Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Apple, The Serpent, and the Tree of Knowledge

Note - Not Starving Farmers
You just gotta feel a sense of pride in the incredible outpouring of concern and compassion for those Chinese electronics workers.  Those poor, miserable bastards slaving away at Foxconn and similar mega-factories, under the most horrific conditions imaginable to assemble our iPads and MacBooks.  Well.  I guess we showed them what's what, didn't we.

Of course, one thing you can always count on with Americans is a thoughtless stampede to accept the simplest emotional narrative. Whether it's Foxconn or the Lords Resistance Army, Americans prefer to remain blissfully unaware of local conditions and the cultural, political and economic realities in these exotic, far-off places, instead embracing these simplistic and largely inaccurate tales that captivate us for minutes, sometimes even days before we return our attention to American Idol and March Madness.

So the Marketing geniuses at Apple, sensing a public relations nightmare that could perhaps be turned into public relations gold in the aftermath of the Mike Daisey/NPR kerfuffle, suddenly joined the FLA and brought pressure on Foxconn to treat their workers better.  And as a direct and immediate result of this pressure, Foxconn agreed to limit the number of overtime hours an employee can work.  Another blow for human rights and the dignity of the worker, right?

Well, once again, it seems that nobody quite got around to asking those very workers for their opinion on these issues.  It turns out that many of them came to work at Foxconn precisely because of the large amount of overtime hours available, and many of them are not happy to see their income substantially reduced.  You see, it is often misleading and even counterproductive to see foreign workers rights strictly through the prism of the American workplace.

All poverty is bad.  And poverty in America, with it's cruel sink-or-swim capitalist mentality and the resulting lack of any kind of social safety net, is its own special kind of brutality.  Urban homelessness, sub-standard housing, unhealthy food, sickness and the lack of basic care - all of this creates a kind of "permanent poor", people who simply do not have access to the basic resources they would need to improve their lives and take care of their families.  It is nothing less than shameful that the wealthiest nation in the world should offer so little to help her own citizens when they are in need.

But all that said, poverty in America is NOTHING like poverty in emerging nations or the third world.  In places like Nigeria, Congo, Vietnam, and yes, China, there are simply huge numbers of desperately poor people, people who are hungry and sick and unprotected in ways that Americans can't comprehend,  mostly because Americans won't even look.  These people, particularly the rural poor, die very young, in large numbers, from malnutrition, poor sanitation, disease, and yes, your occasional war or rebellion.

Conditions in these factories may offend our delicate sensibilities, but it is worthwhile to note that this labor-intensive kind of manufacturing is the first incremental step to increasing national wealth and raising the quality of life for entire generations.  As the quality of life improves, a healthier, better educated workforce is able to build a more advanced economy, wages rise and the low-end manufacturing jobs based on cheap labor move to the next tier of developing nations.  These factories don't have to indulge in any coercion to get people to work for them, because, as hard as the work is, a real apartment with indoor plumbing, clean drinking water, enough food to eat, and access to health care and education represents such a quantum improvement in human life and dignity that it almost cannot be measured.

People want to improve their lives, especially when their lives are almost universally awful.  I'm sure they'd love to live just like you and I do, but that is simply not an option that is available to them.  So we have to be careful when we try to overlay our values on their lives, that we aren't actually creating conditions that limit those quality-of-life improvements.  There are incremental steps between subsistence farming and and a high-tech information economy, and those steps are necessary to get from where they were to where we are.

In so many cases, it is our hubris that is our biggest failing...


  1. We'd do well to pay more attention to the people who wish to do the opposite of improving our lives here.

    Often, they're the same people who want to drop bombs on those in other countries.

    So win-win, IF we can fight them...

  2. Also: I've heard that Texas just passed a law allowing one to hunt deer with a silencer.

    Because, you know.

  3. Meh. Suppressors are not the problem. Laws against suppressors are like laws against switchblades. They don't affect real world problems.

    Suppressors are legal to own. If you can pass a background check you can own one.

    There is no such thing as a "silencer". A gunshot from a suppressed rifle or pistol is still quite loud - just not up to the level you'd come to expect. There are very few crimes of violence that would somehow be enabled by a suppressor.

    Shooting with a suppressor is a transformative experience. I have fired suppressed .22s, 9mms and .45s. The reduction in blast and report makes it more comfortable, less tiring and more accurate (assuming the suppressor itself isn't impacting accuracy).

    If you're hunting a deer legally, with a license and a tag, in the right place with an authorized weapon, there's nothing inherently awful about using a suppressor.

    Our gun problem is handguns. In cities. It is kids killing kids, and poor, desperate kids being brought up in a culture of violence and incarceration so that there is no cultural disincentive to just shooting somebody who in other times you would just go try to beat up.

    If we could just limit the explosion of handguns in urban environments, if we could get the handguns out of the hands of kids and gangs, if we could do something as a society that says carrying a gun around town with you is NOT ok, then we'd begin to reduce the slaughter.

    The problem isn't rifles or hunters or high cap magazines or "cop killer bullets". The problem is lawmakers passing laws to make it easier to carry concealed, that make it harder to say "No Guns Allowed Here", that limit the ability of jurisdictions to create their own gun laws and now, worst of all, laws that actually encourage people to shoot other people, promising them that, regardless of the circumstances, they are protected from prosecution.

    That is obscene....

  4. The notion that someone would want to use one when hunting deer is what I found amusing.

    I'm not against hunting Bambi...not since he and his family began their war against my mountain laurels.

  5. I think they should be required to be built into every gun. We have mufflers in cars, after all...

  6. Seeing guys wearing noise-cancelling earphones while hunting is kind of funny, and silencers would end that silliness.