We once knew a guy who was involved with the local recycling scene in Eugene. One night he took us to a warehouse — a giant, cavernous space — where materials were collected. At one end was a mountain of plastic milk jugs.
They were going to be shipped to Asia, our friend explained, because that’s where the facilities existed to deal with them. And the energy expended to process them — “carbon footprint” wasn’t yet in the language — negated any benefit from recycling them. It would be another fifteen years before Dick Cheney sneered that “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue”, but we were already looking at the waste product of Good Intentions.
To be an American in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is to be an agent of destruction. No matter how lightly you tread, you’re stepping on something. No matter how virtuous your life, to be a Caucasian in Our Exceptional Nation is to be the beneficiary of some pretty nasty business conducted in your name a century or three back. We’re historical trustafarians, decrying our ancestors but reaping the benefits. You learn to live with it.
Acknowledging your Original Sin of being born into a Western Consumer Society does not require being fatalist about it. Short of withdrawing — of living off the land and off the grid — you still have some choices. You can try being less of an asshole, doing what you can, while knowing it will never, ever be enough. As long as you recognize that you can’t win — you’ll never be truly virtuous — maybe you’ll lose with a little class.
This was going to be a post about the Big Story in Geekdom last Friday: The retraction by This American Life of an earlier story criticizing Apple for its manufacturing practices. It wasn’t going to be about the controversy itself — an actor who has gained fame with a one-man show purporting to offer eyewitness testimony of Chinese armed guards and child labor turned out to have created a Reality Distortion Field of his own — but about where that leaves us. Apple may not be Evil, but they’re not necessarily Exemplary, either. You can’t buy a gadget — any gadget — without getting some blood on your hands.
We got pretty deep into it, but we couldn’t reach a conclusion — nothing other than vacant platitudes about how America Can Do Better.
Our problem was this: We started writing that post on our iPad — our brand-new iPad. And we’re writing this post on our iPad. And we’ll write tomorrow’s post on our iPad as well. Nothing we might have said about Chinese factory conditions changes that.
We were trying to answer a question that Ira Glass asks a knowledgeable New York Times reporter near the end of this weekend’s “Retraction” episode:
But to get to the normative question that’s kind of underlying all the reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when we hear this is like, “Wait, should I feel bad about this?” As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad?
What we finally realized, at the end of a weekend trying to finish a post we had drafted Friday night, is that it’s the wrong question. “Feeling bad” is pointless. Either you’re going to trash all your gadgets — responsibly, of course — or you’re going to keep using them. And if you’re going to keep using them, your feelings are just another Western luxury.
We accept responsibility, and we don’t seek forgiveness. We have sinned before, and we will sin again. We hope Apple takes seriously its commitment to improving factory conditions, but we won’t punish them for failing to follow through.
Just like we drive to the coffeehouse every day, and power our apartment with nuclear-generated electricity, and heat it with natural gas, and buy packaged goods at the grocery store. There’s Guilt in every moment of our life. You can try being less of an asshole, but you’ll always be an asshole. You learn to live with it.
Retraction [This American Life]
The big problem right now aren’t the ones who try to be less of an asshole. It’s the ones who are either so concerned about their piety or those who are delusional about being assholes in the first place.
I’ve met a few environmentalists who don’t get that the electricity we use comes with a huge price and that even stuff like supposedly friendly stuff like solar cells aren’t environmentally friendly due to the manufacturing process which involves a lot of precious water and heavy metals. I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on the environment, but we should be aware that we human will pay a price (and not always financial) regardless.
Sadly, they are more outweighed by even more RW idiots whose grasp of systems is as good as their understanding of international finance, war, government, etc… which is almost nothing. Always talking about “common” sense which is delusional considering a lot of cutting edge science is actually counter-intuitive.
The Retraction episode has generated a great deal of conversation in theatrical circles, basically revolving around whether Daisey has Let Theater Down by his actions, or not. Interesting stuff, but probably only interesting to theater nerds.
I’ve long been aware of reducing the level of my inherent destroys-the-planet nature, and that attitude informs a bunch of ways that I act. Even making a comparatively small difference is still making a difference.
At this point humanity is on its way out – by our own hand. Our steady pollution of the biosphere is producing climate change and fun things like the giant Pacific Gyre (a gargantuan pile of our refuse swirling around a large current). We’re overfishing the ocean while polluting it into dead zones in many areas with farm run-off, using up the very slow growing top soil and using factory farming methods that leave our food vulnerable to even more problems (than that of climate only). It’s just a matter of time when this all catches up to us and then . . . well, let’s just say that, as a species, we aren’t ready at all to deal with what’s coming down the road at us.
