Tag Archives: ethical

Living Wages, Green Wages

Depending on who exactly you ask and where exactly you live, a living wage in the UK is £9 -£10.55

The minimum wage in the UK for people over 25, is £8.21 per hour. The government website tells us ‘An apprentice aged 22 in the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £3.90.’ https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates – There are clearly working people in the UK not earning the minimum wage.

So, first up, it’s important to acknowledge that people under 25 get a minimum wage that isn’t the same as everyone else’s and is a long way short of the living wage. Self employed people can’t (speaking from experience) always earn minimum wage and as companies seem ever more inclined to turn employees into self employed freelancers, that wage pressure increases.

How is the living wage calculated? According to https://www.livingwage.org.uk/calculation  “MIS asks groups to identify what people need to be able to afford as a minimum. This is fed into a calculation of what someone needs to earn as a full-time salary, which is then converted to an hourly rate.”

The first obvious point to make is that the living wage is based on the idea of the minimum needed to live – so the minimum wage set by government falls short of that for everyone – with massive implications – and for the under 25s to a degree that is alarming. Many people are not earning enough to live on, with all that this implies for their quality of life and their scope to choose. Also, if you can’t work full time – caring commitments, poor health etc, you probably can’t earn enough to live on, because that hourly rate depends on the assumption that you are able to work full time. If you’re on a zero hour contract, you may well not be working full time every week.

What people need to be able to afford as a minimum will not allow you to buy organic food – which is always more expensive. It won’t allow you to always pick out the more expensive fair trade and plastic free options. For this money, you will not be able to afford a state of the art electric car easily. You may have no choice but to buy clothes that aren’t so good for the environment. Things that will last longer and are more efficient may well be out of your price range. A living wage is not a green wage, it is not enough money to be able to make all the best ethical choices and still live.

If we want to pursue a green agenda, it is absolutely necessary not to have people priced out in this way. Environmental justice requires social justice. You can’t pay over the odds for greener goods if your income only covers the basics, or doesn’t even stretch that far.

I’ve been looking online to see if anyone has calculated the minimum wage for affording to live greenly – I’ve not found anything. If you know of any good sources, please leave comments.


Poverty and ethical living

Green living can create some tensions between the choices that are available to you.

Live lightly, own little, do everything the slow way and by hand, walk, handwash, grow your own veg, upcycle things, don’t own a car. Unless you’re very lucky, it’s hard to put this kind of light living together with a well paid job. Most of the people who do it manage by being self employed, and are low paid. It’s hard to sustain conventional employment without a car, in fact if you look at many job applications, you’ll be asked if you have one.

Buy organic, fair traded, buy local (often nigh on impossible for rural people without a car, most villages do not have farmer’s markets I have to say). Buy high quality food products that don’t have palm oil in them. Buy eco friendly washing powders, cosmetics, home cleaners and so forth. They cost far more than the regular versions. Veg from the farmer’s market is much more expensive than veg from the cheaper and nastier supermarkets. Milk is the same.

Of the available diets, vegetarianism is without a doubt the most affordable for someone on a low income. Good quality, responsibly sourced meat is really expensive. Good quality vegan proteins are also more costly, as are the products that don’t have dairy products as fillers. It’s surprising how many cheap things turn out to have whey powder and the like in them, once you start looking.

So, here’s a conundrum. I don’t have a fridge, because I think that’s a greener choice. I don’t buy cows’ milk unless I have guests (I am vegetarian). I would like to keep my use of dairy minimal anyway. So, I can have low cost UHT cow milk at less than a pound a litre, it will keep until I open it and be good for a day or so in the cool box once opened. I can do the same with low cost soya milk, but in both cases, I’ve got no chance in warm weather of keeping the milk for more than a day once open, and I don’t reliably use that much so there’s a high risk of unacceptable food waste.

For a couple of pounds, I could buy a tin of dried milk powder (cow) and make it up with water at need. For about five times the price I could buy a smaller amount of dried soy or coconut milk.

So we have a situation where the person with the high powered job, driving a car, and actively participating in the capitalism mainstream probably can afford seitan, dried coconut milk, ethical cosmetics, green cleaners, and all the other things that go into having an apparently responsible, vegan shopping basket. The person who lives lightly and close to the earth and who is trying hard not to participate too much in consumerist culture, probably doesn’t earn enough to shop this way.

Is one choice better than the other? Are ethical consumer choices sometimes just window dressing for otherwise largely unsustainable lifestyle choices? Is the farmer’s market really that good an idea if you have to drive twenty miles to get to it? I don’t have any answers, just the sense that if we want something sustainable, it has to be possible to both live lightly and source ethically, and if we’ve got to choose between the two, we’re collectively getting it wrong.


