This page is a supplement to the post “Do (Part Of) The Right Thing While Doing Nothing At All”
The criticism: I could read this and recognize that it is kind of manipulative. I might therefore feel inclined to question the truth of the whole thing. Further, I know a lot of history, and practically every place in the world was built by slaves. Everyone complaining about the Dubai slaves is right now living in and benefiting from a society built by slaves or through the workings of some other horrible thing. But people have to live somewhere. Isn’t in hypocritical to complain about slavery in one place when you are benefiting from it where you live?
A possible response: After stripping away all the manipulation and whatnot from this article, I find that I still find a situation more terrible than anything currently happening in any sphere I’m likely to interact with in Japan or the U.S. Not every place is equal: some are genuinely more shitty than others, and it’s important to make this distinction publicly, and possibly to draw a line between what you will and will not be party to. For me, it’s not that I’m indicting the entire place always and forever, or that I would never do business there (if I were the type of person to do business), but that I would be unable to enjoy a luxury vacation in Dubai, knowing this.
I already live inside a high wall in both Japan and the U.S. All of my luxuries come to me with the story of their creation stripped away, either by distance or time. But this fact doesn’t give me any reason to want to seek out a place where I can enjoy opulent luxuries separated by only the slimmest of walls and the tiniest sliver of time from the at minimum unjust and at maximum downright horrifying circumstances of their creation. Just because there is no clear objective line between one situation and the other doesn’t mean you can’t draw one for yourself, or recognize the obvious differences between one end and the other, even if it is only vague territory that separates them.
Further, vacationing in Dubai or doing business in Dubai completely justifies the practices that led to its being the kind of place in which you could do such things. It rewards those who created the slavery in exactly the way they planned to be rewarded for it, and creates the conditions that will ensure this sort of thing keeps happening.
As it happens though, this article did turn out to be partially fraudulent, with the writer, Johann Hari, being suspended from his job and stripped of the Orwell prize (oh, the irony) that he had won previous to this article. Which means any of the cynicism anyone felt about it in the end turned out to be warranted. I still note though that neither of the two Dubai expat blog posts I found that so gleefully wallow in Hari’s being found out (here and here) disputes Hari’s claims about the slavery (HowStuffWorks confirms the claim, though naturally we must wonder why we should trust them. Maybe they got their information from Hari. Please feel free to post any addition research, for or against, in the comments). But neither do they mention it and point out how awful it is. It becomes a non-issue for them, because they are able to dispute so many of the other things in Hari’s article. And if not a non-issue for them (as I’m sure they would protest if they read this), then they are still tacitly giving permission for it to become a non-issue for anyone who reads their post. But really, what do the slaves care about the lies Johann Hari tells about people and things they have never met or encountered? Their blog posts are to me perfect examples of cynicism and vigilance blocking out important but unpleasant truths.
Further, I do know what it feels like to have the exotic-to-the-English-language-media country you live in so inaccurately reported about in the English language media. I wrote about this after the 03-11 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan, and in my focus on stemming the tide of untruth it’s possible I didn’t emphasize much the horrors that truly were happening. It may be because I didn’t want to know about them. The process of learning to look at the world as it is without fear and without resorting to pleasant lies is ongoing.
Finally, I just want to mention that “manipulative” is an accusation that could be leveled against just about anything, and is a ready tool in the arsenal of all sort of people for blocking out all sorts of information. This is why real critical thinking requires us to go beyond this accusation, and to look at the substance of claims, not just the way they are made.
The criticism: Mothers can’t expect the whole world to cater to every need of their child. It’s just a sad fact that some people are disabled. The rest of us still need to live our lives, and we’ve all got our own problems.
A possible response: This one was immediately visceral for me, and required more of a conscious effort not to block it out. I don’t have kids, may never have kids, but I do quite like kids. What I don’t like is parents who think having kids gives them a moral free pass to do or think anything they want for the sake of their kids. For many parents, children are just another accessory to their own narcissism and attachment to the powers of victimhood. And this was, predictably, the timbre of most of the comments on this post. However, it need not be interpreted that the writer is demanding that everyone stop bringing food to the playground or else they are a bad person. So many people read things like this and the only information they get from it is “someone thinks they are better me, thinks I have been insensitive and stupid, and is trying to piously tell me what to do”. A million articles on a million different topics, and the only information they keep gathering is this same thing over and over. (I liked this so much I copied it from here and migrated it to the primary post. I plagiarized myself.)
She’s just letting you know what it’s like for her. Let that information in. Maybe you don’t want to act on it, maybe you do. But just let it in.
The criticism: Everything has been thought to cause cancer at one time or another. If I listened to every report I’d have to stop eating altogether. Besides, how much evidence is there for this?
A possible response: This is a scientific claim, and thus is subject to scientific scrutiny. Either it’s true or it’s not. However, most of the people who choose ignore it will do so not because they have access to scientific evidence refuting it, but because they think there could be scientific evidence refuting it. And to be sure, sometimes extra vigilance is warranted with scientific claims, such as the vaccines fiasco, where people claimed and continue to claim that vaccination causes autism, in the face of galaxies of evidence refuting that claim.
I have no idea if sugar causes cancer. But I eat a lot of sugar, and it’s gotten me thinking about it, and I’ve started eating a little less now.
And now a bonus item, to do on you own, for extra credit. Now that you’re practiced at letting things in and embracing cognitive dissonance, see you if you can get through Peter Singer’s solution to world poverty, likely one of the most morally demanding things you will ever encounter. Try to let it in, without finding reasons to give yourself permission not to. At the end, Singer has his own take on what I’ve called embracing cognitive dissonance, which shows (not surprisingly) that the idea isn’t original to me, though I can’t recall having gotten it from anywhere.