I’ll be the first to admit it, I arrogantly consider myself a liberal, altruistic, charitable individual who (often aggressively) shouts out for humanitarian activism and publicly flaunts acts of social crusading. I sign and make petitions, boycott, rally, lobby, heckle and dabble in a spot of protest to the point of your exasperation. Most of it I do sitting on my arse in a swivel chair. And I’m not the only one. Everybody has their own pet philanthropism; be it the preservation of London’s green belt, mice being doused in hydrochloric acid, Amazon’s magnificent tax evasion, Putin’s dubious-schoolboy homophobia, there’s always A Thing that Ruins People’s Lives that we will lay into and go up in arms over. Unless, of course, you’re a horrible person/moron who couldn’t care less. Tell me you’ve never signed a petition and I’ll eat my head.
In the end, it’s all pretty absurd given that virtually everything we indulge in throughout the day equates to pelting shit at someone else. Look at me boycotting Starbucks because they don’t pay their taxes! I’m a martyr for the downtrodden. Now instead I’ll just go home and brew myself a nice cup Tetley’s made from tea leaves hand-picked by Indian children living amid cesspools on $3 a day.
Fashion is another biggie. There was the recent scandal over Urban Outfitters glorifying mental health problems by plastering “EAT LESS” and “DEPRESSION” all over their t-shirts. Sure, as a recovering anorexic, I see that sort of thing as damaging and I would boycott UO’s products if I ever actually shopped there to start with. However, if I wanted to boycott all morally questionable retailers, I would probably begin with those like Nike or Primark, and eventually end up being naked or crafting outfits from my own hair because of the void in affordable, ethically manufactured fashion.
The environment is my personal fave. I recycle anally, wear (sweatshop made) jumpers when it’s cold and fancy Al Gore. Everyone likes to do their bit and looks in horror at the environmental damage being done across the globe, especially when melting ice caps or deforestation is shown to us in the form of an infographic. Yet many of us still use petroleum oil pilfered by Shell in the Niger Delta, an industry which has displaced natives and continues fuelling violence and obliteration. Aha, but I don’t drive, one point to me! But I do have an account with Barclays/HSBC and buy deodorant from Superdrug, who fund the destruction of Canadian tar sands by oil conglomerates. It’s all inextricably linked, see?
Or maybe human welfare isn’t your kind of gig. You might be sickened by Harrods for selling mink pelts because of that video you saw where adorable little foxies are peeled into screaming harlequin-baby lookalikes, but have no qualms tucking into that Mars bar which, after a lengthy research process of bunny slaughter, has finally, deliciously, found its way to your mouth. Why is it just cute animals anyway? I guess that fully conscious cow they whose trachea they just ripped out with a meat hook or the salmon they pump with colourants and antibiotics just don’t feel pain in the same way.
I remember the day I decided I would only ever buy free range eggs. I got so caught up in my own benevolence that I even began to secretly disdain anyone who didn’t. On criticising my own parents for not doing the same, the response was “do you buy free range ham?” To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “you have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.” I realised that day that if I want to be a saint, I have to reconsider everything I do, not just the mainstream stuff. Be an ethical hipster, if you will. Or if you won’t.
Of course there are varying levels of livelihood destruction, from minor malice to full-on civil war. Maybe some issues concern us more than others so we’re more willing to act on our consumer behaviour, or there are certain things we’re just not aware of because of infinitesimal media coverage. It would be nigh-on impossible for us, as first-worlders, to live our lives completely clean from the exploitation of the less fortunate, and it’s endearing in some ways how we twist our knickers over some issues and not others, often depending on what our mate shared on Facebook or what we saw on TV. I don’t want to preach because I don’t necessarily practise; I just wish we would all look at ourselves and laugh pitiably whenever we think we’re doing something for the good of mankind because all factors considered, we probably just aren’t. Nonetheless, I’ll also be the first to admit, and exemplify, that there’s nothing wrong with a naïve sense of morality.