Trees, Fire, and Economics
From Robin Sloan at Snarkmarket,
a cool link to an environmental filter blog: Treehugger.com
. Styled along the lines of gizmodo, it mixes substantial information on items like recycling glass
Stewardship Council certified furniture
, to goofy items like cooking food in your dishwasher
, to more mediative essays like this piece on Sarah McLachlan's World on Fire Video
This last bit is interesting. McLachlan's video is pretty amazing
. For one thing, I like the World on Fire
song. But this is definitely an original way to make a video. Instead of spending the $150,000 that it would take to make the video, McLachlan is videotaped just sitting in a chair strumming. This is intercut with flash and video to illustrate where they spent
the $150,000 instead--things like a 12 room clinic in Kibera, Kenya, a years worth of running costs for an orphanage in South Africa, and schooling 145 girls in Afghanistan for a year. The interesting bit is that the producers thoughtfully broke down the $150,000 cost--for example, $200 for a proudction assistant's labor for a day. The Flash is very well done.
Fundamentally this video is a guilt trip. It hinges on the argument
that made Peter Singer famous during the Bangladesh famine of 1971: most of us spend our money on stuff instead of on charity, and when you remove the distance, these can be seen as morally wrong choices. Would you not save a drowning child from a shallow pond if it was mildly incovenient to you? The Singer argument says that not giving charity is equivalent. To make the guilt trip strongest, the example is almost always a comparison between exorbitantly priced American goods ($3000 for catering a day's shoot? Who eats that much? Are they dining on caviar?) and very, very cheap services in a place like Africa. But it's a guilt trip that only works a few times. The question unanswered by the video is--what to do with all the artists who aren't working because their wages are being given away in charity? The self-righteous answer is they could go work for charities, but that's a bit over the top coming from a successful musician, and so McLachlan probably wouldn't even dream of saying it. But it would be nice to come up with a really good answer, a way of widely harmonizing people's need for creativity, self-fulfillment, and dream-following with a more just global economy.
I'm not a philospher and I can't fundamentally defeat Singer's argument nor McLachlan's video, nor do I want to. Less stuff, more charity, sure. But truthfully, it's an unrealistic point of view to apply wholesale to all of society, and I think acknowledging that respectfully might be a helpful step towards coming up with a more widely acceptable solution--or at least more easily adaptable one. Even Treehugger wants you to buy stuff--advertising for sellers of stuff is a big part of how they finance their blog. In fact, when Robin blogged them, he wrote,
"I love TreeHugger’s unabashedly commercial sensibility: “Consumers also rely on the directory to help facilitate their buying processes.” And they have helpful categories for gifts under $100, gifts under $50, etc.
I just had a birthday and got a bunch of wonderful little presents from my friends--so who am I to ask people not to spend their money on stuff? Denying the affectionate impulse that goes into buying things when you have a little cash is not pragmatic. Got to find a workaround, a more tenable compromise.
I am convinced that such solutions exist, mostly because I'm a bleeding heart optimist. The ideas just need to be found or grown. Another friend Robin (I have no lack of friendly Robins) wrote me the following today:
"Talk about values... we have a serious problem with economic values in this country. And I'm not sure what to do about it -- I seriously don't know who has the right ideas, if there are any.
I choose to take that as a good sign. If ideas aren't close at hand, that means they might still be hunted or grown, and they have not necessarily already failed. Time to go hunting.