Post Classifieds

The wrong life cannot be lived rightly

By Phil Chevalier
On November 17, 2011

There is much emphasis at Xavier on living ethically. Like

anything made into a slogan, it has been drained of

its content. It is my view that if we carefully examine the most

regular day-to-day actions of an American student, we are forced to see that they don't pass any kind of ethical

litmus test. While this problem has something to do with the fact that we tend to view ethics as a scholastic endeavor

rather than a rigorously lived practice, it has even more to

do with a fairly sobering fact about our present historical

situation: for us Americans, what is required to be truly ethical is a kind of self-dismemberment –it's not only asking too much, it's certifiably ridiculous. I offer the following for consideration. Fact: the mineral Coltan is

required to construct the microchips inside every computer

and every smartphone. Fact: this mineral is mined in countries all around the world, including some in central Africa and this mining has helped to fund violently oppressive military dictatorships, like in the Democratic

Republic of Congo. As I write this column, I am therefore arguably implicating myself in certain ethical wrongdoings that I had no way of preventing and of which I certainly

do not approve. Nevertheless, I need my computer and I

need a phone. I require them like I require legs; without

them, I would be disabled. The list goes on. Underneath every Nike logo and every trip to the mall, every stop at the gas pump for a car ride to nowhere important, there is a

wellspring of violence, oppression and overall disrespect, both past and present, no matter how well intentioned we think we are. This position isn't a radical one; it's an honest one, and I assure you that any inner voice telling you I've gone off the deep end is only trying to steer you away from a damning fact about American life: it screws people over.

Even people who apparently know a good deal about ethics

aren't at all saved. For instance, I hear that Xavier's

Ethics Bowl team earned second place in the Central

States competition this past Saturday, securing them a

spot in the National competition set to take place in March – but I also hear that the team captain is a self-concerned A-hole whose actions usually offend even the most open-minded observers –even his mom. Be that as it may,

we should consider sympathizing with him and other similarly unfortunate people because, in a certain sense, is being such a flagrant, walking contradiction seems to embody what I'm trying to talk about – what we practice and what we preach are most often totally conflicted when viewed through a critical lens; we just tend to forget that

fact in order to keep a good conscience. In other words, while we can all sit back and scoff at him, the absolute disparity between what he says and what he does provides a cartoon-like caricature of the prototypical American life. Entangled in the various demands placed upon us, we Americans find ourselves in a technological and financial

"Neverland" that makes us forget what it would actually mean to live ethically. The absurdity of the idea of living without a computer or a phone justifies our choice to accept them into our lives, and if any blame is dealt at all for resulting injustices, it is on the people who sell us these

products, not on ourselves as the people who buy them. For some reason, we tend to run from the idea that certain elements of our daily lives are simply privileges of the few that come at the sacrifice of the many. In this denial, we

tend to hold on tightly to concepts like civil rights while being

somehow OK about the fact that, because of the way we've grown accustomed to living our lives, certain people

are allowed those rights and certain people are not.

It would be interesting to see what an applied recognition

of that fact would look like in America, but something tells me it would require an experience of what it's like to be oppressed. What I submit, then, is that we are. Perhaps the route to finding this out about ourselves would be to cultivate a deep distaste for the ways we're not allowed to be ethical. Perhaps, if we allow our incredulity to become unbearable, we'll actually seek to change some things that matter.


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