Tag Archives: Change

The Ethical Dilemmas of Activism

Anyone who reads this blog on even a semi-regular basis likely knows that I am not a big fan of the status quo, and that I advocate for social justice. I see the world as it is, and want to replace it with the world as it could be. Sometimes a course of action is pretty clear, such as when someone is discriminated against for being the “wrong” color, or the “wrong” sexual orientation. Yet is it always so simple as standing up and saying, “This shit is wrong, and must end immediately!”?

Let’s take a quick  look at agribusiness and the food industry, and see if that can get us anywhere near an answer.

Agribusiness, as currently practiced, is for the most part some horrible, horrible shit. Animals are treated in inhumane, torturous fashions. Fertilizer runoff causes algal blooms which create hypoxic zones and causes die-offs among marine life. Safety conditions for both workers, and consumers, are, to put it mildly, suboptimal. The United States government has long since caved to the pressure of lobbyists and made it almost impossible for the FDA to do a thing about any of this.

All in all I think most people could agree that the situation in the food industry is disgusting. Our methods of food production and consumption are unjust and unethical. So we should shut them down, right?


Now that you’ve shut down food production what do you do? Buy organic? First, you should probably make sure that your product isn’t produced by one of the companies you just shut down; because it has proven profitable, many of the big business involved in the food industry have been expanding into the organic market. Also, are you certain you can provide enough of it to meet people’s needs. I don’t mean demands, I mean needs. Did resolving the ethical injustices of our current food production methods cause a lot more people to not have enough to eat?

How are all the people who are now out of work going to support themselves? Can your new “organic” farms provide jobs for them all? Because it isn’t just corrupt CEOs that are out of jobs now. It isn’t even just the people who worked directly in agribusiness; what about all the companies who rely on the products of agribusiness, or who sell their products to agribusiness? Is each and every person who is involved in the process and product of agribusiness, no matter at what level, deserving of uncaring sanction? If so then don’t forget to include all of us who consume its products, as we’re as guilty as anyone else.

I freely admit that this is just a short list of examples. I also want to make it clear that I am not in the least bit discouraging activism. When shit is wrong we should address it. My point is that we should never address injustice reflexively. We most certainly should act on those things which outrage us, yet acting without though can be as harmful as not acting. As with our lives, we should always address our activism in a reflective fashion; meeting ethical injustice with ethical injustice is not the answer.

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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Activism, Philosophy


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