Dilemmas for Progressives

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      Image of homelessness from the now-defunct Italian blog Moving & Learning
If you’re a progressive and/or environmentalist you know it’s not always easy to be good. Sometimes you have to make really tough choices, where you feel uneasy no matter what you do. Here are ten that I find troubling. If you’ve faced them and have found a way to deal with them, I’d love to hear from you.

  1. Choosing Your Charities: There are a hundred good causes always asking for money, and hundreds of people on the streets asking for change, busking, washing your windshield, selling those 50 cent newspapers etc. How do you choose? Who do you give to, and when? Local or global? Health or social service? People you know raising money for luxuries or organized fundraisers supporting the really desperate? Cash or a good meal?

  3. Local vs Organic/Humane/Fair Trade Foods: It’s so hard to find stuff that’s both. Between fresh local stuff that could well be tainted with melamine and other toxins, and long-distance, shipped-by-diesel ethical foods that might have no nutrition left, which do you choose?

  5. Government-Assisted & Centralized, or Community-Based: On the big-ticket issues where inequality is at critical levels, like education and health, most progressives like the idea of universal, free-for-all programs. But at the same time community-based unschooling programs, and community-run clinics that use volunteers to stretch dollars, have a lot of appeal and they’re the antithesis of massive, state-run programs. And what is your position on voucher programs, that basically give people the money (or equivalent) and leave it up to them how to spend it (on food, on their choice of schools etc.)? 

  7. City Versus Country: Country is healthier, and better for the soul, but (unless you telecommute and are very self-sufficient) city is more ecologically sustainable, more land-economical. The suburbs are no compromise — they’re the worst of both worlds. So where do you choose to live?

  9. Immigration Policy: At current rates of immigration, the US population will soar to one billion by 2100, and the Canadian population to 100 million. Many people believe we have no right to keep people out just because of where they had the misfortune to be born. But such populations will wipe out our last remaining wilderness, increase pollution proportionally to their numbers, and devastate our forests and farmlands. So do you opt for human kindness or ecological sustainability?

  11. Stopping at Zero: Those who don’t care about our environment, or don’t know any better, have no compunction about having large families. What should we do about such people? Compensate by having none, or just one, of our own? Make it clear that we find their conduct irresponsible and reprehensible? Even if they’re good in other ways, or the loved ones of our loved ones?

  13. Watch or Turn it Off: The news is mostly bad, and mostly unactionable, so there’s a tendency to shut it off and not subject yourself to more grief — you know what’s happening, and don’t need to be reminded. Or do you? Is there something in that news that is your undiscovered cause, something that you can do something about, something that you really need to know?

  15. Make & DIY, versus Buy: There is much to be said for self-sufficiency, both because it’s ecologically sustainable and because it’s pleasurable to learn to do things for yourself. But the trade-off is the time it takes you to learn and practice, and the fact that someone else may have this as their only skill, their only way to make a living, and if everyone does it themselves, they’re out of a job.

  17. Made in China or Doing Without: There are many things, from clothes to computers, that are almost impossible to buy from local or even domestic suppliers. So the alternative to buying something shoddily (and environmentally irresponsibly) made by slave labour in China for some giant multinational corporation, overpackaged and shipped thousands of miles, that will end up in the landfill in six months, is not to buy that item at all (unless you have the time and skill to make it yourself — see #8 above). What are we willing to live without?

  19. Choosing How to Spend Your Time: This is probably the toughest dilemma of all. So much needs to bedone. But we need to focus on where we can make a real difference, and on causes that we not only care about, but enjoy working on. Life is too short to do work you don’t love. And you need time for yourself and those you love, too.

Thoughts? Other ethical dilemmas? Let me know your take on all this.

Category:      Frames, Left & Right     

PS: Help me pick a new subscribe-by-email tool: R-mail, the tool I have been using to allow users to subscribe to How to Save the World by e-mail, has been down for awhile. It may be time for me to switch. If any of you have used RssFwd, Zookoda, or FeedBurner for this purpose, please let me know.

