Brexit. Trump. Climate change. The financial system. The arms trade. Hardliners. You name it, it’s causing anxiety. The state of the world upsets you, but what can you, a poor little meaningless individual lost in a powerful and complex system, do to change anything? How can you make any difference?
There are actually numerous ways you can engage politically – as often as every day. Here are four to think about.
1. Be a reflective producer
What we do as a job ends up being our biggest contribution to society in terms of productive capacity. We spend decades labouring in a particular sector of the economy and for particular employers, producing a particular “output”. Some of these jobs are neutral, some harmful, some more helpful.
Jobs in finance, agriculture, manufacturing, NGOs, marketing, energy or education fulfil different functions in society. Even within these sectors there are differences in the moral stature different employers and employees can genuinely claim for themselves.
Of course, for many of us, choices are quite limited. But some can choose which industry and company profits from their productive capacity – and the more comfortable classes tend to have more choice. Why not reflect further on what your job is dedicated to morally, economically and politically? Is your creative potential absorbed in advertising? Your engineering skills in weapons technology? Your oratory sold to the highest bidder? Is the production process you contribute to dedicated to justice? Knowledge? Crude profit? Who benefits from the work of your employer?
Where your job sits in the economy frames its contribution to society. It might be the slowest and most structural area of political decision-making at an individual level, but it nonetheless remains at your disposal.
2. Be an ethical consumer
We give lots of money to people over a lifetime through the purchases we make. Some products reach us through better labour conditions or have a lower environmental footprint.
We owe it to those affected not to forget that smartphones may contain rare conflict minerals some of which come from eastern Congo where mines are controlled by militias with child soldiers and rape is a weapon of war. Let’s also remember that parts of the clothing industry use child labour. And let’s not forget that so much of the plastic we consume is produced from petrol, an industry which partly fuels war in the Middle East.
Everything we buy has a history and a social, environmental and political cost: the raw materials, the labour, the ecological footprint. There is much more to it than the price.
There’s also the stock market dimension. Many pension funds, banks and insurance policies invest our money in whatever offers the highest returns, often without much thought about ethics. Why not pressure those massive money pots to be more ethical in their investment preferences?
Of course you cannot put your money where your ethic is all the time. Nor does ethical consumption (which advertisers have become effective at spinning) resolve deeper structural issues. But a more inquisitive approach to our daily shopping can have an impact on the world. So ask yourself: who and what benefits if I buy this product?