Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Week 10 Featured Journal Entries

This week's featured entries come from Louie Knolle, Robbie Ludlum, Kendall Jent, and Will Merck.

Week 10 Journal Prompt

Many of our everyday choices and behaviors affect the livelihoods of people in the developing world, though we may not realize the connection. Consider whether you engage in any of the following behaviors/practices, then watch the video to understand how this activity is tied to development:

  • Coffee drinking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwYl69VstPw
  • Buying jewelry with diamonds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eThlmx7w9r0
  • Buying gold jewelry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbNAtWHhXq4
  • Using (and then disposing of) digital devices: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkpBcFDjk7Y
  • Eating chocolate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD85fPzLUjo&playnext=1&list=PLOA_8QHMLBOFAQ8KZWLT2NI40NASFCAMA
  • Buying some types of inexpensive clothing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxppEs_z3Tg

(If you do not participate in any of these activities, let me know and I will help you identify one of your daily behaviors that is tied to livelihoods in developing countries.)

In your journal entry, post the video that you watched and then respond to these questions with 1–3 paragraphs per question (thus 4–12 paragraphs total):

1) Were you aware of the problems documented in the video?
2) Will you change your behavior as a result of the video? Why or why not?
3) As a society, how might we address the problems documented in the video?
4) How likely is it that, as a society, we will take the steps you identified in (3)? Note the factors which may facilitate or impede our efforts in addresses these problems.

Louie's Week 10 Journal Entry

The video I chose to watch was on the fire in the Bangladeshi clothing factory:

1.) Yes and no, I was only slightly aware of the problem presented in the video. Everyone often hears about the deplorable labor conditions in clothing sweat shops in parts of the world, especially in Asia. But the image that activists use the most to really stir people's emotions are small children sitting at looms for long hours each day. The side not mentioned as frequently, as shown in this video, are the adults who also rely on these cheap cloth manufacturing operations for their own livelihood. And because countries wish for foreign textile companies to come to their nations to open production facilities, they have to do things such as have lax safety codes to make it appear more desirable. 

For instance, the fire codes in Bangladesh. When the fire alarms first went off, the managers told their workers to get back to work. That is, until fire swept through the building and hundreds were kept from escaping. From the older appearance of the outside of the building that was burned and the destruction the fire left on the inside, one can infer the building lacked a sprinkler system. Also mentioned by the news correspondent was that most of the fire exits in the building were blocked. I had no idea that such "race to the bottom" tactics existed to such a degree.

2.) Changing my behavior as a result of watching this video is definitely something I want to do, but is easier said than done. The bulk of the clothes I have purchased over the past few years have come from Goodwill and other various thrift shops, for the main reason that they are cheap and are being reused. Of course, at one point in time, most of these clothes I'm sure came from stores mentioned in the video that have at one point in time manufactured clothing in Bangladesh (Wal-mart, J.C. Penny). I have purchased a few "organic cotton", "made in the USA" t-shirts over the past few years, but those make up such a small percentage of my wardrobe they are hardly noteworthy.

Even though I already don't buy clothes from department stores such as though, it is for money reasons mostly, not entirely for ethical purposes. However after having seen this, a lot more thought will go into my future purposes. Namely my online ones. Most of the clothes I do purchase new come from online websites where they are on sale, and I'm sure a good majority of those also come from factories with conditions similar to the one featured in Bangladesh. 

3.) As a society, there are many things we can do to address the problems presented in this video. Foremost, education of the general public is key. Most people I would think do not even consider where the clothes they are purchasing were produced, only if it looks good, is affordable, etc. An example of this is the Wake up Wal-mart campaign that often has television commercials about Wal-Mart obtaining a large percentage of their goods to sell in stores in countries like China. Also, to truly address the problem of textile and clothing manufacturing in developing nations, we have to take a step back and look at our values as a society. The uncomfortable topics, such as labor conditions in part of the world, we either put on the back burner or completely ignore because we feel we do not have the power to stop it. It is this heightened state of apathy that has led to such things going on for as long as they have, with not much being done. Our government by definition has to listen to the will of the people, but if the only people trying to usher in change are in the minority, things will never change.

4.) How likely is it that society will take the steps to change? Not very in my opinion if things continue as they have in recent decades. One major reason these clothes are cheap is the fact that they are produced in developing countries where the regulations on industry are less stringent in hopes more industry will propagate. If the public took a stance against such business practices, perhaps industry would be less motivated by money and move production back to developed nations to help bolster local economies. But I'm sure it'll be a cold day in Hell when a multi-billion corporation changes its practices to in fact make less money. 

Another factor needed for the winds of change to blow is global cooperation. Whether it be sanctions for allowing such factory conditions in the first place, or even requiring companies to have some sort of honor code where if they know the factories their goods are being produced, they are required to pull out from said factories and move elsewhere. Of course, that would have great impacts on developing nations' economies who are only playing catch up to their western brethren, and the global community has to be a little understanding. One hundred some odd years ago, similar situations existed in the US and England as they were first beginning to industrialize. 

Work Cited:
Global National, "The true cost of cheap clothing," uploaded November 28, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxppEs_z3Tg.

