Realsociology

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement

Archive for the 'Alternatives' Category

The freedoms of living without money

Posted by Realsociology on 6th September 2014

I think learning to live with less money is a crucial life-skill that pertains to greater freedom, but here are two examples of people who have managed to live without money altogether…

Based in the UK and author of the Moneyless Manifesto, Mark Boyle gave up money for more than 2 years in November 2008. Having studied economics for six years he found himself looking around for a ‘big cause’ to devote his life to, he concluded that the one thing that disconnects us from nature more than anything else is money. Boyle points out that while we tend to associate money with independence, in fact it just makes us dependent on people far away from us, and less likely to look to our local communities for our sustenance. It is also money that is the root disconnect which facilitates the type of global production processes which are associated with social and ecological injustice. In the video below he makes the point that he couldn’t really proselytize about such things unless he actually lived them, and hence the moneyless experiment was born.

He originally set out to do this for one year, but after that year started to question how he could return to a money based economy, so he carried on.

A second example from the US is Daniel Suelo who occasionally updates the Moneyless World Blog has been money free since the year 2000 – Seriously, the video below is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever watched. He says that he’d thought about going money free ever since he was a child, when he used to question why his Christian household didn’t really keep to the ideals of Jesus. He then went on the study other religions and realised that what they had in common was that they all stressed the importance of living a ‘giving’ life based on compassion, rather than one in which you do something now for future gain, which is precisely the typical lifestyle associated with our money-based economy. There’s also a major ecological thread running through his philosophy – he lives a ‘natural life’ rather than an ‘accounted’ life, and if you want an interesting perspective on death, this video is a must watch. (Also, I may have this completely wrong, but Suelo is what I imagine the Zen Masters of the Tang to have been like.)

The man who quit money from Sacred Resonance on Vimeo.

 

The difference between the two is that Suelo seems to be living without money for spiritual reasons, part of which involves living spontaneously, and connecting with nature, and although networked and now joined by similar people, he seems to be more of a lone agent amidst other lone agents, whereas for Boyle his experiment is much more political, and he’s well-embedded in the Transition Movement and is currently involved in in establishing Streetbank, a nation wide money-free skills and stuff sharing site. Mark Boyle’s book also has some interesting criticisms of the money economy, whereas Suelo seems much more content just living a money free life, relatively disconnected, stating that the problems with the money-economy are so obvious they don’t really need to be criticised.

Such radical lifestyles serve as a reminder of not only how central money is to our present social system, but just how colonised the average mind is by the very idea of money.

 You might like to ask yourself the following questions

  1. What do you need money for?

  2. Do the benefits of consuming the things you purchase actually outweigh the cost (working) of getting that money?

  3. Could you get the things you want by other means other than money?

  4. Could you let go of the the desire for the things you want and live with much less money, or without money altogether?

  5. Why is it that I struggle so much giving up take-out Cappuccinos?

OK, so the last one’s personal….! 

Posted in Alternatives, But what can I do? | No Comments »

A few of my favourite Buddhist stories

Posted by Realsociology on 26th October 2013

Below are a few stories and passages which illustrate some of the key aspects of Buddhism. These provide an immediate feeling for Buddhism (in no particular order), important since Buddhism stresses the importance of whole-being engagement and conscious practise rather than just mere intellectualism.

I’ve selected these stories because they’ve helped with my own understanding of the ‘spirit of Buddhism’,  and together they remind me of the following core aspects of Buddhism.

1. Buddhism is about compassion
2. Buddhism is about just being happy and at peace
3. Buddhism is about well-being, inner peace and stability
4. Buddhism is about being here, now and not running away from your problems
5. Buddhism is about paying attention to everything you do.
6. Buddhism is about realising the inconceivable
7. Buddhism is nothing special

(Two quick qualifying points: this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and these texts do have overlapping themes so might illustrate many of the key ideas below.)

(1) Kusuda The Physician (from the sotry ‘stingy in teaching’)

A young physician in Tokyo named Kusuda met a college friend who had been studying Zen. The young doctor asked him what Zen was.

“I cannot tell you what it is,” the friend replied, “but one thing is certain. If you understand Zen, you will not be afraid to die.”

