Protesting the WTO, the multinational conglomerates (i.e. The Gap, Inc.) and the plague of environmental destruction wrought by industry, though ideologically honorable, is futile. To quote Daniel Quinn: “The world won’t be changed by one person, by a set of programs or by well-intended government regulations; the world will be changed when 6 billion people start thinking and acting differently.”
You won’t stop undesirable behavior through prohibition. You won’t stop people from drinking or smoking by making it illegal. Similarly, you won’t get corporations to stop destroying our environment by passing regulations. You won’t get the Gap, Inc. to stop perpetuating heinous human rights violations by instituting programs. Programs don’t work. We have instituted them to prevent murder, theft, rape, inequality, child abuse, suicide, etc. Yet we still have murder, theft, rape, inequality, child abuse, suicide, etc. We need to change the minds of consumers, not producers.
We can’t harm corporations by hacking because they have already hired the best hackers to prevent us from doing so. Besides, nobody would risk giving up their drunken Friday night just to help some destitute laborer in China make an extra quarter per day. We need to change the minds of the people, not the people that make what they buy.
Granted, you can allay the destruction caused by selfish companies. The WTO won’t take over the world today. We can slow pollution in our waterways. However, even if industry was environmentally friendly, human beings would still buy too much, waste too much and pollute too much.
I don’t like the fact that garment manufacturers treat their employees like crap. I don’t like that industries pollute the natural beauty of our planet. I doubt that many people do. However, even the people who strive toward stopping sweatshop labor wear sweatshop clothing, save for the extremists who manufacturer the latest styles from paper shopping bags. If you are not walking around naked, odds are you are wearing something a poor worker made for you while getting paid less than a dollar an hour, which in his or her country is far less than a living wage.
If you want to stick it to the garment industry, stop wearing garments. If you want to stick it to big business, then stop buying its products. Don’t send out mass e-mails you typed up on your Hewlett Packard about the evils of Nike, because Payless and Vans are doing the same thing – the shoes you are wearing are no less soiled. Don’t blame The Gap, blame yourself, blame your neighbors and blame your friend for drinking coffee made from beans ripped out of the heart of states like Chiapas. Stop whining about the big, bad businessmen and start pimp-slapping the people that keep them in business.
I am no less consumptive than anyone else at this university. I don’t have many clothes, but the ones I do own are from Old Navy and Target. I am no less a hypocrite; I just stopped giving a shit. I realized that 95 percent of the people working in those factories would probably piss me off if they lived here (based on the fact that 95 percent of the people here piss me off). I don’t want them to suffer, but I am not going to veil my indifference in some misguided attempt to play out the 21st century’s version of the White Man’s Burden, just so I feel as though I am less responsible for the exploitation of the world. I bear full responsibility for the corruption of other cultures. Cry me a fucking river. They wouldn’t have behaved any differently if they were in my position.
If protesters somehow manage to gain some more rights for garment workers, good job; I will be the first to congratulate them. If they manage to save our environment, yippee. If they can subdue the WTO and convince the United States government that the Isla Vista Foot Patrol constitutes a standing army and thereupon disbands it, kudos. But, secretly, I hope that in 12 million years the next species to achieve self-awareness and “civilization” digs up our pathetic little capitalist skyscrapers and determines that they were erected as testaments to the penis size of our great cultural leader Bill Gates. How wrong would they be?
Sean Corbin is a junior English major.