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11 Responses to Dilemmas for Progressives

  1. vera says:

    I dislike the word Progressive. I figure we are far more conservative than the dumb thugs running things. Besides, “progress” is so 19th century! :-)1. Used to give to mainstream environmental groups, Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace, Bat Cons. Int’l. Also to a cancer charity. Now that I am in more modest circumstances, I give to friends.2. Organic/Humane/Fair Trade Foods all will do. I buy local produce when I can. I am gearing up to only buy meat direct from farmers or small local intermediaries. And expect to be part of a food growing community within 2 years.3. I grew up under communism, and don’t like one size fits all programs, top down. But they are better than “plunder ’em and let ’em swim or sink” which current American elites subscribe to.4. Country, country, country!!!!! :-) Ugh. Cities. Can’t abide them any more. But country with a community, else you are left like a rag flopping in the wind, driving all the time to get anywhere. In Europe, the country is not cut off like here in the U.S. 4. I am a firm believer in exclusive communities. Not everyone is welcome, though anyone can leave at any time. How else can local communities take responsibility for what they do? Imagine if any comer off the street could join your family. Just show up and announce they like you, and they are staying. Absurd, right? Same thing with larger entities. The whole American PC idea of forcing all polities to be a mix of anyone and everyone gets in the way of having healthy, safe, sane and congenial communities.5 & 6. I stopped at zero, but I regret it. The future will go to those who reproduce, in the U.S. to Mormons and Anabaptists. The green folks who stop at zero or one will become extinct. Don’t quite know how to wrap my mind around it.7. No TV, for many years now, no papers. Love it. As far as I am concerned, watching news on the mainstream channels is like poisoning yourself every day. — Very selective news following on the net. Mostly alternative sources.8. Your argument reminds me of the folks in Oregon, who force everyone to use gasoline pump attendants, and are forbidden to pump their own. I don’t accept the arguments behind it. — I do my own when I can, and plan to learn a whole lot more. The rest, I rely as much as I can on locals, neighbors. As one ages, the DIY thing assumes visible limitations. 9. Buying very little these days. Don’t check so much where it comes from, because the corporations have good ways to hide origins, and often their origins are mixed, and I am not sure how important it is for me to rob the Chinese of at least some employment for the time being. But I do try to buy more local over less local, more distant.10. I spend as much of my time doing what I want as I can. And I am assiduously avoiding getting drawn into all those nifty would be top-down solutions (like redoing the whole money system and letting the U.S. gov’t do the central banking, or designing a top down interest-free and debt free money). These are excellent solutions on paper, and well-worth trying, but they will suck the enthusiasm and effort of the people into a black hole and never happen in the present system.11. One addition, diet. There are very many pro-vegan arguments floating around, so this needs to be said: heavy grain diet is bad for people’s health and bad for soil health. Check it out. In Australia, to put 1 kg bread on the table equals the loss of about 7 kg soil. The Earth cannot afford that sort of folly. — I’ve opted for low grain (incl. a preference for less known grains) diet. I originally did it for health reasons, and went with the “specific carbohydrate diet” which does not allow any starches at all. Did me a world of good. Great way to stay trim too. I used to think that eventually I will go back to grains once my insides heal. But after some 4 years of this, it looks like I will be able to eat some grains and still be well, and never go back to the usual “avalanche of grains” diet so prevalent. :-)

  2. David Parkinson says:

    1. Choosing Your Charities: I used to give money when I had no time. Now I give time, maybe up to 10 or 15 hours per week on one unpaid form of community development or another.2. Local vs Organic/Humane/Fair Trade Foods: No mammals except very rarely. Fish maybe 2-3x/month. As much organic food as possible, largely bought through a small buyers’ group. As much local food as we can scrounge: backyard garden, farmers’ markets, farmgate.3. Government-Assisted & Centralized, or Community-Based: The latter.4. City Versus Country: A city of 14000 out in the middle of almost nowhere (coastal BC). Best of both worlds, IMO.5. Immigration Policy: No strong opinion.6. Stopping at Zero: Same-sexer. No progeny.7. Watch or Turn it Off: The latter. We sent our TV into exile during the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq and never went back. TV is the mind killer. Don’t get me started.8. Make & DIY, versus Buy: We buy very little. Books come from library or used store. We spend maybe $500/yr on clothes, if that (and that would include coats, boots, raingear, etc.). No new CDs. Few tchotchkes. We don’t make a lot of stuff either, although we don’t need much anyway.9. Made in China or Doing Without: The latter.10. Choosing How to Spend Your Time: We work maybe 25 hrs/wk each, if that. The rest of our time is mainly spent cooking, cleaning, gardening, walking around, reading, talking, thinking, or working on various projects. We’ve made sacrifices to get to this luxurious state of freedom to do as little as we want. Every one of them was worth it.

