Friday, August 08, 2014

When True Simplicity Is Gained, part 5: Humble Stumble

The Seeds of War

“May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions, or not.”

That’s another thing that John Woolman said. I mean, gimme a break, John. Between him and Jesus I get a lot of challenges to my bad behavior. Woolman wrote this in his “A Plea for the Poor.” Didn’t Jesus already make a plea or two for the poor? (Of course, he also said we’d always have poor with us, in a way that seems a little dismissive.) But, Woolman, really, how could the seeds of war find food in the things I own – my clothes, my furniture, my cell phone? My cell phone?! You’re kiddin’ me!

Nope. Turns out the seeds of war are in there, indeed. Yeah, I knew my iPhone was made in China – probably under conditions that Woolman (or even my ownbadself) would not approve. But there’s something in my phone (and your phone and every other electronic device you use). It’s called coltan.

Never heard of it, eh? Neither had I, until recently. Coltan is short for columbite–tantalite and is used in tantalum capacitor which allow our phones and other gadgets to get smaller and smaller. Coltan is mined in primitive, often slave-like, conditions, which is bad enough for those mining it. What’s worse is that in some of the places it’s mined are beset by by murder, rape, violence and abuse on an unimaginable scale in civil wars conducted in no small part by warlords who want to corner the market and make tons of money. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, aid groups estimate that over 5 million people have died since 1998, mostly from disease and malnutrition.

It is estimated that the DRC has 64% or more of the world’s supply of coltan – so the rapes, killings, enslavement are not going to get any better. All because I want a lighter, faster, smaller telephone/camera/gaming device/status checker gadget to carry around. One I didn’t even know I needed a few years ago.

Hmmm, I wonder what other seeds I’m unknowingly nourishing?

Now I didn’t tell you about coltan to guilt you into getting rid of your cellphone. Any more than I will get rid of mine. But I’m not going to try to justify having it because of all the work I do on it. Instead, it’s just to point out the wisdom of Woolman’s advice to look at what we own and see if it comes by ill-gotten means – even if we paid full retail.

How can we sow seeds of peace, instead of war, through what we buy. Some ways are obvious – purchasing fair trade goods is one way. Fair trade is a movement toward urging consumers to purchase goods produced by organizations and companies who help workers achieve a more balanced and fair lifestyle based on wages paid for goods made. It is also about sustainability. Fair trade sellers pay higher prices to exporters and produces (primarily in developing countries) for all sorts of things – foods, clothing, crafts, and so on.

Another way is to buy local. Chances are the stuff you buy at the local farmers’ market downtown (or the farmstand out in the country) is relatively war-seed free. Investing in socially responsible funds, for those of us who are doing 401’s etc is another way to avoids those seeds ... and the resulting sprouts.

Now I’ve got to go … my iPhone’s ringing.


Barb said...

sorta left in mid sentence....

Brent Bill said...

Yikes! Fixed... I think.

Barb said...


Yvette said...

I love fair trade!! Anything I need that is fair traded goes straIght into my shopping cart. The one thing I find frustrating is that I doubt my senators listen when I am displeased with how we deal with other countries. The Middle East mess and the Ukrainian mess are top examples of strange U.S. reaction politically.