When I go to buy coffee, I am faced with a decision of whether or not to buy coffee that is “fair trade.” If I all I did was read the label and maybe the explanation next to it, I would assume that fair trade coffee must be something that is good! I love fairness, I love trading, I love coffee. Surely that means that fair trade coffee is the best option! The description next to it says that the coffee makes sure farmers are paid a decent wage and that the coffee is ethically produced. What better situation could there be? The coffee tastes better than other brands and its also helping to make people’s lives better! Unfortunately, I have found that fair trade coffee is a part of a growing epidemic in our nation of “slacktivism” getting in to way of truly valuable action.
I don’t wish to be misunderstood: I don’t mind that a farmer is getting better paid, in most situations that is a very good thing, but think about the economic impact of fair trade: the one farmer in the region who is able to get a sweet deal with Starbucks is now in a position to sell coffee at above-market price, and thus run his competitors out of business. This also causes the farmer to overproduce the coffee, which can have even more devastating effects on the local and global markets. But my point in this post is not necessarily to make the case against fair trade coffee; my point is to point my finger at my generation and at myself for giving in to cheap actions that sooth my conscience so that I do not have to thoughtfully consider the real world.
Foreign charity is an excellent example. Westerners love to buy new clothes, yet we are also aware that people in other parts of the world are unable to afford constantly buying new clothes. Our solution, more often than not, is to donate or to facilitate the donation of extra clothes to impoverished nations. What is the result? Local clothing markets are completely destroyed, local clothes sellers are put out of business, and our consciences feel better. Another great example is the peace corp. and even some short term missions. We feel amazing about ourselves if we can spend a week in another nation and build someone a house. We ignore the fact that sometimes a house hastily built by teenagers is both unsafe and unhelpful. We ignore the fact that many times hosting a group of Americans for a week costs more money than whatever benefit is gained from having someone host a VBS for you. Charity is a good thing, helping people is a good thing, but not all things that call themselves charity are beneficial, and not every act that is done out of kindness is necessarily helpful. Why do we continue to do these things? My theory is that we understand that living in our world often is done at the expense of others, but instead of taking the effort to find real, lasting solutions we want to do a token action that makes us feel better.
My point in writing this is not to condemn my generation, but rather to entreat us all (myself definitely included) to think carefully about why we are doing something and whether or not it is really helpful. Absolutely do not stop attempting to help people, but don’t be satisfied by a token action that is only done to make you feel better about yourself! Maybe instead of raising awareness with a Facebook status you should take half an hour of your day to pray for the problem. Maybe instead of buying a pair of shoes that donates a poorly made shoe to someone overseas you should begin researching the cause of poverty around the world and taking the long-term steps necessary to fight it. Maybe instead of tagging along with a missions group to an interesting location you could research and find a ministry that actually needs labor or money donations. I’m as guilty as anyone of “slacktivism,” maybe instead of blogging about it I should seek out the token actions I take to deaden my conscience instead of looking for real solutions.
One addendum, it isn’t fair, but my biggest frustration about this issue has come from the “Kony 2012” movement. Seriously people? Calling for the US to invade a nation to stop an atrocity that both sides have committed, to mediate a problem that is in full recession, and to kill or apprehend someone who has left that country? Do some research before you start protesting. Furthermore, why that of all issues? I want the warlord brought to justice as much as the next guy, but there are many evil men in the world doing horrible things. Why pick this one?