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Posts Tagged ‘Business’

Consumerism = Slavery

Very often, religion critiques excessive consumerism.  I am sure many a pulpit has done so with the help of many wonderful theologians.  One such theologian (and one that is quite important to me personally) is Walter Brueggemann.  His later works strongly critique American consumption without, to my knowledge, a substantive enough appreciation for what drives consumerism.  Perhaps what drives consumers is an intent to welcome the “newness” of life.  Perhaps consumerism is a form of communication of the deeper self.  Perhaps consumerism is wishing for something powerful to do.   Who knows for sure?  Not many.  Largely this is because consumerism is critiqued without first being appreciated.  And yet, it seems the only thing that diminishes consumerism is a lack of money.  Self deprivation cannot, for the majority, combat excessive consumerism.   If North American Christians should consume less (food, stuff etc.) how is the church going to honor and redirect what drives consumption.

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Manga emotions-EN-small

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I am really enjoying lecture series from The Teaching Company entitled The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions.  The premise (as the title indicates) is that emotions are an intelligent engagement of the world. Over the next two weeks, I will be reviewing these lectures.  Check in with this blog and discover why you never have to excuse your emotions again.  Further, I hope to summarize  Robert C. Solomon‘s assertions that understanding our emotions more fully can enhance our life experience and quality of living.

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When I was a little girl, my dad built a sauna in our basement.  When I asked what it was for, he replied, “It’s  for health Leslie.  Always remember that in as much as you need to drink and eat and consume… you need to sweat-it-out in life too.”  

The most recent chapter, “Responding to Sweatshops”  from Progressive Christians Uniting:  A Different Voice for Faith and Politics, definitely caused my mind to wander and wonder about sweating, our national work environments and our global community.

I appreciated the authors historical explanation of the rise of sweatshops and how the unregulated global economy contributes to the rise of sweatshops in under-developed countries as Transnational Corporations try to compete and provide products at ever decreasing prices.    

When did it become appropriate or exciting to get something for nothing?  The deal at the mall or grocery store or restaurant is often a part of our cell phone conversations.  We declare victoriously that an item or experience only cost a fraction of what it might have to full price.  We tell our friends and neighbors to hurry to grab up the deal.  Let the consuming games begin!  For example, we bargain shop beyond the capacity of our dresser drawers or ability keep up with the laundry.  We purchase food items on sale and our homes are stockpiled even when we head out the door to eat at a local restaurant.  I want to submit that this consumption game plays us as  fools  primarily because the deals that we discover are not just deals in and of themselves.  The deals require that someone else  paid the cost difference.  Sweatshops are one such place where the deal we enjoy is actually at the cost of the under-paid and exploited worker.  The transnational corporations mediate this for us and demand the sacrifice.  We can only imagine the reality.

We might be tempted to imagine that these workers are enjoying a better life even if they are drawing a lesser wage than us.  We might imagine that hardship is part of the cost for making entry into this country or that individuals must pay dues when they are under-educated or otherwise unprepared for life.  Our imagination can always get us off the hook.  But there is responsible imagination as well.  Responsible or God-given imagination is not built to get us off the hook is fundamentally personal and honest…not just fanciful in order to make our life easier.   A sauna-like imagination builds and enriches our faith. 

As Christians, when we take seriously the scriptural challenge to consider the fate of others, i.e. we are our brothers and sisters keepers, then we exercise our imagination beyond fanciful retreat.  We might ask a question.  Would it be okay with us if our daughters and sons had to work in sweatshop environments?  A Godgiven imagination would cry out, “No!” Our children are precious and what they produce is worth something. 

It is then that we must acknowledge that we are not just consumers, we are also producers.   Very few of us would feel excited about someone else receiving our service or product at its cheapest or for nothing.  How would we feel if our services were valued for so little?  Would we put up with it?  Would we have a choice?  When considering another human being, I think our faith requires that we imagine them in our shoes and us in theirs as Jesus did.     

There is a more convoluted issue here.  When we consider sweatshops and their injustice.  We might do well to consider an opposite sort of work environment.  And then wonder….if some people are sweating too much could it because others of us are not sweating enough?  Shouldn’t all work environments have some level of sweat and self-sacrifice?   

 Across America there are, indeed, more luxurious work conditions than those found in sweatshops.  There are job descriptions, water coolers, benefit packages, reasonable challenges, collaboration, office parties etc.  Even within these work environments it is common that workers are concerned about fairness of their circumstances and whether or not the corporation is providing enough to employees.  But by world standards this is somewhat laughable.  I think in such concern there is the whisper of a more fundamental issue that needs to be addressed as we consider the loss of jobs and vitality of small businesses and even corporations.  There is a fundamental issue that needs to be sweated through.  A genuine sweating is required between workers and employers so that no one is derailed into simply competing for individual gain.  Rather what is needed is a sort of opportunity to sauna for the vitality of corporations and businesses that strengthen society.  

How is it that the employer and worker stop competing for rights, privileges or entitlements within the workplace and move toward a shared passion for the vitality of the workplace?   How is it that there is increased understanding that the work place has the potential to strengthen the social fabric of a local or global society?

Though it is not the author’s point, my mind has wandered. 

The reality of sweatshops cannot be fully addressed until one of its undercurrents is addressed.  That is, the entitlement and excess enjoyed by some North American workers that seems like an unbridled horse which drives companies employment practices. The fear of the unbridled horse causes corporations to over bridle others i.e. sweatshops in global setting with few employment rules. 

Until North American work environments reconcile their disparate parts… that is the competition between companies and the individuals they employ, there is little hope for a greater vision that could eliminate the depravity of situations like sweatshops. 

What is required are creative ways to redress  the North American worker’s tendency (this includes everyone at all levels of employment) to pursue ever-increasing individual benefits.  Part of this correction surely includes ways for individual workers to understand the thrill of life is not in how much can we get with minimal effort or cost to the self.  Rather the correction comes as individuals experience the true thrill and even happiness that comes with sitting in the sauna that demands appropriate self-sacrifice within an enriching and empowering work environment.  Until we have redressed the situation,  the majority will imagine that its okay that someone else make their living by slaving away in a sweatshop.

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Dripping faucet

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There is a faucet in my house that sits the greatest distance from our water heater.  If I am patient, what runs cold from this faucet will eventually warm up.  If I return often, the residual warmth is ready.  But this faucet’s position is always a great distance from the heating source.  I am responsible for calling for the warmth and welcoming it whenever it arrives.    1 Corinthians 13:1-7.

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