I wrote a blog post last week that caused something of a furore on Facebook. I said that if people want to bad mouth certain professions (and not individuals: whole professions) they should first, to avoid hypocrisy, think about 1. whether they benefit from these professions and 2. whether they can object on ethical grounds but continue to use these services. The three examples I used were…
1. Property developers
There are people having difficulties stumping up a deposit, and securing a mortgage, for property in London. With billionaire overseas investors buying up land and property but not living here, taking housing away from people who need it and driving up prices, it’s easy to generalise and blame the wider property development industry for rising house prices.
However, there are a couple of issues here. Firstly, not all developers are billionaire overseas investors. In fact, most are not; most are small-scale developers renovating houses that might have been squatted / derelict and are in seriously bad shape. Improving these properties benefits the owner-to-be, the neighbours and the local neighbourhood.
Secondly, without builders/ property developers we wouldn’t have ANY houses to live in. No one would be able to improve their houses, or to rescue a house from subsidence. It’s frustrating that the property market (in London, it’s a different story outside of the capital) is so unaffordable for so many people. But berate the overseas developers: not the entire industry.
Big, successful charities (Oxfam, Cancer Research, the Samaritans) are big and successful because they’re structured to follow a corporate model – with staff hierarchies. The people ‘at the top’ are experienced leaders, with a track record of success and, for this reason, they’re well-paid. I think experience and ability should be rewarded. But not everyone shares this view. The idea that someone would expect a decent paycheque whilst working for a charity riles people up.
Another controversial decision within the charity sector is offering ‘perks’ – travel expenses, gym memberships, phone bills covered. But, like with any company, happy staff work harder. And harder work in a charity means better marketing and so heightened awareness of the charity; of all the good work that’s being done and about how we, the public, can help.
Also, at the other end of the spectrum, people knock charities for sending out ‘chuggers’ who are paid £10 an hour to recruit new sponsors. But this, apparently, is the most successful form of fundraising. It works. And so it pays to give these workers a reasonable hourly rate.
3. Corporate companies
This is the area that receives the most criticism – and yet benefits so many of its critics. Here are some corporate companies people continue to buy into without considering the ethical implications:
Of course, lots of us do consider the implications but feel like there’s no alternative. Where else can you buy a phone, or computer, than from one of these corporations?
And let’s look at Amazon; the tax-evading conglomerate that does what it does so very well. It makes book-buying cheaper and easier. But it’s causing the death of independent book shops. Or is it? I think there’s still space for local, independent book shops but they have to compete, to offer something that Amazon can’t: real people, advice, book groups, somewhere to read.
On the subject of independent VS corporate, we also need to consider that we all have different needs and requirements. An example:
When I was living in Frome, Somerset, there was a big plot of land in the town centre – Saxonvale – and a large group of (middle-class, middle-aged, well-educated) people were protesting against a Tesco opening up. Now, Frome prides itself on having a largely independent town centre, and this is what the group wanted to protect. But the plans stipulated that this Tesco could only sell groceries (no optician, chemist, clothing) – so those independent businesses could have continued to thrive.
There was another group of people campaigning FOR Tesco – mostly people with less money, who couldn’t afford to buy organic fruit and veg from the local health food store and young parents, with young children, who didn’t own cars so had to get buses out of town to do their shopping at Asda. These people believed that an affordable, convenient supermarket would improve the quality of their lives, whilst the other group felt it would detract from their lives. I could see this argument from both sides.
Counter arguments might be that supermarkets prey on the poor, and there are issues with them driving such a hard bargain that farmers are not earning on their crops. But, at the moment, supermarkets are thriving because so many of us use them. And so many of us use them because they’re cheaper and more convenient.
Anyway, I believe that corporate and independent organisations can co-exist, as independent shops usually offer better quality, hands-on, personal services that corporate services can’t offer.
Now, back to the reason for this blog post. It was a comment I read on Facebook that started the debate. I’d read the comment as an outright hate of all property developers but the guy who wrote it then read my blog and said that I’d misrepresented his comment. I decided to take a step back, re-assess and re-write my post (in the hope that I could explain myself better without people interpreting my argument as coming from a Tory, capitalist stance – this is not the way I lean politically / socially).
I felt that the reader’s perception was as important as the writer’s intention and then realised that a reader will interpret what she / he is reading to suit her / his ideals. None of us want to admit to hypocrisy, so, instead, a handful of people whose own values, perhaps, don’t correlate with their behaviour responded by suggesting that my argument was weak, or flawed.
My main gripe was, and still is, with people who will shop at – or do work for – corporate companies, and then claim to be socialists; who’ll have their flat done up by a developer and then moan about property developers; who’ll preach anti-Tesco whilst chewing on a stick of chewing-gum from their local Tesco Metro. Your local convenience store may have closed down, and may have been replaced by a Tesco Metro, that doesn’t mean you have to shop there. Travel further. Make an effort.
Also, people moaning about tax-evaders but finding their own loopholes. And people who don’t think beyond their limited parameters. Yeah – local, independent, organic shops might be your first choice, but it doesn’t mean everyone in your neighbourhood feels the same.
As new evidence comes to light, by all means change your mind, adjust your stance. But then change your behaviour – permanently. Because if you can’t do that – you’re in no position to preach.
So, is hypocrisy inherent in modern-day living? I’d like to say no, but I’m inclined to say: yes. Many of us feel dissatisfied and think it’s important to share our views on the world, but don’t make enough positive changes to our own lives. This leads me to the unsatisfactory conclusion that until we find an alternative we’ll continue buying into capitalist ventures, complaining about it but doing nothing to change it. And so now I’ll open to the floor: solution, anyone?