Monday, January 16, 2006

The New Red Cross advertisement...

Seth Stevenson analyzes the latest American Red Cross ad in Slate.

The ad itself goes like this:
A young guy delivers a monologue. "When I found out my jeans were made using child labor in sweatshops," he begins, "I wrote a letter to the company saying, 'Reconsider your labor practices.' " He goes on to tell a convoluted tale about his efforts to change the world—and how they are thwarted at every turn. Ultimately, he argues, his attempts to stop child labor will—in an indirect fashion—eradicate the rain forest, kill off indigenous tribes, and impede cancer research. A tag line fades in: "Saving the world isn't easy. Saving a life is. Just one pint of blood can save up to three lives. Give blood."
Stevenson asks:
Since when do charities bash the competition? Imagine a spot arguing that Ethiopian orphans are more worthy than Somali orphans. That tsunami victims are more worthy than Katrina victims. Wouldn't happen. Yet this ad argues that giving blood is a better choice than advocating on behalf of those child laborers. It presents do-gooding as a zero-sum game.
Point taken. But the ad has a point too. Activism is rarely as simple as activists make it sound. When one is protesting a systemic injustice, nothing is really as cut-and-dried as it looks, unless of course one is using the easy language of simple moral criticism. Consider the twin thorny issues of child-labor and sweat-shops. Michael Kinsley argues (very convincingly, I think) that it is one thing to ask governments to restrict imports that have been made with child and/or unpaid/low-paid labor. It is quite another to argue that working-conditions in developing countries be changed altogether, which is what some of the protestors against sweat-shop labor seem to imply. After all, as Kinsley tersely puts it: It is no favor to be forbidden to take advantage of your poverty, when poverty is the only thing you have.

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