Thursday, August 30, 2012


Is an evocative word...usually of not so pleasant things. A politician taking bribes, decay, contamination....these are all meanings given by dictionaries (source, source).

In a book titled "What Money Can't Buy", author Michael J. Sandel points out that we often associate corruption with ill-gotten gains. He then notes that the word also means, when referring to a good or a social practice, degrading or treating something (or someone) to a lower mode of valuation than is appropriate to it. (p.34). His book is full of examples where "market values" have come into vogue as a way of looking at things and as a way of allocating 'resources'. Proponents of this way of looking at virtually everything argue that there's nothing wrong with such a view and indeed this is an efficient and fair and neutral way of operating in the world.

It seems that there is a serious and disturbing 'unintended consequence' of using the "market" as an allocator of goods and services and that is that there is a persistent and ubiquitous tendency of the "market" way of allocation and market-oriented way of thinking to displace nonmarket ways of thinking and allocating.

For me, the most potent and stimulating point in this book is that we have slowly and imperceptibly tumped over from a society with a "market economy" to a market society. In my lifetime I have seen this and been disturbed by this but until reading this book had never quite put it into clarifying and useful terms. Sandel says this has happened without serious and persistent public debate and one of the main thrusts of the book is that a public debate about this needs to occur.

Those interested can read reviews of this book here and here.

Simply put...ethical veganism is, in one way of looking at it, as a call to change how we value living animal beings that are not human animal beings. They have been relegated to a calculus or "valuation method" that "corrupts" their essence, their 'worth' and that must be changed. Justice, morality, compassion and "common sense" all demand and require a change. Our fellow animals have been "corrupted", lowered to a way of seeing and thinking and feeling about them that is below the truth of them, ....and ethical veganism is a way of "repairing the world" least in this aspect.

For this to happen, I believe, is going to require a lot more than just according our fellow living beings the respect and freedom that is theirs. A lot more. Because unless and until we "get our heads and hearts straight" about our planet, about our environment, about our place in those and about how we live in this world our fellow animals are not going to be safe from us. We are dangerous...not only to our planet and the other life thereon...but also to ourselves. How could we have practiced slavery on ourselves for as long as we have without being, maybe, somehow deranged?

Look at how seemingly difficult living with justice (fairness, equality) appears to be for human animals. Look at the length of time, thousands and thousands of years, "market values" dominated our thinking about human animals. It is astonishing (to me anyway) to realize that human slavery was everyday practice (and disgustingly enough, still is, albeit not "legally") for most of the recorded history of our species. From what I could find, it seems that the last country to legally abolish slavery did so only 31 years ago (1981). And even then, they didn't 'criminalize' it until 2007. Put it another was only 5 years ago (2007) that it finally became a criminal offense in all human societies to "own" another human animal being. Think of how many thousands of years there have been human animal societies.

It is amazing to me....that the injustice of and unfairness of one human animal "owning" another human animal's life has only been prohibited by law with criminal penalties, everywhere on planet Earth, for only 5 years. Appalling. (And I know full well these despicable practices still exist and still occur even though universally illegal)  In truth, whatever pit we've been crawling out of, either we are so slow as to be enshrined in Ripley's Believe It or Not, or the pit had a depth which is maybe immeasurable. If this sort of stuff doesn't make you shake your wow.

Check out Sandel's book from your local library. It isn't the most fun read and sometimes is tedious and really doesn't have any answers, only questions...but will likely bring some clarity and some "aha" moments for you to ponder.

It certainly brought to me a new way of thinking about "corruption". In some instances a "market" can be a useful tool. We've become intoxicated however, and have been for a long time, with this powerful but trivial tool. We're like the person with a hammer...everything looks like a nail. Well, the truth is, when you use a "market" to almost invariably "corrupt" that which you are valuing....and your thinking....and yourself....and other beings....and planet Earth.

Look around...there aren't many ills that can be identified as having human origin that can't be traced some degree or another to a corruption by market valuing.


Anonymous said...

both of us on capitalism this week :)

In a fury over here over the constant crisis of the hog industry. It's just ridiculous, as their grinning representatives meet for conference after conference... I asked my husband why the f*** this kept happening and he said, "They don't care. It's capitalism."

argh. Anyway the book is underway, which is a salve. And you keep sending out your ethical veganism message :).

Have Gone Vegan said...

Sounds like an interesting read. Money's a funny thing. It can be a useful tool, a good servant, and an incredibly bad master. And while I can see how some would view money as the root of all evil, I think the true root is greed. Whether greed for money, or power, or fame, or food that you don't need, and I think that greed in whatever form is behind a lot of cruelty to sentient beings of all species. If we could somehow stamp out greed (removal of the greed gene would be a great medical advancement), the world would be a better place no doubt, but as long as humans are in charge I fear for the worst.

Harry said...

"... there is a persistent and ubiquitous tendency of the "market" way of allocation and market-oriented way of thinking to displace nonmarket ways of thinking and allocating." Is this an "unintended consequence" of using the market or is it an intentional and pernicious driving of the market by those few with vested interests? Fools we are but simply fools ... or foolish victims?

Bea Elliott said...

Interesting - Markets have expanded (exponentially) to replace a moral/ethical void. Fascinating... Like a vacuum we've placed so much emphisis on material prosperity that it has crowded out all (or most) altruistic acts. Or worse... Is the thinking that things=value like a snowball racing down a hill? I don't quite know what can stop it. But I do know that unless it does come to a halt a future of human hunting (much like Hunger Games) is almost inevitable. Again - What an eye-opener...

And this seems more true than ever: The way to happiness isn't in satisfying every want - But to reduce one's wants to fit their possessions. But how to make this so? :/

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting DEM, HGV, Harry and Bea. My apologies for the delay in responding. I'm having a slew of computer issues and am still in the thick of them.

DEM: I do believe part of what keeps this crap going on is the incredible pervasiveness and thoroughness of the cultural narratives of exploitation and domination. Somehow we are exempting ourselves (in our thinking and behaving) from our environment and we're denying that we're all members of the animal family. When reality is voided...terrible things happen. Most all of human culture is proof of that. It sucks.

I'm eagerly awaiting the book. :-)

HGV: I'm with you...greed can make most any old thing repugnant. :-)

Harry: I'm thinking it's a predilection of our thinking patterns along with the astonishing removal from reality that the using of abstractions as measures of value entails. If we are victims...we are also the victimizers.

Bea: I'm not sure we're going to have to worry re how to make it so...the collapse of the environment is going to do it for us. :-)