Mr. Sensitive

September 27, 2012

If Cows Made iPhones, Would You Care Then?

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 14:46

So there’s this, courtesy of the New York Times, spelling out what we all already know:

In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad

The article is by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza; if you want to read it, it’s available on Yahoo! Finance.  My question is simple: how can some folks look down their noses at me because I eat meat and don’t drive a hybrid or electric car, then hold those same noses long enough to stand in line for the iPhone 5?  I’m not attacking anyone–I swear, Team Charlotte vegans, I’m not–I honestly don’t understand.  How does this kind of thing work itself out for Apple fans who loudly make other lifestyle choices based on abhorrence of cruel production practices?  If principles don’t apply in all circumstances, they aren’t principles–they’re preferences.  I understand the desire to find a balance between principles and pragmatism, but at some point, pragmatism itself becomes the principle.  I don’t presume to know where that line is.  I will say that all the people complaining about their factory-scratched iPhones this week ought to read the Duhigg & Barboza piece and ask themselves if they’ve crossed it.



  1. I grapple with this. Charlotte brought it up, too – the way we commit hypocritical and contradictory acts in the interest of comfort, pleasure, or even job security. I went down the vegan road precisely because of animals suffering and the adverse environmental impact. But Apple (and the many other companies that use Foxconn) perpetuate the very real suffering of other humans – and this is a suffering that we can easily understand, lacking the massive species gap between humans and other animals. So how do I have an iPhone? One, I got mine before going vegan, so there’s my easy out. But the larger answer is, I guess, that I can eat fruits and veggies and get all the nutrients my body needs (and deliciousness). There’s no aspect of my life that eating meat would improve, at least as far as I know. But can I edit videos and photos as well on a non-Apple (or other questionable company) machine? Or consume media and play videogames and interact online and all that nonsense? Maybe so. Should those desires trump the ethical implications of supporting such a company? Probably not.
    You’re right. It does come down to preference more than principle. I could justify things by saying that humans get to choose to work overtime on an assembly line in terrible conditions, but suffering is suffering and I’d be a monster to pretend to understand all the forces pushing Chinese workers into those factories.
    There’s an all-or-nothing approach that I think about sometimes. To be a part of this society – buying gas, running electricity, using Facebook – means doing some not-good things to the planet and to the creatures on it. The line that I draw is muddy at best.

    I will say this, though: Anyone who waits in line for the new iPhone doesn’t get to look down on anyone ever.

    Comment by Justin Eure — September 27, 2012 @ 15:12 | Reply

    • Are you sure I’m not just a moron? I’ve been given to understand that name-calling makes the complex questions disappear. Who told me that? Matt something? I don’t know; he had a very forgettable face.

      Comment by lbej — September 27, 2012 @ 15:19 | Reply

    • Apple sells a lifestyle and a self-image to customers as much as they sell any specific technology or functionality. There’s a huge gulf between how Apple fans perceive the company and the way the company operates (aggressive outsourcing, abusive labor practices, increasingly anti-competitive behavior), and it’s getting wider. Apple Inc. is no more virtuous than any other multinational corporation, and in some cases its less so. Apple in 2012 is eerily similar to Microsoft circa 2000; it’s not going away, but it’s not going farther, either.
      And if we think our pals in the People’s Republic aren’t covering up abuses 10 times worse than what’s been disclosed, how naive are we? We’ve been dealing with communist dictatorships for close to a century now, and we ought to know better.

      Comment by lbej — September 27, 2012 @ 15:43 | Reply

  2. Justin and I have discussions all the time about how we want Google to win. Not that it really means anything. I do have an iPhone, but it’s old and refurbished, so by the time I got it someone else had initially bought it and I was getting it second hand. I think that’s a more “moral” way to acquire Apple products, but I definitely take issue with their company’s labor practices, and all the other companies that work within that crappy framework. I actually think about it every time I see an iPhone commercial, and I do think about it a lot when I see other people and myself using their products. I think being aware and reminded of these human quality-of-life failures is important, even if you’re not directly helping anyone out of the situation. At least you’re not denying it or not allowing yourself to be educated. I had a brief conversation with Zero once that Charlotte vetoed (cause it was getting kid of intense I guess) where I was suggesting that with all the money and profit Apple makes, they should be able to pioneer the change in labor practices by creating more products in the US, or at least trying to somehow make a positive change with their labor laws. But they won’t. I’m kind of over Apple. I feel like years ago they were actually trying to make innovative technology, but now their greed is gobbling up and overshadowing their aesthetic. Did they really need to create a brand new charger for their new phones? Their line is so exclusive even their old products can’t get in! I can see through them, and it’s gross. Google’s not quite there yet for me. And Google is funding the research for auto assisted driving, which is cool. Although I don’t know exactly how I feel about my car driving me and not the other way around. Eventually I could really get into that though.