Robbie's Week 10 Journal Entry

1) Were you aware of the problems documented in the video?

No, I wasn't aware of these problems!  Thank you for this introduction to how chocolate is produced.  I had no idea even that chocolate came from a tree. 

2) Will you change your behavior as a result of the video? Why or why not?

Of course I'll be changing my behavior as a result of this video.  It isn't that big a test for me as I don't have much of a sweet tooth but it's still something to aspire to.  I'm a firm believer that with knowledge comes responsibility.  Otherwise, what's the point of knowing these things about the world?  I'm limited as an individual on what I'm able to accomplish.  My best tool available to me is to vote with my dollar.  It isn't going to save the world but I, as an individual, won't be participating in a system that exploits children.

3) As a society, how might we address the problems documented in the video?

There are a number of things that we can do as a society.  Boycotting these superfluous calories until there is real change in the way that chocolate is produced is one way.  Signing petitions and writing letters to the companies involved as well as our representatives in government, letting them know that this is an issue that we are interested in is another avenue. 
Maybe even charter travel agencies to set up transportation and a work-study so that we, as first-worlders, can see and work the very same places where chocolate is produced.  This will make it very real for the people that visit and work long hours in the hot sun - doing things that they wouldn't do so that they can buy the same product they consume perhaps on a daily basis.  A first-hand experience has the biggest effect on people. 

4) How likely is it that, as a society, we will take the steps you identified in (3)?

It is highly unlikely that any of those things will ever happen.  It was fun to dabble in fantasy though.  People do care about these issues.  But do not care enough to do anything about these things.  There's plenty of problems in their own neighborhood which they don't care enough to do anything about so why would they care enough to do something for people they will never meet an ocean away? 

I'd say that there are thousands of factors and reasons (justifications) that impede society's ability to deal with these kinds of issues.  I'm going to focus on what I feel is the root of the issue and that is the way that society determines esteem.  There are two kinds of people in the world - those that determine that esteem is earned through what you can do for yourself and those that determine that esteem is earned through what you do for others. 

The dominant way esteem is determined in the world today is how much you do for yourself.  "Go and make something of yourself," we're told.  Everyone is out for his or herself because very few others are out there looking out for that individual.  We consider someone successful if they have a nice house, nice car, can go on extravagant vacations, and maybe they're philanthropic to some degree but, that last point is not required.  I would say that Ayn Rand summed it up nicely when she called selfishness a virtue.  And in a point of view from merely our society, one has to agree with her.

The flip side of this is building esteem through actions which benefit other individuals.  I would have to say that this would closely be associated with tribalism or band-level people.  An example to start this off would be how hunts are done by some tribes.  Whomever makes the kill 'owns' the animal.  But not in the sense that you and I 'own' something.  They own it in the sense that it is their right to give it away.  And it is that very 'right to give away' which separates the 'civilized' from the 'savages'.  If they give away the choicest cuts of the animal they've killed, rather than keep it for their own consumption, they're held in high regard. 

Another example that can be used is how people of the Adena culture right here in Ohio would leave elaborate, highly sought after items in the grave of someone that was important to them.  Archaeologists used to believe that the person buried must have been rich since they were buried with so many items.  But when archaeologists finally began talking to Native Americans still living on reservations and still practicing their same religions and burying their dead in the same way that archaeologists were finding in areas that those tribes used to live before being forcibly removed, they saw the bereaved leaving beautiful and expensive items in the grave for the individual who passed. 

With those examples in mind, I hope it is easier to imagine what a world of difference a mere change in esteem can affect an entire society's mindset.  Individuals work for what is best for the group because it is what works best for everyone since there is a real dependence upon the group for the survival of all.  With focus on individual accomplishments at the expense of all others, you have the type of society we live in presently. 

Lastly, I do not see any hope for this society to change its ways, voluntarily, prescriptively, or through any other means of choice.  For the entire world to change its mindset collectively, reframing and re-meme-ing is something beyond the capacity of voluntary will.  A system of education would have to be in place which would have to be holistic - what good is it being in a classroom, being taught about the right thing when every other medium you connect with tells one otherwise. 

Kendall's Week 10 Journal Entry

Chocolate and the Kids


1. For this issue, I was actually not aware of this problem. I think it’s one of those things where you take it for granted that it’s readily available in stores. Every time I go to buy chocolate from a vending machine, I’m definitely not thinking about where the chocolate comes from. When I first saw this issue, I tried to think about problems that it could be, before I even watched the video, and this hardly occurred to me. Obviously I was naiive and just thought, “oh it’s a well known candy so if there were any problems, it would be on my Twitter feed”. But that’s hardly the case, as the video suggests. 60 percent of the world’s cocoa beans are found in those small, remote locations, so obviously big names of chocolate are going to be eating there. I wasn’t aware of this problem, I’m aware that some kids in developing countries are often taken and forced into military service, but to force them to harvest cocoa was a complete shock. I think as an uninformed American, I just assumed that there were plenty of people over there who would love to work that so they can have money, but I was very wrong.