“That’s fine,” said Kusuda. “I will try it. Where can I find a teacher?”

“Go to the master Nan-in,” the friend told him.

So Kusuda went to call on Nan-in.

Nan-in said: “Zen is not a difficult task. If you are a physician, treat your patients with kindness. That is Zen.”

Kusuda visited Nan-in three times. Each time Nan-in told him the same thing. “A physician should not waste time around here. Go home and take care of your patients.”

It was not clear to Kusuda how such teaching could remove the fear of death*. So on the forth visit he complained: “My friend told me that when one learns Zen one loses his fear of death. Each time I come here you tell me to take care of my patients. I know that much. If that is your so-called Zen, I am not going to visit you any more.”

Nan-in smiled and patted the doctor. “I have been too strict with you. Let me give you a koan.” He presented Kusuda with Joshu’s Mu to work over, which is the first mind-enlightening problem in the book called ‘The Gateless Gate’.

Kusuda pondered this problem of Mu (No-Thing) for two years. At length he thought he had reached certainty of mind. But his teacher commented: “You are not in yet.”
Kusuda continued in concentration for another year and a half. His mind became placid. Problems dissolved. No-Thing became the truth. He served his patients well and, without even knowing it, he was free from concern of life and death.

When he next visited Nan-in, his old teacher just smiled

(http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/17stingyinteaching.html)

Commentary part one

Kusuda’s ‘access’ ‘no-thing was staring him in the face every day -  all he needed to do was to ‘lose himself’ in the practise of treating his patients with compassion. This short story should serve as a reminder that many of us, in fact, have ample opportunity to practise compassion in our day to day lives. Of course contemplation of Mu may have helped, but the point is, Kusuda was not living a robe wearing monk, initiated into any special sect, his life was nothing special’. In other words, there is no ‘great secret’ to Zen Buddhism. Developing the genuine intention of kindness is sufficient to release yourself from the fear of death  (*fear of death is one of the basic forms of suffering, one of the basic elements of our ordinary mundane existence).

Commentary part two

The importance of compassion is most commonly emphasised in The Tibetan Buddhist tradition, expressed below by The Dalai Llama:

‘Mental states such as kindness and compassion are definitely very positive. They are very useful… I would regard a compassionate, warm, kind-hearted person as healthy. If you maintain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, then something automatically opens your inner door… You’ll find that all human beings are just like you, as you are able to relate to them much more easily. That gives you a spirit of friendship. Then there’s less need to hide things, and as a result, feelings of fear, self doubt and insecurity are automatically dispelled… I think that cultivating positive mental states like kindness and compassion definitely leads to better psychological health and happiness.’

Cutler, H. and The Dalai Lama, 1999 (p28)

(2) Take my Hand -  A Poem by Thich Nhat Hanh

Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will enjoy our walk,
without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Walk peacefully.
Walk happily.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.

Thich Nhat Hanh (2011)

Commentary

The simplicity of this poem speaks volumes. It is a perfect reminder that Buddhism is about peaceful contentment with whatever it is you find yourself doing, in this case walking:

Walk for the sake of walking, walk peacefully, walk happily, and do so in peaceful companionship with others. Walk, just walk.

(3) Matthieu Ricard’s ‘ocean analogy’

About five minutes in Ricard says…..

‘Well being is not just a pleasurable sensation, it is a deep sense of serenity and fulfilment: a state that underlies all emotional states, and pervades all the joys and sorrows which can come one’s way.  Look at the waves coming at the shore. When you are at the bottom of the wave you hit the bottom, you hit the solid rock, when you are surfing on the top you are all elated, so you go from elation to depression, there’s no depth. Now if you look at the high sea, there might be a beautiful calm ocean like a mirror, there might be storms, but the depth of the ocean is still there, unchanged.’

http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness.html

Commentary

Here, Matthieu Ricard (2004) contrasts the analogy of waves breaking on a shore to the calmness of the deeper ocean to distinguish western notions of happiness from Buddhist notions. Ricard characterises the western notion of happiness as involving ‘doing something pleasurable’ which is analogous to surfing on the crest of a wave, but at other less-pleasurable times, we might be having our heads smashed against a rock onthe shore-line. Whereas in Buddhism, we are striving to develop a characteristic of mind that is more like the deeper ocean rather than the shoreline. Although there are still peaks and troughs of waves, out in the deep, the depths remain undisturbed. It is this deep and stable peace that we are striving for in Buddhism, a stable condition of mind that pervades and enables us to endure all emotional states, all the joys and sorrows that come one’s way.

