Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The magic washing machine

The goal of development is not for the rest of the world to live a western consumerist lifestyle. Justice does not consist of every African having two flat-screen TVs, a mortgage on a five bedroom McMansion and access to coronary bypass surgery for their high cholesterol levels. The goal is for over-consumers to become grateful, thoughtful citizens and human beings in lives that joyfully embrace less while making use of all available means to tread more lightly on the earth, while those in stupid grinding poverty are enabled to live lives increasingly freed from exposure to the elements, preventable disease, pointless backbreaking labour, economic and political oppression and ignorance. In the terms of this talk, to get washing machines so they can read.

Ecological responsibility has nothing to do with denying the global poor the chance at a better life. Instead, it is (partially) motivated by concern for those with least, who suffer most from the degradation of their living conditions effected by industrial production that largely serves the whims and shallow fantasies of rich consumers. Indeed, this is half of the reason why it crucial for those of us who are rich to have our imaginations and critical faculties reoriented towards what a better life truly looks like. Acting as though we are demi-gods disconnected from the material realities of the food and water and energy that sustain our existence, we hide from ourselves the ecological (and so social) costs of our assumptions, and we present to the two-thirds world a distorted and destructive picture of the good life to which they increasingly aspire. The other half is that our obsessions with the latest toys also suffocates our soul, narrowing our vision of what it can mean to be truly alive.