  3. David Parkinson says:

    I’ve used FeedBurner for a couple blogs. Works great. FWIW. But no experience with competing feed servers.

  4. Great points. They beg more questions than answers. All I can think of is that more people need to have this conversation more often.

  5. EJ says:

    # Choosing Your Charities: I used to give to one human rights, one womens right, one environmental. Now more environment and only Amnesty International.# Local vs Organic/Humane/Fair Trade Foods: Local, organic, grow our own. Not so hard for food as for other goods.# Stopping at Zero: Only one, not regrets.# Watch or Turn it Off: Never turned tv on.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Also thanks to Tree for pointing out that the numbers in point 5 should be one billion and 100 million, not 300 million and 30 million. Please be patient with formatting of articles for awhile — converting to Mac and there are some glitches in the software.

  7. Paxus says:

    Charities: i am encouraging people to make contributions directly to activists who are doing work that they like. NGOs have their place, and creative direct financing is direct action – and as is often true. Direct action gets the goods.Local vs Organic/Humane/Fair Trade: i have friends in all these efforts, decide on the fly based on the info you have at the time and dont sweat it. Just as important as where it comes from is what culture it is going into. Organize more potlucks, build community meal plans, waste as little as possible, create relations with farmers – do labor exchange with them and grow food in exchange for food. Find more earth in your life.Government Assisted or Cmty based: False dichotomy, do everything. I fundraise and do deep grass roots stuff, they both have their place – no one path to change, since we dont really know how to get there. Some people work better in large safer environments – get your govt funding. Others do their best work with minimal constraints and scraping for resources.City is more ecologically sustainable ? Sure in concept, but the reality is high consumption lifestyles, high costs and tremendous waste production which is often ill handled. i live in the country, i love the city (currently having a blast in Am*dam), but living in the country means living with less – that is more sustainable in my book. US population is already 300 million, i think these numbers are wrong. Borders dropped in Europe have been a tremendous boon. Down with borders and down with birth rates.There is no universal answer to the question of how many kids on should have. Look where your gifts are – if you are a likely great parent than consider the various options for taking care and positively crafting a new life. Adopt, join a community, befriend a single mom and her kid or breed if that is what is right for you, maybe even more than two kid!Burn your TV. Use clean coal carbon capture to make sure it doesnot pollute.Make it yourself. The more you make yourself, the less you will consume – and since you cant come close to making it all yourself, you should focus on the things which feed you in other ways – grow or cook food, repair things. Dont worry about putting people out of jobs, worry about the impact of our high consumption levels.Dont buy China, buy used. Let go of he “i need it new” idea and do most of your shopping in second hand stores, thirft shops, flea markets and online – eBay is a great used material redistribution engine. How to spend your time? Find people you like (or love) who are doing something you care about and work with them. The issue is nearly irrelevant, find the clan and the campaign that excites you and go with them.

  8. vera says:

    Reading Stephens’ response, I see I forgot the vouchers. I support them. They would give inner city kids an out of a horrible system. But besides that, it does not follow the money would go to for profit schools. Much of it would make possible better home learning situations, as well as parent-teacher coop schools. Some would go to non-profit parochial schools which is ok by me. In any case, I detest conventional schooling, and have no wish to support it with my tax dollars. With vouchers, there would be a lot less of it.

  9. Krupo says:

    #6 -> seriously? This sort of attitude is basically the heretical (to Catholics) doctrine that matter/people are evil and we’re better of without them. Come on now, that’s not sporting.

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