Enjoy the time you have Stinquers!
i didn’t even bring up radiation pollution; the rise of H5N1 and other drug-resistant diseases increasingly breaking out all over the planet and many other factors. i’m just letting you know that there is an awful lot to this – and it ain’t gettin’ any better.
Setting the tsuris aside for a moment, how do you like the new iPad?
@Dodgerblue: Love it. Especially coming off the original.
The physical specs are similar to Last Year’s Model, but it’s significantly lighter and thinner than what I’m used to. Definitely more powerful — it can handle Sully and WaPo without crashing, and TechCrunch without weirding out. (This is more a comment on the shitty coding of those sites, but so it goes.)
And the display? Honestly, I didn’t notice at first. It was only a few hours in, when I thought to do a side-by-side with the old model, that the improvement was obvious, and substantial. If you read a lot, it’s much easier on the eyes.
I’m going to Hell for it, but I’m going First Class.
@tomfoolery: I’ve long said that I’m hitting the sweet spot of human existence — things won’t get really screwed until I’m gone.
We teens were already darkly amusing ourselves with postapocalyptic futures in the Seventies. I have no clue what today’s crop thinks about their lives in 2050.
@nojo: thanks. I’ve been mulling over the new one vs. a new amp, maybe an up-tubed Deluxe Reverb reissue.
I’ve been thinking about this article.
I’m still thinking about it, but I think the knowledge of our assholery can prompt change that might become meaningful as more people know about it. When you consider that walking 10 flights of stairs might save half a tree, you might take the stairs more often. Collectively, we can make things better. But then someone dangles a shiny object just within our reach, and we must have it. I dunno. We all like toys. But do we need them?
There’s a limit. That limit is personal. The more I think about poor kids in LDCs sickened by exposure to our toxic electronic waste while we pat ourselves on the back for recycling our shiny shinys, I dunno. I have trouble justifying it.
If the hairshirt is getting too uncomfortable, you can probably justify waiting a year for the next and undoubtedly more socially conscious version of the pad based on the specs alone.
This pad is reportedly larger, heavier, and apparently can get to 116 degrees when running certain game apps while plugged in. Even Jobs never thought of including this new feature of being able to fry an egg on the back of the pad. Throw in the genius marketing of the new name “The New iPad” and it becomes clear that Jobs was only holding these guys back.
@libertarian tool: 93 degrees, dude. I noticed mine was a little warm on Friday, but I haven’t noticed it since.
ADD: Also, if you want to go there, it was Jobs who originally insisted on eliminating model numbers from Apple products. iPhone X and iPad X have been exceptions.
ADD2: Actually, it’s Consumer Reports that measures 116 degrees. Also:
During our tests, I held the new iPad in my hands. When it was at its hottest, it felt very warm but not especially uncomfortable if held for a brief period.
I haven’t been playing Infinity Blade II for 45 minutes, so I can’t comment on that. For what I do — browsing and writing, primarily — it got a little warm on Friday, and nothing noticeable since.
The 116 was from a Consumers Report guy I heard on CNBC. To get there you have to go to a max stress scenario- plugged in, bright screen, CPU intensive game running.
If it keeps getting bigger and heavier I think they’ll have to call the next one the iTable.
¡ANDREW! • Other Useful Exposure Notifications @nojo: Apparently they have cliff divers to entertain patrons while they enjoy their meals. Mr. A!…
NOJO • Other Useful Exposure Notifications @¡Andrew!: So that’s not the waterpark? Been here eight years, still get my landmarks confused.
¡ANDREW! • Other Useful Exposure Notifications I saw that Casa Bonita is reopening in Denver OMGOMGOMG!! Y'all are so lucky--it'll be mass…
¡ANDREW! • Other Useful Exposure Notifications America Is An Out-Of-Touch Gerontocracy, And I’m Glad I Don’t Live There "These has-been…
¡ANDREW! • Other Useful Exposure Notifications Can we get a proof of life from Merrique "let them eat endless investigations" Garlandtoinette?…
MANCHUCANDIDATE • Bye! And the drips keep on coming. With each lame denial comes another revelation about Justice Ruckus.
MANCHUCANDIDATE • Bye! @¡Andrew!: Before we found about why Thomas goes as the Crow flies (in a private jet.)
¡ANDREW! • Bye! Survey Finds Nearly 6 In 10 Wealthy Americans Living Fraud To Fraud WASHINGTON—Noting that the…
NOJO • Bye! @¡Andrew!: From what I’m seeing in bits and pieces, yeah, Licht. CNN under Zucker was bad…
¡ANDREW! • Bye! @nojo: When life gives you Lemons (shrug). Not particularly sad, since: 1. Who still watches…