The needs of the many

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.” Mr Spok, dying heroically in a Star Trek film and reducing my child self to tears.

It’s a powerful thought, this. How do we measure the importance of our own needs, even our own lives, against the needs of the many? For the rich and the powerful, it is pretty much taken for granted that the needs of the few (ie them) outweigh the needs of everyone else. The poor are statistics, collateral damage, their deaths and suffering an unfortunate cost that history will soon forget. Western culture tends not to give a shit about the needs of the many, and the quality of life experienced by the many. The needs of the few, or the one are only an issue if you are the right one, part of the important few. As ethical approaches go… it isn’t one.

The needs of the many can be a great silencer. I wonder how many people turned a blind eye to child abuse in the Catholic church, and amongst the powerful in other places because preserving the reputation of church, government, institution seemed more important than the needs of the few. How often are the needs of the few the needs of minorities, victims, outsiders? How often are the few vulnerable and lacking in power and not making the choice that they are expendable because the grand plan is more important than them?

But of course what underlies all this is the importance of who gets to choose. When the state decides that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and leaves some of its people to die in hunger and misery (as in modern austerity Britain) this is very different from one person deciding that the bigger picture is more important than them. It’s still worth being wary. Most of us are not Mr Spok facing the melt down of a ship and the imminent deaths of everyone on it. Mostly the needs of the many are not as immediate or powerful. Mostly there is more room for negotiation. The many are all individuals too, and if we can only value people as a block vote, anyone may find themselves on the outside of that, othered and irrelevant.

Better on the whole to live in a culture where everyone matters and you start from that premise to do the best you can with whatever you’ve got.


The ethical marketing department

Larger businesses have marketing departments spending money on getting their products into your awareness. Not only do they sell you products, but they sell you ideas about lifestyles, identity and aspiration to make you want their stuff. We’re encouraged to be dissatisfied with what we have, so that we keep wanting new things. We’re taught that to be left behind, old fashioned, out of date, behind, is a dreadful, stigmatising failure. This all helps to keep us spending.

In some industries, the influence of marketing is truly pernicious. There’s big money in pharmaceuticals and precious little in preventative medicine. On the whole not getting sick in the first place is far better for you than having to mop up the symptoms after the event. Guess where the money gets spent.

If, as a species, we are to have a viable future, we need to consume less, and to do that, we need some kind of counter-narrative to the marketing stories in the mainstream. We need an ethical marketing department that champions sustainability, re-use, reducing consumption, making healthy choices. We need a marketing agency that gives the small producers the visibility they need so they aren’t drowned out by the incessant shouting of big brands. This marketing department needs to champion things that make life better at no cost. It needs to run advertising campaigns for compassion, honesty, friendship, going for a nice walk and the such.

No one is going to pay the ethical marketing company any real money. No one is going to have time to properly organise it or write plans for it. That’s ok, because we can do it anyway. Take a job with the ethical marketing company. No previous experience required. Start today. Take whatever opportunities you have to be the PR person for stuff you think matters. No one will pay you, but the hours are good and the job satisfaction considerable.

Let’s tell some new stories about what we’re worth and what we deserve, and who we are. Stories that are not centred around a brand and that aren’t designed to have us relentlessly consuming. Let’s challenge the story that any brand is ’exciting’ because most of what’s out there in the mainstream is obvious, tedious, monotonous beige cardboard wrapped in cheap plastic. Including far too much of what passes for entertainment. We need new stories all round.


Sweet little lies

My son has a tremendous interest in ethical questions. He’s particularly fascinated by the ethics of lying, such that this has been a significant topic of conversation lately. Now, the simple answer here is that lying is unethical. But of course there’s the line ‘If Hitler is at the front door and Anne Frank in the attic’. There are times when the only honourable thing to do is to lie. There are many people who lived and escaped persecution only because someone hid them and lied for them. Everyone who helped a Jewish person flee the Nazis. Any movement that resists oppression and tyranny depends on subterfuge to some degree. The underground railroad. When the state itself becomes evil, following the law is not the most honourable choice.

Most of us will not find ourselves in a Hitler/Anne Frank scenario. I hope. But every day presents us with opportunities to be more or less honest. Lies by omission are common. The things we let slide, don’t mention. The little injustices we allow to pass unchallenged. The little mistakes we cover up. Most of the time, these don’t make a lot of odds in the grand scheme of things, but when they do, situations can suddenly run out of control and either you have to fess up, or their follows a process of having to tell more lies to hide the first one. Not a good place to be, not an honourable solution, and frequently, not something that allows for a fix. The person who can admit to a mistake has the space to learn, repair, improve. The person who denies ballsing things up cannot redeem themselves, and cannot learn. Appearing to be right, at the expense of actually being right, will cost you dearly in the long run, more often than not.

Then there are the lies we tell to spare someone’s feelings. The theory being that a lie to avoid pain is kinder. That is true sometimes, but at others, it sets people up for a fall. The person whose failings are not pointed out to them can have a seriously inflated self opinion, and sooner or later will run into a bit of reality, and find they aren’t the best novelist who ever lived, after all. I gather current TV shows frequently make ‘entertainment’ by laughing at people who think they’re far better than they really are. The kinder thing to do would have been to point it out sooner. Thinking you are something, and finding you are not, can be far more traumatic than dealing with the truth early on. And again, there’s scope to change. If someone points out where you are failing, you can learn, improve, become what you want to be. The person who wrongly believes they know it already is being denied all kinds of opportunities to really achieve.

There are the lies of convenience. Most people, when they ask how you are, want a short, reassuring answer. It can be tempting to give that. I spent years lying to everyone around me, by saying  ‘a bit tired’ ‘just a bit under the weather’ when I visibly wasn’t ok, rather than saying what was going on. I did it to spare the people around me, and I did it to protect the person who was depriving me of sleep, undermining my self-esteem and abusing my body. Crazy. But like a lot of women in my situation, I didn’t want to face up to the implications of what was happening to me. Easier to blame myself, than the father of my child. Had I spoken the truth, someone could have pointed out to me that things were not ok. I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone thinking ill of my ex back then. And I also wondered if people would just agree with him, that it was my fault for being too demanding, too emotional, too… whatever it was that week.

When I started being honest about what had happened, I found warmth and support. I found versions of me that weren’t deemed useless, ridiculous, over reacting and unreasonable. I was told that the things I felt, wanted, needed, were the least a human should have. I wish I had dared to trust sooner.

One of the things I learned from this, is that if you consider yourself to be an honourable person and do not feel safe in being honest, it is time to question the situation you are in. It may not be Hitler at the door, but something external is quite probably awry. If you have a mindset that leans towards taking on responsibility, then it can be easy to internalise blame, to carry things that are not yours, and so forth. When honesty feels dangerous, there is serious work to do, somewhere.

The decision to lie should never been taken lightly. If it’s to avoid inconvenience, or for some other short term gain, it’s worth weighing up what the bigger picture looks like and what the ultimate cost might be. Difficult truth can be handled with tact and care. Mistakes need to be owned. And if it’s not safe to be honest, start thinking about an exit strategy.

For myself, I’d rather tell the truth as far as is humanly possible, come what may. But I do not currently have an attic, much less any Jewish girls depending on me for their lives. In that scenario, you can bet I’d be lying my ass off.


Ethical Revenge

There’s nothing like someone else acting in a shoddy way and messing you about to make a person want to get their own back. A little poetic justice is a natural enough thing to want, or some chance to even the score, get one over… The worse the treatment, the pain or humiliation inflicted, the more intense the desire to backlash may be.

It’s a circumstance where the innate response and the honourable one don’t always sit well together. What I might want to do, and what I would be comfortable with having done, are seldom the same. I know people who will lash out in anger and who feel that being angry entitles them to lash out in whatever way they please. In terms of people I would like to get even with, these represent some of the cases most on my mind at present. But if I do the same thing, lash out in anger and frustration, I’m replicating their behaviour, I’m reinforcing it as acceptable. I am no better than them. So where does that leave me?

What I want to offer today is a concept I have stolen from my other half, Tom. It’s a beautiful, ethical, responsible model for revenge that can be fine tuned to fit any circumstances. The gist of it: I will have my revenge by being better than them.

More often than not the person dishing it out doesn’t notice if you’re being a far more decent human being than they are. Part of what motivates the desire to settle scores, is the desire to have the other person recognise that they have wronged you and deserve their punishment. In the short term, being a better person is unlikely to deliver this. What it does give, with absolute reliability, is the smug satisfaction that comes from knowing you did the right thing. Calmly walking away rather than shouting back. Doing what you were supposed to do despite the trouble you are given. It’s the kind of response that won’t give you sleepless nights.