2. It’s hard to say I can make a huge change that’ll greatly affect my self esteem and make the world okay, but I don’t know. I’m not a huge consumer of chocolate, I spend a few bucks every month on it when I’m snacking in between classes, so me not buying chocolate in protest would be kind of silly because it won’t have an impact. What I can do is research. I may not be able to lead a huge protest to free these kids, but the very least I can/will do is look up the different companies I buy candy off of and see where there chocolate comes from. A well to do company of chocolate will certainly be aware of this issue, and will be very forthcoming if they are not involved in these types of trafficking situations. Becoming informed is the very least and the very most I can do at this stage in my life, as I have no resources to fight this and I already spend less money on chocolate but I think I owe it to those kids to at least, buy from companies that don’t partake in this.

3. As a person, you almost want to say take the military and save the day by just raising hell over there and freeing these kids, but realistically the government cannot do that. First off the society should be informed. We see viral videos of trafficked kids in Kony’s military, we need to expand that, then we need to see video of people going over there and doing something. We need options of what to do presented to us. Can I sign up for a task force or something? Can we investigate these chocolate companies, check their imports and question them extensively about it? I think the only way something gets done is for society to get mad. Public opinion these days is a major factor in agenda setting. This issue will probably never be on equal terms with top issues, but at the least we should massively inform society and let society be the cause of what happens next.

4. It is not likely that society will be informed, or presented with this issue, thus it is likely that nothing will be done about it. I think there are so many personal issues that the American public is dealing with that will seemingly trump this issue. It is hard for the public to be able to care about being informed, about a problem happening far away, if they’re still worried if their checks will cover their own bills. I think the agenda on our hands right now is the biggest obstacle. There are so many domestic issues that it’s hard for society to know this problem, much less fix it. 

Will's Week 10 Journal Entry

The Magic Elixir


As soon as I saw that one option for this week was writing about coffee, I knew it had to be done. I am relatively new to the substance, but it is one of my very favorite things. I can count the days on one hand when I have come into EVST without that magical drink. I must say that I am a black, unsweetened coffee man, so there will be as little discussion about foamy drinks as possible. I am writing this introduction before watching the video, so now I'm a little nervous that drinking what my dad calls the "Magic Elixir" will seem cruel. We shall see.

1) Were you aware of the problems documented in the video?

I was actually aware of the growing movement towards fair trade practices in the coffee world, but I didn't know much about the conditions and volatility that existed before that. I found out about Fair Trade during my freshman year at Curry College, where the students put together a petition that the school not serve coffee in the cafeteria unless it was Fair Trade certified. Luckily, the school only has 1500 students, and things can get done quickly. The president made it a rule that all coffee served on campus must be certified as Fair Trade, and there was much rejoicing. I had heard of Fair Trade in passing, but that's when I wanted to learn more about it. I read a little about the issues in Colombia in unrelated situations, and I became pretty familiar with FARC and other groups, but the issues with the crop spraying were new to me. 

2) Will you change your behavior as a result of the video? Why or why not?

I believe I will be more wary of where my coffee comes from, and I will always be looking for that little logo that means that the genuinely appreciative farmers around the world are getting their due. As a New Englander, I don't know if I can totally forego Dunkin' Donuts, but I certainly hope that they are (or will soon be) on the correct side of this discussion. It would be very easy to simply ignore where the Magic Elixir comes from, but this video really puts a face to the process of actually caring about the work. 

3) As a society, how might we address the problems documented in the video?

Since Fair Trade is a good system that addresses a major problem in itself, incremental increases in the floor price would be beneficial to the farmers. As the price of a latte goes from $6 to $7.50, the price that Fair Trade does not dip below goes from $0.07 to $0.075, for example. Incentives for large coffee distributers to get on board with this would be a good idea as well. Also, avoiding places that do not have the seal of Fair Trade, and being willing to pay just a little bit more for the really good stuff would be important changes. Allowing more transparency as to the process of where a cup of coffee comes from would add unseen value for customers, and they may be more willing to change their approaches if they could see the face of a farmer. 

4) How likely is it that, as a society, we will take the steps you identified in (3)? Note the factors which may facilitate or impede our efforts in addresses these problems.

As noted above, a problem in the way of total commitment to Fair Trade is the insatiable appetite for something cheaper. If a cup of coffee from Speedee is cheaper than Starbucks, more people will go for the monetary value as opposed to the societal value. Resistance to raising the pay floor would be another impediment, because companies are willing to pay a premium for the product, but as that premium goes up, that good will tends to diminish. As much as most people would like to see whole-hearted embrace of Fair Trade practices, it will be very hard to convince/educate the wider public who can't be bothered with something happening in Colombia, because it's not next door. 

Coffee is a magical drink, and this video just affirmed its mystique to me. As much as I think that Starbucks is committing highway robbery when they charge me $1.25 to fill my Thermos, I can see where the extra money goes. In the developed world, an automated machine would shake the coffee tree and the "cherries" would fall out and get demolished and there would be many just lost in the process, but this is much more personal. I said in my preface that I was hoping I wouldn't feel horribly guilty about drinking coffee after watching the video, and I had the exact opposite feeling. Instead of being concerned about those extra pennies I pay at the register coming out of my wallet, I can rest assured that they are going to the proper place.

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