(4) That’s Not Your Door

In Zen monasteries you must pay constant attention to what you are doing. All your activities are prescribed, and they’re carried out in deliberate stillness. After a time, this can get to you (as it did to one particular zen student) who went to see the master and said.

‘I can’t take this any more, I want out’

The master said ‘O.K, then leave’

As he started for the door the teacher said ‘that’s not your door’

Oh! Sorry.’ The startled fellow looked around and spotted a second door. As he headed for it the teacher said ‘That’s not your door’

‘Oh!’ He looked around for another door. He could see that behind the teacher was a little door normally used by the teacher’s attendant. As he headed for that door the teacher screamed at him ‘That’s not your door!’

Totally bewildered and exasperated, the poor fellow said. ‘What do you mean? There’s no other door! You told me I could leave, but there’s no door I can leave by!’

”If there’s no door you can leave by,’ said the teacher ‘then sit down’.

Hagan, S (1999, 34-5)

Commentary

Wherever you go, there you are. We’re always here, Examine your life and you’ll see this is the case. The master’s ‘sit down’ means to start paying attention to what’s actually going on, rather than running away from it. Right here, and right now, whatever it is you are experiencing, that is the thing to pay attention to. That is Buddhism, plain and simple.

(5) Every Minute Zen

Zen students are with their masters at least two years before they presume to teach others. Nan-in was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship, had become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him Nan-in remarked: “I suppose you left your wooden clogs in the vestibule. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs.”

Tenno, confused, had no instant answer. He realized that he was unable to carry his Zen every minute. He became Nan-in’s pupil, and he studied six more years to accomplish his every-minute Zen.

http://www.101zenstories.com/index.php?story=35

Commentary

Buddhism is about paying attention when you are in formal meditation, you must pay attention in day to day life, to whatever it is you are doing, even the most mundane and ‘in-between’ activities. In fact, paying attention to the ‘in-between bits can be very useful practise, given that they actually make up several minutes, sometimes hours in our day. The Venerable Soto recommends paying attention to opening and closing doors, given this is one of those times when we are most likely to be thinking of something else (i.e. what is through the door); Thich Nhat Hanh once made a ‘pact with a staircase’ and every time he now climbs or descends stairs he is careful to do so mindfully.

(6) The Flower Sermon

One problem with any discussion about the nature of Enlightenment is that Enlightenment is something which transcends conceptualisation, and thus the actual experience of it cannot be expressed in words.  This is illustrated in the The Flower Sutra, within the Zen tradition which stresses wordless insight more than most other types of Buddhism.

Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching. But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water. The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching. When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak.

“What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”

Mahakashyapa became Buddha’s successor from that day forward.

(http://www.katinkahesselink.net/tibet/flower-sermon.htm)

Commentary (by Zen Master Bon Haeng)

The Buddha was teaching about the essential nature of reality, an essence not separate from the everyday. It’s the essence we can experience of any and every thing, of every moment. It is just “thus!” Sometimes it’s called “thusness.” This experience is truly indescribable. It doesn’t need to be described because there’s nothing lacking. No words are needed and no words are adequate. This is a taste of “thusness,”…. You could say it’s the essence of life or of awareness, expressed in breath and consciousness and time and you all as one complete perfect moment.

(http://www.kwanumzen.org/2011/please-come-back/)

(7) Nothing Special – From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

If you continue this simple practice (zazen), you will obtain some wonderful power Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you attain it, it is nothing special. Strictly speaking, for a human being there is no other practice than this practice. Zen practice is the direct expression of our true nature.

While you are continuing this practice, week after week, year after year your experience will become deeper and deeper, your experience will cover everything you do in your everyday life.. The most important thing is to forget alll gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. In other words, just practixe zazen in a certain posture. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything. The eventually you will resume your own true nature. That is to say, your own true nature resumes itself.

Suzuki, S, 1998 (pp46-48)

Commentary

Shunryu Suzuki single-handedly brought Zen to the West, and his life and words he emphasised the utter simplicity of Zen practice. Sitting in quiet meditation, giving yourself to your breath, just sitting there, is the core practise in Zen Buddhism. The problem with just sitting there is that it is too easy to fall into the habit of ‘trying to get somewhere’ or ‘praising yourself for getting it right’ or ‘imagining luminescent states’ which, actually, is differing to just sitting there. However, Enlightenment is both wonderful and nothing special, which is different to sitting there thinking how special the inexperience is.

Hence why, as outlined in the very first section of his book (and his only book), just to take this posture (properly) and focus on the breath (attentively) and just sit there, without any gaining thought, this is all you need to do and not-do, this is the conclusion of Buddhism.

Bibliography

Hagan, S (1999) Buddhism Plain and Simple, London: Penguin

Howard C. Cutler and His Holiness The Dalai Lama, (1999) The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. Mobius.

Ricard, M, (2007) Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Atlantic Books

Suzuki, S (1998) Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, New York: Weatherhill

Thich Nhat Hanh (2011) The Long Road Turns To Joy: A Guide To Walking Meditation, Parallex Press, Berkeley, California.

Posted in Alternatives, Buddhism, Things I like | No Comments »

Cuba – A Development Success Story?

Posted by Realsociology on 10th October 2013

Cuba’s a good case study of  Socialist Model of Development that seems to have worked more effectively than most of the nel-liberal experiments in Latin America…. Today, Cuba’s HDI stats look like this….

chart

Human Development Index
Ranking 59
Health
Life expectancy at birth (years) 79.3
Education
Mean years of schooling (of adults) (years) 10.2
Income
GNI per capita in PPP terms (constant 2005 international $) (Constant 2005 international $) 5,539

Between 1980 and 2012 Cuba’s HDI rose by 0.8% annually from 0.626 to 0.780 today, which gives the country a rank of 59 out of 187 countries.  The HDI of Latin America and the Caribbean as a region is 0.741 today, placing Cuba above the regional average

In this nice infographic (hopefully it’ll work, although there’s probably too much info in it TBH) you can see the comparative development of Cuba compared to Bolivia, Columbia and Chile (three countries which were much more exposed to neoliberal policies – What you can see is that Cuba progresses more rapidly than both Bolivia and Columbia, but not as quickly as Chile. What you can also see (from about 5 years after 1990) is the negative affect the decline of Communist Russia had on Cuba’s development.

 

 

So it’s not easy to conclude outright support for any set of policies if just pure economic development is your goal. Although in this post – Cuba, A development Model which proved the developers wrong Jonataon Glennie outlines how a Socialist model of development has worked for Cuba since 1959… The general gist is that the means whereby Cuba developed involved much less human misery than the other three neoliberal examples above – As outlined by John Pilger in the excellent documentary War on Democracy).

To summarise Gelnnie’s article…

No other similar country adopted Cuba’s approach to development, and unlike in other Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and El Salvador, which experience widespread inequality and related problems, In Cuba, the extremes of opulence and misery are banished in favour of a generalised level of wealth, best described as “enough to get by”.

He notes that from the beginning the instinct at the heart of the revolution in 1959 was that slower wealth creation and limited political repression were a price worth paying for fairer distribution, and the consequent eradication of extreme poverty. It may not have been articulated as such, but that is how it has played out.

Castro’s leadership was the key factor in rapidly rising living standards for the poorest. In 1958, under the Batista dictatorship, half of Cuba’s children did not attend school. The literacy campaign begun by Castro in 1961 led, in 1970, to Unesco declaring Cuba the country with the highest primary and secondary school enrolment in Latin America. These development gains, among others, have continued to this day.

But what of the future?

But there have been two broad consequences. First, a generation of educated young people aspire to more in terms of living standards and life chances than their parents ever did. It is no coincidence that the older generation is more uncritically supportive of the revolution than the young – it knows what Cuba was like before.

Second, state-led development and investment is costly, especially when the international context becomes less favourable. Relying on goodwill, volunteering and accumulated capital has worked perhaps longer than anyone anticipated, but eventually wealth must be created and that, as the critics have always maintained, means a platform for the private sector to grow.

Posted in Alternatives, Global Development | No Comments »

Who are you? (Laughter)

Posted by Realsociology on 5th October 2013

The video below shows a number of people laughing when asked the question ‘who are you’? (1.55)

 

These people are all highly respected, typically well- educated (in the formal sense of the word) teachers from a range of different spiritual traditions (most, if not all wiill be in attendance at the Science and Nonduality conference 2013 - SAND honors and nurtures the exploration and experience of nonduality as a pathway to greater wisdom and wellbeing in the context of the unique challenges of the 21st century.

Their laugh-response to the question of ‘who are you’ reminded me of a line in Paul Willis’ 1977 classic, Learning to Labour. Just in case you don’t know this off by heart…..  Willis discusses role that messing around and ‘avin a laff’ play in the counter-school-culutre, concluding that ’the laugh confronts the command’. Willis argues that the laugh is a collective response to what the lads see as a ludicrous situation – school tells them to study seriously to prepare themselves for middle class jobs, but the lads have already decided they want ‘proper’ manual jobs that don’t require qualifications, and even if they did try to take school seriously, they’ve penetrated the truth of the situation and realised schools are middle class institutions, so the odds are stacked against them. In such a ludicrous situation what can you do but laugh at it?*

Obviously there are differences in the laughter in video above (it’s individualised, not collective; it’s not overtly challlenging authority in an ‘in your face way’; and it’s extremely middle class and not at all laddish) but a little analysis drags out a few parallels too. To my mind, their laughter when asked ‘who are you’ says ‘what a ludicrous question’, and it’s ludicrous because the subject of the question, ‘you’, or rather ‘I’ is an illusion. Most of these people have been through an intense and long process of introspetion, realised this, and come out the other side, and now they laugh at the question.

Given that the laughter above stems from a realisation that there is ‘no-I’, such laughter oould also form the basis for confronting the ultimate command in a postmodern consumer culture – the command to ‘express yourself’, the command to expend a huge amount of money and effort on perpetually reinventing and presenting your constructed-self, the command to avoid looking into the true nature of your ‘self’ and ‘working through’ the realisation that there is nothing there.

Furthermore, this laughter reminds us of two things, especially important in a culture of intellectualism – Firstly, simply the importance of asking meaningful questions. Secondly, answering meaningful questions requires going beyond the intellect, to a place of lived experience, and the process of coming back and re-engaging with an intellectual culture and attempting to render such experiences into concepts will probably be easier (at least less fraught) if one maintains a sense of humour.

*Finally I should just mention that just like the lads’ realisation that school was a middle class institution didn’t really help them achieve a good ‘quality of life’ in the long-term, an initial realisation the ‘truth of no-I’ at a relatively superficial level (that’s all I’ve managed) probably won’t result in your walking around in a perpetual state of bliss-consciousness, that will take a good deal more right effort, mindfulness and concentration.

Related Posts

David Loy (who features in the video above) on our fear of existing

Posted in Alternatives, Buddhism, But what can I do?, Postmodernism, Things I like, What is Sociology? | No Comments »

Christmas Survey

Posted by Realsociology on 24th December 2012

I don’t celebrate Christmas because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with. Instead I meditate a lot and do my annual spring clean. If you’re also alone this Christmas, I recommend this as a coping strategy. It’s still pretty bleak, but waking up on 27th having had no Christmas with a clean flat is definitely better than waking up on the 27th with a not-so-clean flat.

This year I’ve decided to really go to town and literally clean EVERYTHING. Although I’m starting to wonder whether moving the fridge and physically washing the walls down with soapy water is maybe a bit excessive. Even though I’ve been in my flat three years, the walls behind the fridge don’t look dirty to me, so my present dilemma this Christmas Eve is should I wash them or not?

I think I will, because I have committed to washing everything, but I got to wondering, is this excessive, how often do people wash the walls behind their fridges?

Anyway, I created this survey to find out, so please if you’ve found this site, humor me and complete it, thanks and for what it’s worth, Merry Christmas.

 
NB: The survey refers to whether you wash the walls behind your fridges at any time of year, not just at Christmas time. 

 

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

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This is also my first embedded survey, something of a practice run… So apologies if you can’t see the results, I will update later as I’m sure they’ll be a lot of interest in this….

Also if the survey just doesn’t work for some reason, do let me know, as I say, this is a trial.

Actually just in case the embed doesn’t work – here – Click here to take survey

Posted in Alternatives, But what can I do?, My 'life', What is Sociology? | 3 Comments »

I hold Jamie Oliver responsible for my present anomic condition

Posted by Realsociology on 24th October 2011

Reserach suggests Jamie Oliver is responsible for 27% of anomic feelings experienced by UK males aged between 30-39

He’s such an inspiration that, in my efforts to emulate his energetic,  socially-conscious uber-interesting, jam-packed, metro-sexual-male-having-it-all life-style, I simply don’t have time to make his delicious home made-pasta recipe this week – I mean, I’m sure you can feel my pain, I’m gonna have to sink to the lows of bying pasta-in-a-packet.

Fortunately this month’s ethical consumer magazine has a handy guide to packet-pasta and sauce, that allows me to purchase pasta according to my ethical standards – i.e. to avoid purchasing from companies that damage the environment, harm animals, or employ their workers under poor conditions. Actually, perhaps this is another reason why Oliver is responsible for my Anomie – he did such a great job setting up his 15 restaurant, giving local unemployed teens a chance, and then he goes and becomes the face of Sainsbury, which, like the other three supermarkets, are intent on maxmising profit, often at the expense of people and planet.

 

Anyway, back to the pasta -

If you care about animals, you might like to boycott the Bertolli range

The two with the lowest scores include Buitoni (Pasta and Sauce) – owned by Nestle, Bertolli (sauce) – owned by Unilever, and Seeds of Change - owned by Mars (I was expecting Monsanto with a name like that) – this last one’s particularly deceptive as it look so lovely and cosy-homely-organic.

For details of why you might want to avoid the above pasta varieties – follow these links

Boycott Mars - it’s basically over animal testing

Uniliver – is buying palm oil from companies who destroy the rainforest

And Nestle - it’s still babymilk!

The best buys – Clearspring Pasta and La Terra e il Cielo  

Posted in Alternatives, Things I like | No Comments »

From Haribo cravings to an anti-neoliberal lesson plan…

Posted by Realsociology on 7th September 2011

Haribo - Damn their delicious, fizzy sweetness - I will have my revenge...

Since I’ve been back at work I promised myself I’d do pithier, shorter posts, instead I just spent the last hour cogitating over this – still I think it’s worth putting out there.. one for the teachers really…

On noting my cravings for sugar over two consecutive days at about 15.00 hours – cravings which I don’t get while I’m on holiday – this depressing thought occurred to me – ‘If I wasn’t in work I wouldn’t want Haribo, and if Haribo wasn’t on sale in the college I wouldn’t buy it’.

What’s depressing about this is that I’m reminded of just how far my unconscious desires are shaped by my environment – I want to eat healthily – I don’t want the ‘sugar rush-then-low’ – I don’t actually want to eat Haribo ever, yet simply being at work makes me want to eat junk, and the presence of junk food at work makes me more likely to buy it – I’ve succumbed two days in a row and the students aren’t even back yet!

Now, the confluence of these three factors (being at work, work making it easy to buy junk, yet my not wanting to eat junk) puts me in a situation of having to resist buying junk food - which is a problem, because I am put in the situation of constantly having to say ‘no’ to my desire to eat Haribo – once a day at about 15.00… Now according to some research I can’t remember the details of (just trust me on this – I’m not a politician) this kind of resistance will eventually wear me down….constantly having to say no to things is bad for one’s mental health, you know (although Buddhist Monks don’t seem to do too badly out of it – but then again Buddhist monastaries don’t having Haribo vending machines).