    Comment by nicole — September 28, 2012 @ 09:20 | Reply

    • I’m rooting for Google, too. Also for Microsoft, but I know Team Softy doesn’t have too many fans.

      Comment by lbej — September 28, 2012 @ 13:37 | Reply

  3. This is another post I think you should publish in print format somewhere. Reminds me of a story Michael Moore tells about audience reactions to “Roger and Me.” There’s a scene in it where a rabbit gets killed for meat (by people who have been laid off by GM and have resorted to selling rabbits “for pets or meat”). Moore says that every time he speaks about the film, people complain about the brutality of that scene. But the very next shot in the film shows an unarmed black man getting shot and Moore says that not a single person has ever complained about the violence in that scene.

    Sometimes I worry that liberal white folks spend more time worrying about living purely principled lives than they/we do actually working to change the systems that are responsible for, say, the working conditions in a factory like Foxconn. I eat meat because bacon cheeseburgers are really good. I will become a vegan after the revolution.

    Comment by Jill Williams — September 28, 2012 @ 09:47 | Reply

    • Lots of those folks want to be something more than they want to do something. Removing yourself from a system because sustained effort and incredible patience is necessary to change it is more selfish, not less. There are too many people in the world for any one person to believe that he or she can make any kind of difference by making individual lifestyle changes. It would be hard for me to stop eating animal products, or to throw out all products made by companies whose practices offend me in some way. It would be hard, but it would also be simple. Working with like-minded people over years and decades to transform the perceptions and tolerances of my society isn’t easy or simple. I don’t have the skills for that task, but there are some people who do, and it would be unfortunate for all of us if those people content themselves with making individual lifestyle changes.

      Comment by lbej — September 28, 2012 @ 10:11 | Reply

    • The reason that people are more shocked by violence toward animals than by violence toward humans is because one is hidden and the other is all over the news and in movies. It’s pretty simple, and it doesn’t mean that people care more about animals than humans- though some do, of course, but can you really blame them? It means that we’re desensitized to violence against our own species, because we’re terrible.

      Comment by Charlotte — September 28, 2012 @ 13:17 | Reply

  4. It’s cool that you wrote about this now. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. Being outspoken about animal rights makes me have to examine all the other choices I make in my life and acknowledge all the other terrible things I am doing. I think about all the trash I create and how much I rely on my car. I still have to feed meat to my cats. This world is hard times, and I really try not to judge people who still eat meat when I see that they care about other important issues affecting the planet. Everybody has those things that speak more to them, for whatever reason. It’s hard to even be aware of every single thing you should be, let alone truly care about it.
    I’m planning to go back to school to study nutrition and health education, because I’m not content with just making lifestyle changes for myself. I’m especially interested in how children learn about nutrition and food. I want more people to care about what they consume and be aware of the realities of the industries they support, and I want to be able to speak about those things from an educated place. I want to learn as much about how meat is produced and how it affects our health as I can, so I can appeal to humans from as many angles as possible. I love animals, but I love humans, too. The two are completely intertwined to me. I want my loved ones to be healthy AND I want violence toward animals to end.
    Also, this has to be another sign that I’m not meant to have an iPhone after I dropped mine in the toilet. I should get a phone that just lets you make and receive phone calls. Maybe get a little wild and allow texts.

    Comment by Charlotte — September 28, 2012 @ 13:06 | Reply

    • ‘Everybody has those things that speak more to them, for whatever reason.’ I really like that. As far as I’m concerned, no more justification is needed. If I’m not breaking the law, and I’m not violating my own personal ethical standards, I’m good.
      The reason why I pick on the Apple people (and sometimes on the vegans, tis true) is in large part because of the need they seem to have to explain why everything they do or don’t do is cosmically kosher. Time and place matter. There are animals that are my friends and animals that are my food; I care very much about the feelings of the former and not at all about the latter. There are people who are friends and people who are enemies; no one would presume to tell a Marine in Afghanistan he shouldn’t return fire during a Taliban ambush. There is no meaning to any of our actions outside of their context, period. Do I think that everyone who bought an iPhone5 should throw it in the toilet because Apple Inc. isn’t a paragon of civic virtue? Of course not. What I want is for fans of Apple products to hold Apple Inc. accountable for its business practices when they have the opportunity to do so. Apple’s brand has enormous value and these revelations do have an impact. Some companies can afford to be seen as unscrupulous and ruthless–big oil and big pharma, for example–but Apple can’t. Apple’s missteps have hit the stock to the tune of 7% this week, and that’s really money.

      Comment by lbej — September 28, 2012 @ 14:07 | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: