Wednesday, September 12, 2007

what kind of world do we live in?

Podcast #1: I've been having good luck recently listening to my Radio 4 Today program podcasts on the train in to work. Yesterday morning I caught the interview with Naomi Klein, author of the new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. This essay from The Nation back in April 2005 seems to offer a nice slice of the book -- although the book itself apparently also uses the debacle of post-Katrina reconstruction as an example.

The criticism I heard about her approach was that it seemed heavily American in focus... which is to say that what she may be trying to chart as a several-decade phenomenon may be a peculiarly Bush-fils era that Ms. Klein may be trying to extrapolate too hard onto the rest of the world.

While I have yet to read the book it seems to be similar in angle as David Rieff's A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis. Rieff's principle tenet is that humanitarian organizations are themselves a sign of failure -- largely a failure of governmental organizations whether individually or in concert to contain and respond to crises of whatever forms.

Podcast #2: This morning's podcast focused on supermarket chain, Tesco's £25 million donation to the University of Manchester to establish a 'Sustainable Consumption Institute'. I'm a little surprised at how skeptical the interviewer on the 'Today' programme was in her questioning of the Tesco rep. (And I apologize for not remembering their respective names.) I will say that whatever-his-name-was was schlick as heck... he did a fine job of not responding to barbed and loaded questions and re-directing everything with some nice bits of rhetorical aikido.

But it seems, from reading more subsequently, that more folks than just Christian Aid think Tesco is manipulating the whole situation in a classic case of green-washing. I have a few questions. I haven't lived in Britain for long enough that I don't know if this analogy fully translates: but if I shop at Whole Foods already, does a £25 million donation to higher education make me switch from shopping there to Tesco (or Wal-Mart)? If I do shop occasionally at Tesco, do I just feel less guilty about it?

Now, Tesco is certainly not a 1% for the Planet business. And we can safely assume that £25 million is probably a drop in their corporate profit ocean, but that's still a sizeable donation for any institution of higher education to receive... and hey, if they invest it in a sustainable fashion, it's research that might otherwise not have been done.

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