I was at my friend Daniel’s place in December. We were grabbing a beer, talking philosophy, and trying to assimilate the semester that had just ended. We went back and forth thinking about school, friends we might not see again and our respective experiences at Vandy.
Daniel discussed how he had been struggling with mindless consumerism, buying coffee from a shop that was involved in gentrifying a neighborhood. I immediately thought to myself, “How can it be?! Daniel is responsible, and very mindful of the social impact of his consumption”.
Suddenly, he had revealed to me something that perhaps I already knew but was too afraid to admit: Living in accordance to the principles one sets out for oneself is actually very challenging. What shocked me was not his attitude itself but my failure to recognize this obvious struggle—which should resonate with anyone who claims to stand for social causes—before Daniel had to spell it out for me.
I have since concluded that I don’t run into this problem very often because I don’t think hard enough about how to enact my own progressive values. But I don’t think this is just a “me” problem; rather, it is an “us” problem.
In progressive and liberal circles, values such as socially responsible spending do not bat an eye. This, counterintuitively, inhibits our ability to act upon these principles. When progressives take their values for granted, they risk obviating their meaning and implications.
Consider the example of Fast Fashion. The fashion industry has caused the deaths of thousands—take the Rana Plaza disaster, for instance—and the exploitation of millions. If progressives are to really do something about it, they need to stop buying from specific brands, avoid spontaneous purchases and do some research before going shopping. But one needs only to walk by the donation bins full of H&M t-shirts outside each dorm every semester to see that even progressives are oblivious to this problem.
I don’t know if people just don’t care to learn about these issues, or if they don’t think long enough about how to tackle them; it is probably both. In any way, this inaction seems to have embedded itself into our culture.
Progressive campus culture is nonetheless complex. Whereas economic problems are often overlooked, language is thoroughly analyzed. The progressive thoughtfully crafts every sentence so that it doesn’t leave their mouth with a particle of political incorrectness.
Political correctness reveals that thoughtfulness and action can resonate in our culture. On this front, progressives have reason to be hopeful, but the challenges that lie ahead to make a move in the direction of mindfulness in the economy are still vast. Not only would a change for responsible consumption require a lot of time, it would also imply some serious opportunity costs.
I have talked before about how we are contributing to the creation of a permanent economic underclass by denying equal access to our school. Stopping the proliferation of this trend, and the wider system that encompasses it, would necessitate that progressives make some serious sacrifices. They couldn’t place themselves in a position where they’d be the big law attorney that destroys campaign finance rules, or the doctor that only treats the wealthy or the financial manager who surreptitiously steals paychecks.
And the road for change does look really rocky. We have trouble not eating at Wendy’s! There was a tent outside Rand for days telling people why they shouldn’t eat there, yet I know many progressives—myself included—still stuff their faces with Frosties and sea salt fries.
Vandy grads who take that 180k big law offer at 26 will further the interests of the companies that have Americans overworked and underpaid. Those who decide to be managers and are not careful in choosing where they apply will probably end up working for these captains of industry, too. Those future doctors who take that cushy 350k neurosurgery position at a metropolitan hospital will deny access to their services to most.
That these connections are as hidden as the bodies they exploit should not be a justification. In the case of the progressive, ignorance is not a valid excuse. It’s about time those who stand against oppression start walking the walk as much as they talk the talk.
Jorge Salles Diaz is a senior in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at email@example.com.