Now, let’s go on to imagine that other people are aware of what’s happening. Party 1 has behaved badly, party 2, despite this, has persisted in behaving well. You don’t have to ask people to take sides in that kind of scenario. You don’t even have to mention what’s going on. Actions speak for themselves. If how others see you is important to you, then recognition that you act well even when under attack, is a prize worth having. The measure of your attacker will stay with them. There can be consequences to this, and they can be far reaching, and they can include other people making it clear to the one who wronged you, that they are indeed out of order. A little justice can sometimes then ensue. And even if it doesn’t, you’ve still got room to imagine it. Sometimes the idea of justice is the closest we can get to the actuality of it.

By behaving well under attack, there is always the possibility that the person giving you a hard time will be shamed and/or inspired into doing better themselves, which is a win for you.

Most of us who have dared to even inch off the beaten track will at some point very likely encounter ridicule and derision. Pagans and creative people alike get a lot of unpleasantness from people who see no value in our dreams and aspirations. Of course we can’t be full time druids, or authors, of course we will never find publishers or success. The best route to revenge here, is to prove them wrong. Stick to your values, your dream, and prove that you can make it work. Your success will speak for itself.

Last but by no means least, be happy. Enjoy your life, take pride in yourself, know your own worth and smile a lot. If you encounter people who are determined to put you down and give you a hard time, you can be sure that the one thing they most want to see is you laid low. You are to be defeated, abject, at their mercy, grateful for any small thing they deign to bestow upon you. You are to prove them right. By undertaking to be happy, you deny them this, and if you want ethical revenge, your own refusal to be beaten, cowed or diminished is the best solution imaginable. This way, you can only win.


Druid Ethics

One of the responses to my Daily Devotions post raised the issue of being guided through the day by your ethics (thanks Bish for the prompt there!). What are druid ethics? Are they simply the ethics held by individual druids, or are there going to be values held in common? I’m tempted to say it’s usually going to be a bit of both. Perhaps the defining quality of druid ethics is that we collectively think we should be ethical, and we take individual responsibility for figuring out what that means, one moment to the next.

Where the common ground lies, is in the things we value. Environmental protection, peace, good relationship, community, beauty, truth, and justice are all things that druids prize. So ethical behaviour, is behaviour that supports those ideas and manifests them in the world. Where it gets complicated, is in how we understand ‘best’. A good example of this lies around food. Some druids are vegans because their ethical stance demands a life that does not feed upon the lives of animals. Some druids are vegetarians because that best reflects their ethics and beliefs. However, other druids prioritise local sourcing, or producing their own food in which case they may be omnivorous. It can be argued that mixed farming is more sustainable than only growing plants. In England, we have moors and meadows that have evolved alongside thousands of years of animal husbandry. To step away from that would be to damage a whole eco system. There are no simple, clear, right answers. There are however plenty of answers we can agree on – food waste is abominable. Over packaging is not a good thing. We should not be paying slave wages to producers in developing countries. Artisan foodmakers are preferable to big factories turning out insipid and banal edible foodstuffs. Whatever our precise ethics, the druidry underpinning it will push us towards trying to find sustainable, fair, healthy, creative ways of feeding ourselves and our tribes.

We can apply the same ideas to any aspect of our lives. How we shop, how we travel, how we speak to those around us, how express our emotions, what we expect of others, how we run our households, raise our children, interact with our neighbours. Every moment is an opportunity to explore and express our ethics. Which calls for high levels of awareness. For me the most interesting issues arise around conflict and error. When everything runs smoothly, it’s easy to express your ethical intentions. But what happens when you misjudge? Or when your strongly held ethical convictions do not sit at all well with the strongly held ethical position of the next druid (that food example being a classic). You can be passionate without being a fundamentalist. You can argue and discuss without attacking another person. If we are serious about peace as an ideal, then what we do around our other beliefs must be guided by this at all times.

For me, what enables this most, is doubt. Of all the values I hold as a druid, doubt is perhaps the one that serves me best. I am never oversure about anything. I do not believe I have any kind of monopoly on truth, or wisdom. I know what my own experiences have taught me, but I don’t imagine that will all hold true for all people in all situations. There’s always the possibility for something else. I hold my doubt very closely. And with it, I am open to hearing what other people think. I am willing to be proved wrong, to be talked round, or shown a different perspective. That doesn’t mean my position is infinitely malleable or that I have no opinions of my own. More that I recognise everything I hold as opinion. I’m conscious that this century’s indisputable ‘fact’ is next century’s laughable mistake. I do what I can from the position of what I know, very aware that I can be wrong, and that situations change, and that nothing is certain. Most ethical positions seem to be based on a certainty of knowing what is best, not only for yourself, but for everything else. The more work I do with my own doubt, the more I appreciate what it has to teach me. I can’t say it’s the best way of exploring, but at the moment I think it’s a very powerful tool to have in your hands.