In the modern world, it's impossible to live ethically without going off the grid or killing yourself. If you did live off the grid (or didn't live, period), you wouldn't be reading this right now. But you are. Which means you—yes, you, in spite of your Prius with the "Coexist" sticker and your love of same-sex marriage and free-range poultry—live unethically.
Indeed, every single thing you do is unethical. Where'd you buy the clothes you're wearing? Somewhere unethical. What'd you eat for breakfast? Something unethical. Did you take a shower this morning? How long did you take? If you didn't just dab yourself with a wet, Dr. Bronner's–covered rag, you fucked up. You continued to be part of the problem.
It's a nice gesture for you to drive the Prius with the "Coexist" sticker. After all, you could be driving a Hummer with a "Fuck Differences" sticker. The Prius makes you feel better about yourself, like you're raping Mother Gaia a little less than the other guy. Naturally, this fills you with a fair amount of self-righteousness. Your self-righteousness, however, is unfounded. In spite of your best efforts, you're still ruining the world.
No matter what you do and how you do it, you're tangentially supporting Koch Industries. The second-largest privately held company and the fourteenth-worst air polluter in the US, Koch "started in the heartland, and has expanded to nearly every state." A fair amount of their $115 billion in annual revenue is spent on lobbyists, who in turn ensure a fucked future for us all by paying politicians to look the other way while Koch contaminates waterways and blackens the air.
To know Koch Industries is to hate it. "You may not always see [their] name on the products you use," their promotional video reminds you, "but [they're] working every day to make better food, clothing, shelter, transportation, hygiene supplies, technologies, and other necessities." The video's imagery—a diapered infant waddling, an old man on a horse—reminds you that, from the cradle to the fucking grave, by virtue of simply existing, you're contributing to their bottom line.
Koch-provided or not, well intended or not, the staples of your life—food, clothing, shelter, transportation, hygiene supplies, technologies, and other necessities—are all inherently immoral. Let's discuss.
Photo via Flickr user John Morgan
Organic produce, while more environmentally friendly than traditional produce, is still produce. Which means it's still picked by farm workers who, while not having to suffer the health hazard of being exposed to pesticides, nevertheless suffer long hours, oppressive working conditions, and low wages. The USDA's list of organic standards includes no rules about labor, which means organic farms have carte blanche to treat their employees as poorly as traditional ones. You may feel better, eating that organic arugula, but the back of the woman who picked it doesn't.
The artisanal-ification of restaurants—muddling cocktails, over-complicating ingredients—is making the act of eating out more and more cost-prohibitive to people who don't have tech jobs or take money from their parents. Every boozy brunch you attend distances you further and further from the lower classes and, by proxy, reality. Every family-run restaurant that gets priced out of its lease and turned into a shticky bistro further fragments us. Every hip Korean-Mexican fusion food truck with a punny name puts a taco truck out of business.
Photo via Flickr user Gaudencio Garcinuño
You dress like a bohemian. But your faux rags, your artful affectation, were assembled by someone in real rags, working Christ knows how many hours a week for Christ knows how little pay. You wonder how those stores in the mall can sell things so cheaply. It's easy: low overhead.
Even if you don't shop at the mall, even if you buy your clothing secondhand at a thrift store, you're depriving people poorer than you from purchasing it. You got a great deal on that skirt. But did you need to get a great deal? You could have afforded to pay more—much more.
Gentrification works thusly: You show up. You displace. You repeat. Wherein your parents once fled from the city, you now flock to it. Because, like, the suburbs fucking suck. In doing so, you're essentially committing reverse white flight. The people forced to stay in the cities, the people abandoned by their former neighbors who got the hell out of Dodge as soon as they made enough money to buy a Dodge, have been keeping Echo Park, the U Street Corridor, and Beacon Hill warm for you. Now you want those areas back. So you take them. Where do they go once you, and people like you, kick them out and fill their neighborhoods with vinyl-only record stores? That question does not cross your mind.
Photo via Flickr user Marshall Astor
Sure, you can go to the desert and do mushrooms and connect with your Earth mother, but how'd you get there, numbnuts? You drove a fucking car. You filled the tank with dinosaur bones, threw a Chinese-made tent in the trunk, and bought some shrooms from your dealer, who also sells harder shit smuggled across the border by murderous cartels.
I was in a co-op the other day, the sort of place in which one would witness a man burn honest-to-Goddess sage without comment, after smoking DMT, again, without comment. Despite the overwhelmingly hippy ethos of my environment, the hand soap in the shared bathroom was made by Procter and Gamble. A package of disposable razors I noticed in a woman's bedroom were made by the same. Procter and Gamble is a major donor to the Republican National Committee. The Republican National Committee hates hippies, and hippies hate the Republican National Committee. Yet there I was, in that co-op, using their hippy-hating soap.
Photo via Flickr user Robert Scoble
Sure, your iPhone was "Designed by Apple in California," but it sure as shit wasn't constructed there. It would cost a mere $4 per unit to manufacture in America, but cost isn't the reason why the labor has been outsourced to China, Taiwan, and Korea. It's because there's something about borderline slave labor that makes manufacturing things so darned fast! The folks over there can crank these babies out like crazy!
Which reminds me of a delightful story: Steve Jobs decided he wanted the iPhone's screen to be made out of glass very shortly before its launch; in America, the time constraints involved would have made it an impossibility. Not so, however, in China! A factory made its own dorms to facilitate employees working 12-hour shifts, making 10,000 iPhones a day. Steve got his wish! He could die happy!
If you don't have an iPhone, but you have ethics, you're probably upset about Google raping and pillaging San Francisco. You write tweets about it on your Droid. Which is filled with conflict minerals.
Photo via Flickr user Marisa McClellan
While it may seem as though that $6 cold-brewed coffee you just bought is a necessity, I assure you it is not. It's liquid privilege.
You're slightly different than that theoretical Hummer driver. But only slightly. So the next time you pat yourself on the back for being such a good person, a caring citizen of the Earth, do me a favor: don't.
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