Tuesday, June 30, 2009


This is a 500 word essay I submitted for a writing contest. The topic was to choose a photo in the journal and write no more than 500 words on the ethical issue it arises.


The photograph ‘No More War’ depicts a young woman with a peace sign on drawn on her foot, comfortably reclining in her chair in front of a computer. The subject appears to be taking an “easy” approach to the issue of war, one that gives the impression of outward concern, but inward nonchalance.

In this generation, perhaps more than in past, vacuous symbolism is very economically viable. Today’s businessmen must be perpetually gleeful at the flocks of eager college kids clamoring to purchase trendy advocacy regalia: peace symbol jewelry, bags and clothing; think ‘Garanimals’ - for the “ethically-conscious” young adult.

Add in groups titled ‘Free Tibet’ or ‘Save Darfur’ on social-networking websites which only work as a mug’s game to provide a “care” badge for members- not to advance the causes, and what is left is a vast neo-hippie segment of the population with a lesser, 1.0 version of 60’s-era civic involvement.

Many of the anti-war protests held by college-age “activists” have strong undercurrents of anti-corporatism. Ironically, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for these progressively-minded individuals to capriciously choose which corporations to rally against, while privately supporting others by purchasing the aforementioned peace paraphernalia.

The worldly concerns of these individuals live in margins they attempt to keep wide, although the disconnect between their vocal philosophy and personal weekend habits reveal these margins to be unconscionably narrow.

Does this store-bought activism cheapen the efforts of real activists who choose to directly donate their time or money toward their chosen causes, instead of settling upon wearing a t-shirt or carrying an organic cotton tote bag? I would argue it does.

We must ask: Which is more of an ethical compromise, being truly apathetic toward a cause or aspect of human misery, or outwardly transmitting distaste for a crisis, while not actually doing anything to solve the problem? Is lying preferable to not caring? It appears to be a truism that when the latter is the case, two ethical criteria are violated: upholding honesty (perhaps with the exception of cases where the truth may cause harm, like a situation involving an inquisitive murderer), and the reasonable sacrifice of a morally incomparable good in the interest of saving lives.

It is best to drop arrant pretension in the interest of moral consistency. If you deck yourself out in peace symbols - support legislation to cut military funding and don’t pick fights with others; if you claim to be a strong environmentalist, stop supporting the meat and dairy industry at mealtime.

One shouldn’t pretend to believe in certain causes because it may be “politically correct” or of-the-moment to do so. If you don’t care about x, y, or z, that’s okay; no one is going to attack you for it, this is not the USSR. But hopping on the bandwagon by giving off the appearance of virtue is elitist and dishonest, it’s preferable to avoid the topic altogether and allow the real activists who believe in the cause to work toward enacting change.

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