the linked articles - there are also the photographs floating around with long, verbose captions that claim to be quotes... except that the only thing you can find linking that face to those words is the post itself.

People start liking and sharing and commenting - soon, there's a mob ready to tar and feather whomever or whatever is the current target. The problem with that is, most of the articles and posts are one-sided at best and wholly untrue at worst. Misinformation spreads like wildfire, especially when it's something that we want to hear. We'd like to believe that Big Corporations are evil - so we don't question when someone says that they are.

But there are two sides to every coin (for example: yes, Uggs are made out of sheep skins. They are the skins of meat sheep, unfit for anything else, so it's actually a resourcefully responsible practice). But even if it turns out that, indeed, practically all of the mica in our cosmetics is mined using child/slave labor, we need to stop and ask ourselves what part we played in it.

Yes, we. It's so much more fun to attack, to remain ignorant of the dirty details - but every company started as a small one. It sought to fill a need in the market (whether known or created), and if the company survived, then it was because of us - the consumers. As the consumers, well, consume, demanding more and more, the companies are forced to keep up. Then it slowly begins to fall apart.

Either a necessary resource becomes limited, thereby forcing unethical acquisition (if the only country that has What We Need is ruled by a corrupt government, it's far too easy to close our eyes and hand over the money without asking questions) or experiments in genetic modification and growth hormones in order to make what we do have bigger or better or faster-growing;

Or perhaps labor becomes an issue - it's too expensive to produce the amount of stuff that's demanded in the amount of time that's demanded, so we turn to third world countries, desperate for employment, and exploit their needs in order to sate our wants;

Maybe a consumer did some digging, and found out that an ingredient or manufacturing practice was less than desirable. There were boycotts and protests, and because they were losing money, the company was forced to change. The trouble with that is, we give ultimatums without offering solutions. Ew, guano is made out of what?! I don't want that in my makeup! Alright, then we'll use a synthetic alternative. Caustic chemicals on my skin! They're poisoning us! Fine. Mineral-based cosmetics, then. Which leads us to the current issue of slave-mining. (Disclaimer: there are some things that are and have been used in production that are harmful - for example, cocaine in Coca-Cola, or lead in paint. But those types of things are usually outed by organized research, not poorly written alarmist articles on the internet.)

When we encounter something we see as undesirable, we should pause to consider the alternatives. Cochineal is (or was, at least) a small red bug that is/was dried, crushed and used to dye things like strawberry yogurt red. Firstly, you can't taste them and they're not toxic, and you're not vegan if you're eating yogurt - so is it really that big a deal? and secondly, what's the alternative - red #40? Is that really better? Or, to look at it another way, why does it have to be dyed red anyway? What's wrong with the pale pink that it naturally is?

There is a solution to all of this. Not an easy one, and (for some of us more than others) not a pleasant one. But the concept is simple: consume less. If we would recycle the resources that we've finished using so that they can be reused, if we would stop hoarding things that we don't need, piling them in boxes in our garages and attics and sheds and storage units and share them with those who can actually put them to use, and if we would lay down our perceived rights (because our "right" to richly lathering shampoo and sparkling nail polish are costing others some genuine basic human rights) then our hands would be free to lift the chains from those who, whether we realize it or not, are enslaved to our service. We need to burst free from the tiny spheres that hold us, to grow and reach and learn, to open our eyes to what's going on and really do something about it - instead of continuing in ignorance, hoping that it's an isolated incident, or it's "not really that bad," or that somebody else will do something.

Big companies became big because we supplied a demand. We need to pause and consider how we can responsibly lessen the demand to more of a reasonable request, so that there is less pressure to do whatever-it-takes to produce whatever-it-is - not settling for "good enough," but changing our concept of "best" to what's best for everyone, and not just for ourselves.

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