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Monday, October 4, 2010

ReCYCLing – A Cycle of Exploitation and Deception - By Lindsay Craver

I just finished the paper that is due tomorrow for my sociology class, and will share it here :
The assignment's 'heading' was as follows - 'Social change can be thoughts of as a two-fold process, existing on a continuum and taking place somewhere between technological innovation (social evolution) and belief system (social revolution). Interestingly, evolution has a tendency to inspire revolution - an ideological shift, but not always.
(Then it goes on to explain the point of the assignment, which is to explore the relationship between social change and technology, analyzing the social consequences)

ReCYCLing – A Cycle of Exploitation and Destruction

      When considering the concept “social evolution,” I disagree that this even exists. If one were to take a clear look at the state of this world, they would come to find that not much has changed since “the dawn of time.” Yes, outwardly things have changed, the clothing we wear, the tools we use, our language, certain rights and norms, but the basic cyclical pattern of how humanity has existed has remained essentially the same - brutal. There continues to be much abuse and destruction, perhaps, one could argue, more cruelty than ever before. In the vein of technological innovation pertaining to social evolution, what good is technology when we can’t even find a solution to ensure that each human being has their basic needs met? The basic needs being proper food, water, health care, shelter, and education. Inequality is the fundamental cause of suffering in this world. What benefit does the invention of an alarm clock bring, if we aren’t able to last long enough to wake up?

     If technological innovation goes hand in hand with beliefs systems to create social change, that doesn’t signify real change, because the so called “change” is still within the existing abusive structure, and any belief system contained within the system as it is, like a 1+1=2 equation, simply perpetuates and accumulates more abuse. This is especially true if one becomes attached to their belief system to the point of possession, and is no longer able to see beyond their limited belief. If one were to look at this world as if it were a human body, and, for example, the entire body is infected with a diseased and is treated for only one specific area, it will not make the disease go away. This can give a better understanding of the futility of “social change” that is not taking all life into consideration. Social change, as it currently exists, is purely a continuum continuing the same destruction, no matter what side of the polarity.

     We manufacture technology that is built to break, sometimes within only six months to a few years. This reminds me of when I tried to inform my grandmother once of the truth behind recycling; she replied, “as long as I don’t see it in my space anymore, I don’t care where it goes.” That “out of sight, out of mind” mentality is precisely why half of this world is living in such dire conditions; as long as we are benefiting, why should we care who suffers? It has been stated that technology has given people the ability to live a more comfortable life, that it has improved our health, but, one must ask, comfort for who? Health for who? Those with money? At who’s expense? These are important questions to ask when considering the relationship between social change and technology. Where does all this waste go after it’s tossed aside for the next upgrade? Studies have shown that much of the electronic waste (e-waste) that people from the developed world believe is being dealt with properly, is being shipped to third-world countries, not where it gets donated, but where scavengers pick it apart thus being exposed to the harmful metals which also leach into the water and soil leading to poor health for entire villages. Instead of exploring a particular technology and its social consequences, I will be articulating how the belief system that is behind recycling affects this world. Recycling is directly related to technology, which brings me back to one of my previous questions about what good is technology if we can’t even find a solution that is able to ensure a dignified life for all?

     In an article put out by Smithsonian entitled “E-gad! Americans discard more than 100 million computers, cellphones and other electronic devices each year. As ‘e-waste’ piles up, so does concern about this growing threat to the environment,” Elizabeth Royte explains that “prolonged exposure to some of the metals in electronic devices has been shown to cause abnormal brain development in children, and nerve damage, endocrine disruption and organ damage in adults.” This answers a couple of my questions : health for who? At who’s expense?

     To fill the demand for the semiprecious metals that are required to build electronics, developing countries are exploiting their lands in order to harvest this material, which has also been proven to be a dangerous task. It’s interesting to take a look at the process of manufacturing electronics, where the components that are used in order to produce the device are obtained from places such as Africa and Asia, then are sold to people in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and then dumped back to Africa and Asia to be dealt with. This illustrates the manifestation of exploitation being carried out on multiple levels: the exploitation of the land, also, in most cases, people from third world countries work in factories where they are exploited under harsh conditions to produce these electronics, then they are “enjoyed” by people in affluent countries, who, believing themselves to be recycling, or donating, have their “waste” shipped off to a developing country, the devises are then stripped by individuals who are exposed to the harmful chemicals which then leach into the water and soil, and the perpetuated cycle of exploitation, or the continuum of winner and loser continues. Are the “benefits” of technology, then, beneficial for all? No.

     The article goes on to relay with more specificity what the process of stripping these devices look like, after investigators from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) “videotaped men, women, and children in the Chinese village of Guiyu extracting copper yokes from monitors with chisels and hammers…black smoke rose from burning piles of wire. The workers, who wore no protective gear, reportedly swirled a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acid--caustic, highly poisonous chemicals--in open vats, trying to extract gold from components. Afterward, they dumped the computer carcasses and the black sludge into fields and streams.”

     It’s fascinating to see the play-out of the villagers seeking to find gold amongst the filth, which can be likened to the “faith” people place in technology, believing that technology is the gold that will save this filthy world that is headed for destruction, which can be seen simply as another religion; technology, the new savior. The extraction of gold by the villagers is also a poignant reality showing how the current money system decides who lives, and who dies, who is able to be healthy, and who will live in sickness. Money, also, is another god, perhaps the ultimate god, as it were.

     The last sentence of the article sums up the general mentality of most people, even after discovering the atrocity going on in regards to e-waste: “maybe shoving the stuff in the basement or attic isn't such a bad idea after all.” This merely encourages complacency; basically telling people to just sweep all the lies and deception they just read about, under the rug, and continue consuming, continue believing that this system works. This only promotes “more of the same,” which is what I touched upon previously in regards to belief systems, as it supports the same apathy already existent, and offers no practical solutions, such as simply explaining how one must take self-responsibility for the direct outflows of their actions. She also states in the sentences prior to the last, “visionaries imagine a day when electronic devices are shipped back to their makers, who design all components with safe reuse in mind.” This, also, is an interesting and telling sentence, as it alludes to a sort of “dream” that only “visionaries” can imagine, then bursts that bubble by essentially saying in the last sentence, “to hell with it, don’t try to find a solution, keep consuming, and in the mean time, while the visionaries are staring into the sky hoping for some answer to come along, just throw your waste into your basement.” This is where my grandma would agree, as long as she doesn’t have to deal with it, who cares.

     Obviously, the solution isn’t in the hands of “visionaries,” as each one of us has the vision to see the suffering that exists in this world. Therefore, we are all responsible, and we all must stand up and investigate beyond the current belief systems. As was revealed in the mentioned article, these belief systems do not promote actual social revolution, but only serve to keep one blind and justifying, especially if one lives in comfort and is reaping benefits from this unequal, fraudulent system. The ones that are fortunate enough to even read the article by use of their computer technology are the ones that are to be held accountable for the atrocity existing on this planet, which means you and I. How can we call this evolution? How can we call this revolution? Can a computer feed a starving child? No. Therefore, instead of focusing on technological “advancements," we must get back to the basics – ensuring that all are able to live a dignified life with their basic needs met. Now, if the starting point of creating technology were within the principles of equality and what is best for all, then we wouldn’t be seeing the disparity continue to grow due to our addiction of over-consuming. We must learn to forgive and see that it is necessary we started over. It’s time to stop hitting snooze on the alarm clock and actually wake up from our deep slumber.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article! Well the technology has enabled us to communicate world-wide and discover this inequality and abuse. So now, when we finally have the information about the true state of this planet, the next step is to correct current situation. And this is what we are going to do!