Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, November 22, 2004
 
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 and Forestry 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.

 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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Blogs I Read (Or Try To)
113th Street
american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
Apartment Therapy
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Dave Barry
The Bellman
Mine's On The 45 (Brimful)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
ChennaiCentral
ClimateBoy
Combing the Sphere
Crooked Timber
Daily Dose of Imagery
The Daily Rhino (Bong Breaker)
Dark Days Ahead
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Atanu Dey on India's Development (Deeshaa)
Daniel Drezner
Ennis
Ephemera
Cyrus Farivar
Finding My Voice
Forsv
Neil Gaiman
Ganesh Blog
Geeky Chic 2.0 (Echan)
Geomblog
Green Ink!
Heliolith
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Indeterminacy
India Uncut
InSpiteOfEverything
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter et al
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Jesus Politics
John and Belle Have a Blog
Mark A. R. Kleiman
KnowProse (Taran Rampersad)
1Locana
Maenad (Nori Heikkinen)
Scott McCloud
Mind Without Borders
Electrolite: Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Corey Pein
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Kevin G. Powell
QuakeHelp (South Asian Quake)
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
Reneebop
Rhinocrisy
Scott Rosenberg(Salon.com)
Rox Populi
Felix(&Rhian)Salmon
samVaad
Nick Schager
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Sepia Mutiny
Amardeep Singh
Snarkmarket (Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson)
South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
SreeTips: New To Sree
Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
Subjunctive.net:klog
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
Tech Policy
TiffinBox
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
TreeHugger
Unfogged
VatulBlog
Venk@
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
Wonkette
WorldChanging
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman
Zwichenzug



Some Categories

Blogs focusing on policy, politics, and national security:
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
Eschaton(Atrios)
Green Ink!
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Informed Comment: Juan Cole
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Irregular Analyses
Jesus Politics
Mark A. R. Kleiman
Liberals Against Terrorism(Nadezhda & Praktike)
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
War and Piece
Wonkette
Yglesias:Tpmcafe

Photo Blogs
Daily Dose of Imagery
Ephemera
Alexandra Huddleston
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
TiffinBox

Columbia Journalism Folks
Apartment Therapy
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
Alexandra Huddleston
InSpiteOfEverything
Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

Literature, Fiction and Entertainment
Dave Barry
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Electrolite: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Scott McCloud


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