Where are We on the Ethics Spectrum? 6 Degrees of Environmentalism

What's the purpose of this blog?  I often meet people who share the interest in ethical exports and electronics recycling, and we exchange information, each developing deeper knowledge through the relationships.

But the blog is also a journal.  It can capture my own thinking about a "big story".

And "e-waste" is really not a big story at all.  It's a fairly small part of recycling,  Recycling is really important because it avoids mining and preserves added value.  It's really rude to future generations to burn up limited fossil fuels, warm the planet, and then throw away the metal and plastics and do it over again.  It's really rude to tell a generation of Africans starving for Mass Communications / teledensity that they should buy brand new stuff most cannot afford because our sense of liability - an ethical luxury - comes first.

Throughout the blog there are facts that I share with academics and researchers and policy makers, and then there are places where I get angry and vent - as I'd do in a journal.  What is most important are the big perspectives which I can only comprehend a bite at a time.

Recycling policy becomes a lens to view ethics in a way that observes cross-cultural and economic interest's "spin" on those ethics.

Ethics really have to be understood as coming from a source of good, a right and wrong, poles.  It's possible that the most cynical view of ethics - that it's all evolved psychology and genetic nurture and greed - is true.  We have to be willing to consider it.  But I think an evolved, polished, enlightened Ethics which takes into account evolution and psychology and enlightened self interest is a thing of beauty, a work of art, and a gift to future generations.

Another long intro leads us here: My outline of self interest in international ethics.

[thanks to virtual pal Rafa Font of Belgium for sharing the article by Courtney Martin, The Reductive Seduction of Other Peoples Problems]

1.  The Ethics Illiterate

We tend to call people "evil" in literature, but most of the evil I see in the world is more of an ethical blindness.  People who really just care about something else, about themselves, about money, about pleasure.

There are people who would eat 1,000 endangered species tongues on toast and throw the rest away just for the sense of privilege, power and luxury (and even if cheese tasted better).  But in my experience, assholes aren't really thinking about ethical questions.  They would as soon burn a phone book as a Bible.

The worst problems in the world aren't created by Marvel Comics evil people, but by those who are mostly illiterate in ethics, and don't know how to feel good about sustainability.  The action is evil, the murder is evil.  What's in the evil mind is a waste.

2.  The Ethics Superficial

There are many people who have a general awareness of ethics and are on the right side, they think.  But while they may be literate in right and wrong, they don't really read novels, if you get my drift.

The morality is often a currency which they see has a social value.

They want to be friends with people who are ethical (which is really smart), and they follow the opinions of the tribes they find themselves in.

The Ethical Superficials may evolve into more professional ethics agents, or they may be satisfied to see themselves as ethically superior to Ethical Illiterates, earning an internal "moral currency" for having expressed "politically correct" or "religiously correct" views.

3.  The Ethics Passionate

This is where I was in high school and college.  You learn, you study, you become passionate about the ethics.  You may pray, you may meditate, you may be excited or inspired by listening to a great speaker.

There are millions of us here, but this is also where we really see a spectrum of Superficials and Professionals (and this is really where Courtney Martin's article plows fresh ground).

This is where college students volunteer for PIRG, attend rallies, contribute to Kickstarter, and circulate petitions.  

The "e-waste crisis" people harnessed this type of mass-injustice-perception, which was monetized... see #4

4.  The Ethics Professional

The ultimate economic realities of paying rent and putting bread on the table constantly bubble through the millions of Ethics Passionates, and it leads to Ethics Professionals - people who make a living off of it, or by steering the procurement or regulating behavior.

Professional agents of change, "Priestatollah's", Executive Directors, Chief Regulators and Enforcement Agents... these people make a living by finding economic or legal authority over trade activity or marriage etc.  Eric Cartman's "Authoratah" speeches show the way some of these professionals come across to Illiterates; Joel Osteen, or Jim Puckett, Gina McCarthy, or Martin Luther King... there are many local, regional and national ethical leaders.  These tend to be people who have achieved a lot of consensus in the ethics spectrum.

The value of their leadership, however, depends on how many people - and which people - were involved in that consensus.  Because it's a consensus of Illiterates, Superficials, Passionates, and other Professionals.  And it tends to be all people in the same venue, same region, common education levels.

They tend to be career-focused, and most people who are career-focused fear liability.  Getting attacked by a passionate is the enemy of nuance, and the parent of red tape.

Ghana scrap carters and Ghana laptop technicians don't often have any way to participate in the noisy conferences of consensus regulations.  That is how Europe framed itself as Ethically superior to USA in "waste export", yet managed to jail African TV repairmen on a half-witted mission to feed metals to Umicore (2012 Testimony to US International Trade Commission) and Kuusakoski SWEEEP in the UK.

I was told WR3A had to pay $5000 to sit at the StEP table, on top of flights and EU hotels.  If I can't afford that kind of time, how is Africa's Tech Sector supposed to stay at the table?  Unfortunately, while the "Professional Class" of Ethical Environmentalists are intelligent, well educated, well intentioned, and have access to information, they are surrounded by the influence of their own Western recycling businesses.  In the USA, it led to the Green-Thomson anti-export bill, which has yet to pass.  In the EU, it led to "enforcement guidelines" which are not law but were used to shift the burden of proof on #FreeHurricaneBenson.  Last Man Standing is usually Big Shred, Planned Obsolescence, AntiGrayMarket, and the Ethics Professionals they bankroll.

5.  The Ethical Cross-Sectionals

Cross-Sectionals are extremely ethical, but may not have the same priorities as Environmental do-Gooders.   The biggest example of this category are people devoted to helping friends and family in their home country.

The Ethical Cross-Sectional perhaps really cares about family members in Ghana, and wants to help them in a particular circumstance.  They know all about Agbogbloshie and all about AMA and basically know Accra and Tamale inside-out.  They are willing to take risks and trade in order to make money, and in Africa when you make money you are making it for everyone in your family, everyone in your tribe.  Your choices are to buy new, buy used, or buy nothing at all, and you calculate you can do the most good for the most people by buying used goods that last as long as new and cost 25% as much.

Another example of cross-sectional ethics would be an ethics professional who was interested in womens' education, in mass communications, or in unjust imprisonment, all things that trump the actual damage of "e-waste export risk", or people who support reuse and recycling as an alternative to unsustainable mining (see a high risk of doing nothing).  Each of these ethical networks has its own spectrum of Ethics Superficials and Ethics Passionates and Ethics Professionals.  Banning exports of computers may seem like the "precautionary principle" to Environmental Ethics Passionates, but that precaution sounds like rabid experimentalization to people who are developing Africa.

6. The Ethical Philosophers

Sometimes by studying what is actually going on, we can become Ethical Philosophers.  We get insights that inform us far beyond the environmental or nurturing cause at hand.  These are some of the "big themes" we try to get closer to in this blog, because understanding what is REALLY happening, in REALITY, with e-waste, reveals sources of confusion... cultural misunderstandings, propaganda, intergenerational impacts, development philosophy, etc.

  • Environmental justice
  • Moral licensing
  • Environmental malpractice
  • Sustainability
  • Ethics
  • Charity Industrial Complex
  • White Savior 
  • Precautionary Principle
  • Values
  • Nurture
  • Underdogs
  • Stategy

This is enough for today, may do a part 2 next week.

No comments: