Al Gore famously soft-pedaled global climate change as an "inconvenient truth." It was probably a wise choice for a title of time when climate change denial was more widespread and the media was still giving "equal time" to the "opposing side" of the "issue" advocated by people with lots of economic self-interest and no actual scientific evidence. The title "An approaching freight train of global catastrophe we're pointedly ignoring because it might endanger profit-taking," while technically more accurate, would have been dismissed as extremist, possibly un-American.
We live in an age of inconvenient truths, disruptive realities we can't easily deny. Aditya Chakrabortty writes in The Guardian newspaper that Your new iPhone’s features include oppression, inequality – and vast profit.
Over the past year, the US-based NGO China Labor Watch has published a series of investigations into Pegatron, another iPhone assembler. It sent a researcher on to the assembly line, interviewed dozens of Pegatron staff and analysed hundreds of pay stubs. Among its findings are that staff still work 12 hours a day, six days a week – one and a half hours of that unpaid. They are forced to do overtime, claims the NGO, and provided with illegally low levels of safety training.
The researcher was working on one iPhone motherboard every 3.75 seconds, standing up for the entirety of his 10.5-hour shift...
The Shanghai local government has raised the minimum wage over the past year; Pegatron has responded by cutting subsidies on things such as medical insurance so that the effective hourly pay for its staff has fallen.
Meanwhile, he notes, Apple sits on a bigger cash pile than the US government. Is economist Slavoj Zizek right that capitalism and democracy are headed for a messy divorce?
How do we deal with the visceral hypocrisy of living with such extravagant privilege, as power and money that could be used for everyone's benefit gets concentrated in the upper economic stratosphere, far beyond the reach of the rest of the world?
Well, you could come up with elaborate justifications like "those are good jobs for that part of the world." Makes sense until someone places you on the assembly line, and you get a taste of the conditions endured by people who weren't born into fortunate circumstances. That's like saying that having only 10% of children die before the age of five is "pretty good for that part of the world" and therefore acceptable.
Alternately, you could do something about it. But what? Someone (please!) show me a leader who is advocating what normal people should be doing to redirect this train. I don't think my dutiful recycling, charitable donations, and thrift store aesthetics are really addressing the heart of the problem.
You could ignore it. That's what most of us do. To my great shame, I do it all the time, beguiled by my stupid phone, all the while knowing that terms like "inconvenient" are nice ways of saying Untenable. Unacceptable. Perhaps, in the lens of history, Unforgivable.