Ethics and consumerism in postmodern South Africa

2015-06-04 13:48

How does one argue facts against morals? Who decides what can be deemed moral and immoral? Society’s conflicting nature of what's considered 'moral' is the foundation of most debates from veganism, feminism, racism and Nkandla. The complete removal of greed and the mistreatment of the “other” by so called societal “superiors”, threatens to destroy the constructs upon which our modern civilisation depends on; slavery and exploitation.

Greed: a trait visible in all animals. Stemming from our instincts of survival and self-enhancement; has propelled our growth to the top of the food chain. Due to our sophisticated systems thinking of exploiting raw materials and “adding value”, our homes, clothing, essentially everything we own is made from some kind of abuse of the earth, its animals and people. However, modern civilisation no longer associates these “hunter-gatherer” items, such as “food”, with predation and instinct. Instead, food is associated with supermarkets and brand names and the realities of human existence seem to have gotten lost over the generations. The thought of murdering innocent animals is now repulsive and any form of slaughter in our modern evolution is frowned upon. This led society to the veganism debate.

Veganism and Nkandla are proof of society’s faltering nonobjective stance in determining right from wrong. Zuma made a ‘personal choice’ to exploit taxpayers and build his lavish home, just like non-vegans make a personal choice to exploit innocent animals. Individual justification is the strongest form of societal rebellion. Attacking Jacob Zuma, and his counterparts, for engaging in greedy behaviour, which we are all accustomed too, is not really solving the underlying issue. Similar to society re-evaluating the extent of animal murder in our modern civilisation, to what extent is luxury consumerism frowned upon in South Africa? Is it ok for us to buy that luxury sports car, shoes, holiday home in spite of the origins of our wealth whilst, millions of others attempt to compete unfairly. Or is it just Nkandla that bothers us? How passionately are we willing to fight against corruption and poverty without acknowledging our own individual lack of action?

After the 2008 economic crisis that shook the Western world, greed was the centre of the collapse. The selfishness of just a few men propelled them to gamble away the livelihoods of millions of innocent workers, for personal monetary gain. Despite the absurdity that erupted, the punishment was mediocre. Hence, the moral code implied to greed is; as long as you are able to justify it to yourself, you are entitled. Isn’t this the nonchalant attitude to justice our courts apply? Hence, it can also be applied to Nkandla, where Zuma may feel he has worked hard enough to deserve the luxury while, we may feel his decision is horrific amidst the dire poverty he was elected to relinquish. However, what really determines ‘hard work’ and ‘entitlement’?

Consider, a domestic worker, with limited education and resources. She leaves her family behind to look after your children and clean your home. She uses the few Rands she makes in hopes of improving the lives of her children. Or the 15 year old boy, who had to drop out of his government school to find work to support his family after his father had died. His dreams of being a lawyer or football star suppressed to the back of his mind forever. Are they not hard working enough to be regard as entitled?

Money was invented to curb this problem. By attaching a numerical value to goods and services, only those who work hard and are ‘deserving’ will reap the benefits. However, in our modern society; teachers, cleaners, miners, are valued at working the least hard while, politicians, accountants and lawyers are valued in the millions. Greed in the Western context is different, due to the higher quality health care, education and organizations. Poverty in a Western context and poverty in an African context are unparalleled. Yet, a glance at Nkandla, or the lifestyles of South Africans portrayed on Top Billing or Vuzu Rich Kids, or even yourself, will exhibit greed that may be deemed unacceptable to someone else’s standards.

In our modern society we accept child slavery for the making of brand name clothing and chocolate as moral. We accept that industrialisation and profit maximization in the food industry is the cause for heinous, unnecessary animal cruelty. We accept the exploitation of minimum wage workers from multinational CEOs. In a society like this, how can we not accept Nkandla? Where human rights and ethics are only considered a sub-section of our societal system, organizations and wealthy individuals are able to manipulate our rights for selfish gain.

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