Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Convenience vs. Affordability, The Ethical Dilemmas of the World We Live In

“Time and again, when confronted with the choice between convenience and affordability and the less tangible benefits of emotional intimacy, humans have opted for the former.”

Let’s face it. Aside from living in a material world, we have succumbed to a life of leisure in lieu of exertion. We no longer get up to change the TV channel. We don’t manually roll down car windows anymore. We don’t open the freezer door to get ice. We live in a push button world. 

Mattresses no longer have to be turned every month. For most products we don’t have to trek to the store. Our exercise, instead, is to pick up the Internet or mail order package from the front porch or apartment lobby. 

The premise having been set, if not accepted, please contemplate the shared meaning of three articles I pass along for your edification. The first is from a philosopher, S. Matthew Liao. Writing an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Liao wondered aloud (if you can do so in print) if one has a moral duty to jettison one’s relationship with Facebook given its unconscionable and inexcusable behavior in the 2016 presidential elections and in other activities that have undermined democracy in America and abroad (https://nyti.ms/2zqSUx8). 

Aside from posting my blogs to Facebook, I have a financial interest in professor Liao’s opinion. My broker talked me into buying some Facebook stock shortly after it went public. Am I a silent sinner in the debasement of democratic values? 

It’s not every day, but hardly a week goes by that a box with a smiley face on the cardboard exterior doesn’t land on our front porch. I spent almost all of my journalism career in support of physical retail stores. Chain Store Age, by its very name, heralded my bias. Though the magazine covered mail order and Internet retailers, our first allegiance was to brick and mortar stores. 

When Amazon erupted on the scene, it was as an attack on book stores, most prominently exemplified by Barnes & Noble, B. Dalton Booksellers, Borders, Books-a-Million, Crown Books, to name but a handful.

Now, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is ranked the wealthiest man in the world as his creation sells virtually all types of merchandise. And through Amazon Prime I download programs not available on cable or basic television stations.

With bigness comes inevitable vilification. From the Web news site Vox, here’s an article suggesting the time is ripe to cancel one’s Amazon Prime subscription (https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/the-goods/2018/11/26/18112769/amazon-prime-cancel).

Could I really give up watching the upcoming second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? Or pay for shipping on all those purchases? And what would become of all those UPS and FedEx, not to mention USPS, delivery men and women who rely on Amazon to keep them on the road? 

On the one hand, the Vox article correctly notes Amazon’s history of “monopolistic practices to tax avoidance, poor treatment of both white- and blue-collar workers, union-busting, environmental damage, and most recently, the year-long publicity stunt of HQ2, a bad-faith ploy to extract private data from US cities that ended with Amazon plopping its supposedly economy-boosting offices into the two most established markets on the East Coast.”

On the other hand, the history of retailing, and for that matter almost every industry, is that market leaders are attacked. As Sears in its heyday was, and then Walmart was and still is, Amazon is scrutinized for practices that virtually all other retailers undertake in their own spheres. Target might emit a nicer aura in which to shop, but it treats its workers no better than Walmart, or Amazon. 

So I swallow any bile I might have toward Amazon and continue to log on. As long as I’m getting value for my dollar, I will continue to do so.

The third article presents in stark terms perhaps the penultimate consequence of society’s acceptance of the depreciating value of human labor. From Vox, here’s an article that asks, “Sex doll brothels are now a thing. What will happen to real-life sex workers?” (https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/26/18113019/sex-doll-brothels-legal-sex-work?_gl=1*13fjbq5*)

Returning to the opening quote taken from the sex doll article, here’s an added line to it: “Time and again, when confronted with the choice between convenience and affordability and the less tangible benefits of emotional intimacy, humans have opted for the former. There’s no reason to think that the sex industry will prove the exception to the rule.”

And to think, just a few short paragraphs ago I was worried about the future of truck drivers!