The Issues and Ideas of the Day
This article explores some of the most important human, social, and ecological issues of the day in a series of articles, podcasts, and videos that will each look at a particular theme – from issues related to LGBTQ rights and Internet ethics, to affluenza and the wealth gap, to the impending death of bees and rapid extinction events, to cause-driven marketing and the transformative power of individual choice.
To provide a jump-off point for the conversation, we talked about some of the issues and ideas that we feel will have the biggest impact on our collective future. We then came up with a list of 13 topics that we would like to explore as this new series progresses – topics that we hope will resonate with you as well, and that hopefully will inspire meaningful participation in our shared project of making a new, better world.
1. The Death of Bees and Pollinator Decline
For years, scientists have been warning us about declining global honeybee populations and its effect on the world food system. With scientists estimating that up to a third of human nutrition is due to animal pollination, primary pollinators such as honeybees have a critical role to play in supplying the world’s human and non-human inhabitants with fruits, vegetables, seed crops, and legumes. What is honeybee colony collapse disorder and what does it mean for people living far away from actual fields, farms, flowers, and bees? What are the causes for the decline in honeybee populations? How can we get more people to recognize the gravity of the problem, and how can people like you and me help reverse this potentially catastrophic trend?
2. Food Choice and The Ungrateful Guest At The Table
While many ethicists have described vegetarianism and veganism as an “already won argument”, the task of getting more people to make the transition remains incredibly difficult. Why is it so hard to change our ways of cooking and eating? Jonathan Safran Foer wrote that many of our stories – the expression of human experience, and the medium through which our happiest memories live on – tie into the experience of eating and sitting down with others, often with a plate of cooked animal flesh set before us. But are there more important things at stake? How important of a human value is gustatory pleasure? Is the “ungrateful guest”, the plant-eating killjoy, the “vegetarian tourist who waves away Vietnamese pho vendors” as bad-mannered as Anthony Bourdain says? Or have recent turns in history made it necessary for us to craft new stories, stories based on common compassion and an affinity for all that walk this Earth?
3. Affluenza, the 1%, and the Consequences of Unchecked Consumerism and Extreme Wealth
The world’s dominant economic philosophy is based on the self-interested accumulation of wealth. This has led to a situation where a tiny percentage of the world’s population control most of the world’s wealth, and a striking inability of these elite few to empathize with the needs, problems, and aspirations of large mass of people with the (much) smaller piece of the pie. Couple this with a social psyche awash with feelings of entitlement, debt-induced anxiety, material overload, a compulsion for greater levels of consumption, and spiritual wasting, and you have a set of conditions collectively referred to by critics of modern consumerism as “affluenza.” An effective cure remains elusive, but that is something that we would like to see within this lifetime.
4. LGBTQ Rights and the Fictional Right to Discriminate
Today, there appears to be two divergent trends with respect to LGBTQ rights, one a source of hope amid a long, painful struggle, and the other a crushing reminder that there remains plenty of oppression, gender injustice, and hatred in the world. While a number of forward-thinking states have recognized the status of marriage equality as a universal human right, countries such as Uganda have taken massive leaps backwards, enacting laws such as the “Kill the Gays Law”, which prescribes a penalty of life in prison for having same-sex relations.
The Philippines, while relatively more accepting of the LGBTQ community in the mainstream than many other countries, appears light years away from having similar personal relations laws as Holland, Canada, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Argentina, and Denmark. Can marriage equality ever become a reality in a country in which dogma continues to exert great influence over public policy? Do states, companies, and individuals have what is called the “right to discriminate”? What will it take for us to finally accord the LGBTQ community the rights that every single person is supposed to enjoy?
5. Systemic Sexism and Misogyny
Misogyny is an insidious thing, there wherever you turn, living in systems of law and governance and everyday culture. It is a creeping phenomenon, often operating in ways considered harmless or normal – our computer screens are plastered with hyper-sexualized female bodies splayed out for male enjoyment, and our everyday conversations are peppered with sexist asides that reveal the extent to which misogyny has become systemic, institutional, the status quo.
This specific breed of hateful oppression reared its ugly head in the most horrific of ways when Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree on May 23rd in Isla Vista, California, gunning down students at a sorority house as supposed payback against women who rejected his sexual advances. But as sickening as this crime was, the viewing of women as inert, sexual objects over which men may exert dominion is not exceptional – listen to commercial urban radio or play a game of Grand Theft Auto V and the same taken-for-granted oppression will be there.
Why then is systemic misogyny still seen as questionable, even with the abundance of evidence that it is real and it is everywhere? Why do men feel the need to defend their innocence against those decrying the daily abuse suffered by women all over the world? And considering how deeply rooted the problem is, what can be done, here and around the world, to change this sorry state of affairs?
