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Guest Blog: Mr. Daedalus and the Tree of Knowledge

Update 3/16/12: This American Life, who first reported Mike Daisey’s story (which we blogged about here), has retracted the story due to factual inaccuracies. Stay tuned to Welcome to Adulthood for our thoughts on this issue.

For Mike Daisey’s response: check out this article.

The blog entry below was first published on Welcome to Adulthood on January 20, 2012

“…It’s just too damn easy to rationalize away that nagging little part of my brain that knows I should be more concerned about what’s in the sausage.”

Mr. Daedalus and the Tree of Knowledge

By David Daedalus

So there I was,  in my comically-small San Diego flat playing Doom on my iPad, when I turned on the radio just in time to catch an installment of ‘This American Life’. I have a particular fondness for this show and was doubly pleased as, like a rare steak and a fine Bordeaux, it pairs nicely with laying on my futon and blasting the minions of hell into piles of pixilated goo. This installment was entitled ‘Mister Daisey and the Apple Factory’, and after hearing it, I was left with one startling revelation:

Mike Daisey might well be the devil, and oddly, the devil seems to care more about other people than I do.

You see, Mike Daisey is a monologist and an Apple enthusiast who recently traveled to China to meet the people who manufacture all our iPads and MacBooks and whatnot. The episode of ‘This American Life’ is an edited version of a monologue that he gave about his trip. He described in detail the staggering pollution in Shenzhen, the Chinese city where Apple and lots of other name-brand electronic stuff is made. His story also told of workers being forced to use a known neurotoxin (n-hexane) to clean iPhone screens simply because it dried slightly faster than the non-neurotoxin alternative, alcohol. He described in vivid detail sixteen hour work days, child labor, and rampant worker suicide. This was likely the price that a score of Chinese laborers paid to make the iPad that I held in my hands, all while I sat in comfort listening to ‘This American Life’.

Mike Daisey might well be the devil: what he did through that monologue was pluck the apple from the tree of knowledge, hand it to me, and ask with an impish smile:

“Haven’t you ever wondered what’s in a hot dog?”

The thing is, I have, and what’s worse, I know in my heart of hearts I’m not going to do anything about it. Why? Because hot dogs are good. iPhones are cool. While of course I am morally outraged about the things Mr. Daisey described, but as long as I don’t actually have to see the blood and pain and torment that goes into making the things that I like when they are new and toss once they become boring, it’s just too damn easy to rationalize away that nagging little part of my brain that knows I should be more concerned about what’s in the sausage. Moral outrage is well and good, but what use is moral outrage unless it prods you to do something about the issue at hand?

Let’s take this a step further. I dated a gal for a while who was a domestic violence counselor and twice a week she was the on-call person for her agency’s Domestic Abuse Response Team. Basically, when the cops would respond to a domestic abuse call, her agency would get contacted so they could do a follow up. It really opened my eyes because her phone was ringing off the hook every time she was on call. Every night women (and men) were victims of domestic abuse all over town, and if you look at the statistics for this kind of thing, you may be surprised to find it’s more common than you think.

This is just one tiny example of all the horrific things that happen every minute of every day in your backyard and across the globe. There are tons of things in the world to be legitimately outraged about, so many that it’s literally an impossible task to educate yourself and do something about every one of them. It’s also easy to use this rationale as an excuse to give yourself a free pass (as I am guilty of doing) and not put any effort into caring about any of it. Why bother looking when it’s easy not to and you know you won’t like what you’ll find?

Mike Daisey may be the devil for enticing me with the truth, but at least the devil had the chutzpah to seek that truth, and when what he found failed to meet even the most basic standards of human decency, he had the courage not just to be outraged, but to do something about it. Granted, I may not be able to soothe (or even be aware of) all of the world’s ills, but Mr. Daisey’s fine monologue reminded me that I need to do a better job at caring about at least a few of them.

***

David Daedalus is a writer, a filmmaker, and a graduate student of Philosophy at San Diego State University. He also has a project on Kickstarter.com — to fund an animated series (one of his short episodes in the series has already been made) which he describes as “Philip K. Dick meets Southpark…with zombies.” To learn more and to watch the short animation, visit David’s website, here. David has also blogged with us before on Welcome to Adulthood. To read his other guest blog entry (equally as riveting!), click here.

 

[Photo by Marcin Wichary via Flickr.]

 

The Epic New Year’s Resolution Project

Every year I make the same resolutions: not to bite my nails, to exercise more, and to not procrastinate. Last year, before 2009 rolled around, I went on a quest to find an epic resolution — one that I could hold onto, learn from, be moved by, and spread like the most delicious cream cheese frosting. I wanted a resolution that would be a daily practice in a really epic way: I wanted it to be a habit I never kicked, and something so big I couldn’t explain it to anyone without reaching my hands out to my sides, as far as they would reach, and laughing a big belly laugh with my mouth open wide. I wanted it to focus on laughter, and love, and kindness, and singing, and the smell of ocean on a sunny day, and spinning round in big poofy-skirted dresses, and ants opening peonies, and skipping and swinging, and 100-piece orchestras.

But I wanted it to be little too. I wanted it to be simultaneously small, something I could hold inside my heart like a warm, soft glow. Something subtle, like the smell of lavender, a mini-earthquake, or a dog’s soft ear. I wanted it to be tiny enough to take with me, to fit in a pocket, maybe the size of a bejeweled blue button. A little, loose button of meaning to remind me to be compassionate, better, grateful, open, bright.

I searched for this epic resolution and I found it. With my firmest resolve, at the stroke of midnight in 2009, I was resolute to be an instrument of peace.

What does that mean exactly? To me, being an instrument of peace was a embodied by the prayer of St. Francis (though, I must note, I am not religious). The prayer of St. Francis is really simple and beautiful. Abbreviated some, it reads:

Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

 

That I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love…

Being an instrument of peace was everything I had wanted in a resolution, and the first resolution in memory that I have stuck with, held tight to, and braided with my hair. I have kept it with me, like my blue sparkly button, for the whole year. I think any of my friends who interacted with me on a regular basis in 2009 could attest that I wore this button like a proud cape, or some shiny shoes, or a toothy grin.

I quoted it, “I am an instrument of peace,” I would say to myself (and sometimes aloud.) I would channel my instrument: a violin when I was cut off on the freeway; a cello when I felt really sad; trumpets in times of great joy; an acoustic guitar to forgive; tiny, high celeste timbres, like music box notes while a sugar plum fairy dances, for when I was angry; Rhapsody in Blue for those long walks and good conversation with friends; Leonard Cohen’s rich molasses voice for my mom. And for love, it is the full symphony, or the full chorus in a joyous musical.

This year, I have reprised my epic resolution that is as big as an ocean, and as tiny as map pin. I am but one small instrument.

May 2010 be a year of peace for the world, and for our lives.

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