To make things worse – The Ethical Consumer magazine gave Haribo the worst possible rating for both supply chain management and environmental responsibsility. So, given the harm resisting this evil product does to me and the harm purchsing this evil product does to people and planet, it strikes me that removing the option of buying all Haribo from college – and replacing said Haribo with a healthier and preferably more ethical choice – strikes me as an ethical broader goal for the coming term, but the problem is it’s wildly unpragmatic – My problems are as follows – (assuming I rule out smashing up the vending machine)

  • The canteen at college is run by a profit making company - and income is everything to the college… so there’s barrier 1
  • I actually quite like the canteen staff – and getting them to change might offend them as it implies what they’re doing is unsatisfactory (actually with a bit of sensistivity I think this can be negotiated fairly easily.
  • The college hosts 200 staff and 1900 students – many of whom probably want to eat Haribo – and here is the biggest challenge - if I want to get my own way – what I know to be right – If I wanted to remove the Haribo I would have to mount some kind of education and mobilisation campaign just to get Haribo removed, sort out some clear arguements for its removal and probably suggest some reasonable alternatives…

Now a man alone may well balk at this, giving up in the face of all of this effort for such a small victory. But herein lies the joy of working in education – I can generalise this out, and when we’re focussing on fairtrade and ethical consumption at some point in early 2012 I can turn it into an ‘educational project’ – all I need to do now is think up a few aims and objectives….Making The College Healthy and Fairtrade…or something like that’ll do …  

Then all I need to do is email Jamie, maybe a Buddhist Monk (to remind us what an uncolonised lifeworld is about, and the robes are cool) and, of course, the lovely Stacey Dooley – she could motivate anyone to do just about anything – and Bobs yer uncle, fanny’s yer aunt and Karl’s yer Sociology teacher – I’ve got myself an easy week’s ‘teaching’ – all in the name of helping me overcome my sugar addiction – brought on by my work environment.  

For those of you that think manipulating students in this way is somewhat unethical – obviously it isn’t because -

1. It is in their long term health interests to make if difficult to eat sugary foods

2. They can still get Haribo off campus anyways, even if it gets banned

3. Students can of course choose to mount a campaign to ‘save the junk food vending machines’ (I can imagine this being very popular as an option)

4. Students are already being manipulated by the very existence of machines full of junk, as are the relationships between students and staff – I know of many staff members who use sweets as teaching aids – thus life-world interaction is mediated through the medium of sugar – this isn’t necessarily a good thing ya know!

So in the meantime until this glorious age of the sugar free enlightenment – I’ll just have to rely on my Zen Mind to help me resist my sugar lust amidst the evil Haribo vending machines.

Posted in Alternatives, But what can I do? | 2 Comments »

Anyone for tea – just don’t make it Tetley’s

Posted by Realsociology on 24th August 2011

Tetley's Tea - buy it and you perpetuate the abuse of Bengali Tea Pickers

I’ve started obsessing about ethical consumption recently – And as I’ve just run out of tea and had to buy some more – I did some digging -

The British drink  165 million cups of tea every year, but some of our most popular tea suppliers perpetuate great environmental and social harms in the process of bringing us our national drink.

Tetley’s, the second most popular tea brand in the UK, and owned by parent company Tata, are notoriously bad, scoring only a dismal 4.5/ 20 for it’s ethical trading policies as measured by Ethical Consumer - which looks at the parent company’s environmental, workers rights and political activities.

Buying Tetley’s effectively involves supporting a company which doesn’t support fair pay and conditions for its tea pickers – also see this site for how Tetley’s attacks its tea workers in West Bengal – so you can either boycott them, which wouldn’t actually help the tea pickers,  so far better would be to take some stiffer action – letter writing, or you could, not that I condone such action, go to 18 Grosvner place in London and spray paint on their offices details of what they’re doing.

NB – Tata also own good earth tea – you’d never guess this was on dodgy ethical grounds judging by the packaging – incidentally this is why I reject most forms of marketing as a valid career – marketing involves dressing up a product so it seems more than it actually is – in this case, deliberately misleading the public.

Top of the ethical tea standards table were Equal Exchange Tea - with 17/20 for its ethical credentials – seems to be a reliable fair trade company which means that the tea is produced sustainably and the tea pickers get a decent price.

So if you are also a filthy, dirty and weak caffeine addict and your middle class enough to be able to afford it, go for the fairtrade option – alternatively I’m awaiting delivery of a batch of new T shirts I’ve designed – a range of colours and sizes bearing the logo ‘I don’t give a toss about worker’s right’s in the developing world so make mine a Tetley’s’ – so you could always buy one of those instead…

 

Posted in Alternatives, Global Development, TNCs | No Comments »