Here is the first writing assignment for Track 2 folks. It has four parts. Each part should be 1-2 pages, so the whole essay should be from 4-8 pages. In your writing, you may find it helpful to draw on your study guides or the readings. This essay should be type-written and submitted to me in a hard copy on Monday, February 24 (Two weeks from now).
*Note* The aim of this assignment is not to make anyone feel guilty. In my experience, “guilt” is destructive of thought. Often we start to examine something, start to feel bad about ourselves, and so stop thinking about it because it we feel powerless to change anything, or feel like we are bad people for enjoying things that we shouldn’t. Try to put these thoughts aside in your investigation — describe them if you feel them, but don’t succumb to their power. One helpful way to gain some distance from these thoughts is to approach things in this spirit:
“I didn’t choose to create the world as it is. If I were given a choice, I might have created things much differently. But the point is: this is the world I’ve inherited, not the world I’ve made. It is my responsibility to understand it. Perhaps there are immoral or unjust things going on. But since I didn’t have a hand in constructing them, perhaps I am just as much victimized by them as anyone else?”
This may not ultimately be true, but try it on as an experiment if you worry about feelings of guilt or depression coming from this investigation. The point is: try to put aside your feelings of guilt about what you do, feel, and think, and instead just investigate.
So, here is the assignment:
(Part A) Select one thing you use or consume in your daily life. Describe how you use or consume it, and imagine what your life would be like without it. What difficulties does this thing solve for you? How do you depend on it for sustenance, for emotional support, for keeping in touch with others, etc.? (If you feel like you could easily do without it, then pick another thing!)
(Part B) Investigate where and how this thing was created. Who do you think made it? Under what conditions was it assembled or grown? Were parts of it made somewhere else? Were parts of it mined from the ground, grown from the earth, etc.? Are there struggles and protests around its production? Is it produced by people who do not have the right to organize for better working conditions, or live under a repressive political regime? Find out what you can and summarize your findings.
(Part C) Does what you have found out raise any moral problems? Be careful: try to check the tendency to say “it can’t be any other way” or “its better than the alternative.” The aim of this is not to make anyone feel guilty, but to calmly ask what questions and concerns arise from this investigation. Does your use of this product support the oppression of others elsewhere? Does it contribute to ecological destruction? Does the freedom or enjoyment it provides come at the cost of depriving others of similar freedom and enjoyment? If so, describe the feelings this causes in you — just the feelings. If you don’t think any moral problems are raised, think harder.
(Part D) Go back to the difficulties discussed in Part A — how difficult your life would be if you simply subtracted this thing from your use. And now ask a different question: what kinds of changes would have to occur in your life personally or in social/economic life in general that would make this thing unnecessary for you. That is, rather than just imagining it absent (as you did in Part A), imagine how we could live that would transform this thing from a necessity for your happiness into a luxury, something you could happily do without.
Any questions? Please submit them as comments in the section below and I’ll try to answer them so everyone can see.