The Contradictions of Thinking and Living Ethically

Fran Hawthorne discusses how hard it is to consistently live by one's values.

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Why is this an issue now?

The economy is still rough, and price is a major factor. So many of the “ethical” purchases are expensive, whether it’s organic or recycled, or buying from your local stationery store instead of Staples. And we have more information now. We have more choices. Ten years ago, you didn’t have so many imported organic thises and thats. And we’re certainly much more aware of things like carbon emissions. More awareness means more confusion.

What surprised you in writing this?

In the process of writing the book, I joined the local food co-op. I thought that would make life easy. It would make all the decisions for me, vet the products and put them on the shelves. But if the co-op didn’t exist, we’d have to go shopping somewhere. That means that a regular supermarket nearby would be hiring people to do these jobs. So by creating the co-op and donating our unpaid labor, we have kind of eliminated several hundred jobs that people are getting paid to do elsewhere. These aren’t the best jobs in the world, but they do tend to be union jobs, which means a certain level of wages and benefits. I certainly didn’t set out to cost 300 people their jobs. Even something that should be simple and clear-cut, such as joining a food co-op, is not.

How do you think this book will surprise readers?

I do think a lot of the complications that go along with these choices will surprise people. For instance, many readers have probably never had to weigh the comparative advantages of helping subsistence farmers overseas versus buying locally. Things like that.

Why should Barack Obama read this?

I do think he is a person who tries to live by his values. It seems to me that he might well face these dilemmas. Even if you have staffers who are buying your food and clothing, clearly they make their decisions as far as what food and clothing to buy. Hopefully it will open his eyes and help him.

“Ignorance is bliss.” Could that be the motto for this book?

I don’t think so. Ignorance is easy. But I don’t consider bliss not living ethically. I consider bliss being happy and knowing that you’ve done good.

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