6. The Human Costs of Road Traffic, and Mobility as a Human Right
Everyone living in Metro Manila and other large, congested cities in the Philippines is painfully familiar with the grueling drudge that is the rush hour commute. Apart from the great economic costs of weekday traffic (lost productivity, lost business opportunities, and fuel costs add up to nearly Php2.5 billion each day), the psychic toll of daily vehicular travel to and from work multiplied by millions of commuters each day is immense: weekday traffic effectively reduces a large part of the metropolitan population into a mass of weary, anxious, irritable, drained, frustrated, uninspired citizens.
Public railway transit offers no respite. Each morning and each evening, railway commuters endure lines winding down three-floor flights of stairs at MRT stations and stretching out onto the street below. Trains are packed beyond capacity, making for an exceedingly uncomfortable ride, and exposing female riders to potential abuse. And then there’s the poor condition of the railways themselves; just last month, an MRT train derailed, crashing through the concrete wall separating the tracks from the busy Taft Avenue pavement.
Perhaps it is time that city mobility is viewed as a basic human right. Bicycle travel as things stand today is untenable, and Metro Manila is the inverse of being pedestrianized. By including mobility and transit – which includes access to decent, affordable, reliable public transportation – in the discussion on human rights, the linkages between mobility and poverty; unequal access to good schools, job opportunities, and hospitals; unemployment; and the economic disruption of low-income communities might be brought into a keener light. And hopefully, some public policy with teeth might come out of that.
7. Business Bionomics, Social Enterprise, CSR, Greenwash, and Business as Usual
In contrast to traditional economics, bionomics or ecological economics goes beyond the analysis of pure market forces, emphasizing the interplay between economic systems and human ecology, and how the former often undermines the latter. Extended to the realm of business economics, bionomics could present an inversion of the old logic of maximizing efficiency and bottom line over human growth and development. Adopting an approach that is earnestly rooted in bionomics may also present a chance for a true departure from the greenwashing that has come to characterize the CSR efforts of many large companies that profess sustainability and business ethics while applying the reverse in practice.
Some questions: should we push for a greater understanding of bionomics in place of standard free-market business economics? Do you still believe that the present way of organizing and managing business is still the way to go? Can bionomics be made appealing or useful for businesspersons and entrepreneurs brought up in the traditional mode?
8. Success, Grit, Sacrifice, and Not Doing What You Love
What makes a person successful in her own eyes and in the eyes of others? Is success a high-paying job? Recognition and respect from one’s peers? Being one’s own boss? Being able to do what one loves? How should we measure professional success in this day and age? These are some of the questions that spring up when I think about the tired platitude “Do what you love”, and the elevation of “Do what you love” as the greatest value to which a professional or employee can aspire. While doing what one loves is certainly a wonderful thing, there is a real danger in presenting this particular type of self-fulfillment as the peak towards each working person is striving.
Miya Tokumitsu wisely pointed out that this kind of ethos, revolving entirely around self-curated bucket lists and desires, degrades actual, anonymous, atomic, unglamorous work, work that in all likelihood makes “Do what you love” possible for those lucky enough to be in a position to do so. “Do what you love” thus is inherently elitist, creating an impulse to pursue activities that one loves as vocation, to the exclusion of things that, while not loved, may create actual, undiminished value for persons and communities. We are told: “Do what you love, and what you do will not be work.” But there is something wonderful about earnest work itself, as the point of convergence of talent, exertion, and duty. There is at the core of dedicated work a kind of selfless love that deserves recognition as well. Passion is one thing, but our needs, and the material circumstances we find ourselves in, and the constraints imposed by reality are part of the discussion as well.
Sometimes, doing what one loves is simply not a tenable option, but that doesn’t mean that foregoing our passions to “Do what needs to be done” is any less worthwhile an endeavor. In fact, doing what needs to be done, which in many cases will involve putting aside some of our desires and passions, may very well reveal a greater capacity for love than “Do what you love” ever could.
9. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Marketing for Causes
While the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has received its fair share of criticism, it is undeniable that, as a marketing tactic, the challenge has proven to be very, very successful for the ALS Association, having raised over $100 million since going viral in July. Recent marketing literature in the past decade has considered the ways by which mainstream marketing techniques might be applied to cause-driven organizations, social movements, and other campaigns for common goods.
The success of the Ice Bucket Challenge is convincing evidence that cause-driven organizations and their beneficiaries have much to gain from going this route. Therein however lies the dilemma. To what extent can cause-driven organizations and social movements use the methods and tactics of mainstream marketing without doing violence to their higher humanitarian or ideological aspirations? That is, at what point will the use of the rather cynical techniques of mainstream marketing by social movements do more harm than good? Some organizations have been rightly criticized for the use of rather conservative or misogynistic tropes in their marketing – does the end objective then justify the distasteful and quite possibly harmful means?
