Friday, March 16, 2012

Apple, Mike Daisey's artistic liberties, and the moral ethic

In case you hadn't yet seen it, one of the big news stories today is about NPR's This American Life retracting a story they ran this last January about award-winning monologist Mike Daisey's piece on the manufacturing conditions at China's Foxconn plant. Mike Daisey's piece focused on Apple's iPhone but that same plant manufactures an incredible array of products for a number of the world's largest electronics manufacturers. The real dilemma this piece raised, in my mind, was that we (as consumers) need to be (more) concerned about how the products we purchase are being manufactured, specifically from the ethical and moral perspectives of working/manufacturing conditions at these plants.

I continually think about these sorts of things for nearly everything I purchase. But I was particularly moved by this episode of This American Life and wrote a blog piece about it (Origins and the Moral Ethic). An Apple investigator had doubts about some of Mike Daisey's facts in his monologue and a followup piece that ran on ABC's Nightline. Today, Mashable ran a great article about the brouhaha complete with This American Life's retraction letter. In Mashable's post, they asked the question, 
"Does this change the way you think about whether or not Apple products are ethically made?"
My response? 

Not at all.

While it saddens me that Mike Daisey took certain theatrical liberties in the making of his story then passed them off as truths to journalists, and This American Life aired the episode without fully vetting the truths, the fact of the matter remains that Apple and many other electronics manufacturers have obligations (beyond the Almighty Dollar) to ensuring ethical working conditions that are not harmful to people. That Foxconn has serious operational and ethical hurdles to overcome has been well-established (some of the better stories, here, here, and ABC's video piece here).

But in the end, people still need to care about where their products come from. Not just in terms of a fair workplace for people, but also about where the raw materials are sourced and the implications for the people (and other organisms) living in the area.

Sadly, I fear too many people will skim a snippet of this melee without digging deeper (or worse, take a skewed Fox [Faux?] News report of it), and dismiss any obligation they feel to better understanding (and taking responsibility for) where their electronics come from.

UPDATE: 3/18/12

As I was listening to today's (3/18) This American Life episode (you can listen to the podcast, here) in which Ira addresses the inconsistencies (lies, half-truths and complexities?) of Mike Daisey's original story, I couldn't help but feel bad for Mike. Not because he lied to Ira and those vetting the story (that part was, in my view, inexcusable) and got caught, but because the very thing Mike sincerely hoped his original theatrical piece would do - make people care about their buying choices and the impacts those choices have on others - took such a large negative turn. Yes, it was Mike's own doing. And it didn't help that today's interview piece with Ira seemed to lambast him (arguably justified) and undermine most, if not all of, Mike's credibility.

But I was finally (finally!) heartened in the closing minutes of the TAL piece. Why? In Ira's discussions with Charles Duhigg - one of the original authors of the NY Times investigative piece about Apple's labor practices and author of the book "The Power of Habit" - Charles gets right at the point that Mike tries so hard (in vane?) to get at: people should care that their buying practices have far-reaching impacts. He asks:

"Do you feel comfortable knowing that that iPhones and iPads and, and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions (in factories and societies worldwide) exist and perpetuate because of an economy that you are supporting with your dollars?"
and, in response to his own question says:
"You are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people...enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then those conditions would be different overseas."

I can only hope that listeners of TAL and those summarizing the episode in the wider media catch this last, critical piece in today's show.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting to know the area you live in

Showing school children critters from their local creek.
It's sad to say, but western cultures, by-and-large, have moved so far away from connections with the natural world and become so reliant on the manufactured one that there is actually a burgeoning cadre of people who believe our loss of connection to the natural world comes at the detriment of the health or our children, society and environment (and I tend to agree) and are now calling for a "return to nature" movement - calls for society to win back, reconnect with and again gain an intimate understanding of the nature world around us. One of the preeminent leaders of this movement (of late) is best-selling author Richard Louv of "Last Child in the Woods" fame. In his new book, "The Nature Principle", Richard lays out a roadmap for ways in which the rest of us - not just children with parents who already appreciate nature - can tap "into the restorative powers of the natural world" to "boost mental acuity and creativity, promote health and wellness, build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies and ultimately strengthen human bonds". And it's not hard to buy his logic/arguments.
Richard Louv's new book.

In fact, I believe that gaining that deeper understanding of the places in which we live almost invariably (inevitably?) brings with it a sense of responsibility to seeing that place continue to exist (in its ever-changing forms) for others to see and experience and intimately know. Nature doesn't have to be scary. (Sidenote here: In fact, I could lay out a convincing argument that the "concrete jungle"- as reggae legend Bob Marley put it - can be one of the scariest places on earth..."where the living is harder", we're surrounded by "illusion - confusion" and continually searching for that "sweet life (for) it must be somewhere to be found, instead of concrete jungle". But I digress...)

Some of the best ways to get connected and gain a deeper understanding of a particular place (I blogged about this a while back, here) are to participate in outings hosted by your local trail maintenance groups, watershed councils, nature-serving non-profits (e.g., Riverkeepers, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, etc.) various State and Federal government agencies and other groups of the same ilk. Don't know how to get in touch with them? Your local public library almost always has a community bulletin board and the librarians can steer you in the right direction. Or contact your local NRCS office, State or local natural resource agency (e.g., Fish and Game, Dept. of Natural Resources, Dept. of Ecology, etc.; incredibly detailed list here), Federal agency (e.g., US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service, US Forest Service, etc.; near-dizzingly confusing list here) or your State University's Cooperative Extension office. All tend to be a wealth of information about how you can get connected to the natural world. Perhaps second-best would be to contact your local zoo or wildlife science center. They have excellent educational value but, in my opinion, really shouldn't be considered a substitute for actual outdoor time. A stepping stone? You bet!

Now go unplug from the electronic world and get "plugged in" to the natural world! You'll be amazed at how you, your children's lives, and the lives of those around you will benefit...