10. You Are Stronger Than You Think, or The Power of Personal Choice
“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (2005)
When faced with the monolithic threats currently confronting humanity – climate change, poverty, hunger, gender inequality, corporate corruption, institutional injustice – it may seem like the decisions each of us makes with respect to the way we live and conduct ourselves amounts to nothing more than a drop in a barrel, bereft of any real force or significance. Sometimes, it becomes all too easy to instead take the path of apathy: “the world’s a mess, there’s nothing we can do about it, so why bother caring?” We often fail to realize however that every single decision we make – whether expressed as a positive or negative act, as doing or not doing something – is imbued with political power.
Each of our choices is an assertion of agency, an exercise of will for action or for inaction, and therefore, a badge of support or a refusal to support causes and projects that stand to benefit the greater collective. This is related to what human inquiry studies refer to as the election of reality, which is the idea that through each choice we make, we vote for the form our own reality takes, as well as that of the larger reality in which we as a people live and interact with one another. And by so doing, the pull exerted by individual choice on the greater whole is unveiled, showing us that it is possible to transcend insular, self-regarding ways of thinking, and that this choosing can help forge a better world. In other words, by choosing, we become powerful.
11. Creeping Addictions, Planned Obsolescence, Electronic Waste Management, and Buying Nothing
Sad to say, planned obsolescence is a real thing. This refers to the (widespread) practice in certain industries (notably the consumer electronics business) to design products with an artificially limited lifespan, after which the product becomes obsolete, non-useful, or undesirable. This industrial policy is supported by the equally insidious marketing practice of presenting the latest and greatest things as necessary, or essential, or highly desirable with respect to peer relations: it’s one new need after the last, it’s buy or be left behind.
This of course means that we have tons of electronic waste lying about in our homes, in storerooms and bodegas, on the street, in landfills, in junk heaps, and in our waters. This is where these will remain unless incinerated or shipped off to poorer countries where they are refurbished and resold, hoarded, or simply re-dumped. So if these poorer countries are the terminuses of the e-waste chain, the critical juncture at which an electronic product becomes electronic waste is the primary consumer.
Knowing this, do you think you can break free from the grip of corporate marketers who seek to create this relentless compulsion for the newest, shiniest things? Or can you forego this artificial desire and find contentment in what by all regards are probably perfectly useful things? Can you imagine not having or wanting to buy something non-essential for a day, a week, a month, a year?
12. The Jobs of Tomorrow
What jobs or lines of work or fields of expertise will matter most twenty years from now? Consider the following:
- City farmer
- Solar energy engineer
- Wind turbine installer
- Sustainability director
- Social impact auditor
- Green IT specialist
- Recycling expert
- Ecological economist
- Community arts teachers
- IP claims arbitrator
- Primary school nutritionist and dietician
- Disaster response coordinator
- Corporate compliance board-member
- Mental health social worker
- Internet freedom and fair use lawyer
- Online ethicist
- City foresters
- Carbon permit broker
- Social lobbyist
- Educational reform journalist
- Community athletics head
- Green marketer
What other jobs do you think will be needed in the near future?
13. Sources of Hope
Yes, the problems we’re facing may seem overwhelming, but we’re not doomed yet! Even with a cloud of stress, heartache, frustration, and despair hanging over the world, hope remains. Piercing this dark canopy are some trends and developments that show us that the fight is not over yet. These include:
- The burgeoning field of interdisciplinary sustainability science
- An overall greater awareness of the impacts of food production on communities and the environment
- The nascent urban farming culture and guerilla gardening
- The unprecedented networking and information sharing capabilities afforded by the Internet
- The growing outrage over corporate corruption and abuse by the global elite
- The concept of personal growth as being rooted in material wealth and financial success is quickly eroding among the youth
- Successful (and ethical) eco-tourism projects around the country to balance out the commercial, destructive kind of tourism
- The rise of non-standard education programs such as Sokola Rimba
- The amount of amazing, thought-provoking independent art being produced around the world
- Gender parity in primary education is now largely a reality
- Biomass-derived energy is slowly gaining traction
- Ride-sharing and carpool services
- The popularity of fit and healthy lifeways
- The number of smart, talented, dedicated, critical, empathetic young people who have taken up the cudgels for vulnerable persons, animals, communities, and places around the world
To cap off the list, here is Walt Whitman’s preface from the first edition of Leaves of Grass, surely one of the greatest manifestos for living a full, beautiful life that’s ever been written:
“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”