Drop #42: Corruption

I sat on a concrete bench in the park with my lunch. People were all around. I ignored most of them as I ate, but started following the conversation of two nearby:

‘It goes for just about anything in life,’ she said. ‘If you look into it you see it’s corrupted. You’ll soon notice there’s something nasty going on.’

‘With everything?’ he asked, concerned.

‘Just about. Politics, sports, development, tourism. Everything hides a nasty little secret, and most of the stuff we do is at someone or something’s expense. Go ahead, name anything – I bet it’s doing harm.’

He thought for a while, actually putting a finger to his chin. ‘What about couches?’

‘Good one. Well, this won’t apply to all couches but most are made of leather, which is cow skin, so you’ve already killed a cow, and probably in a ghastly way. Then the skin has to be treated with all sorts of nasty chemicals which end up in the sky and in rivers, killing other animals and polluting drinking water.’

‘That’s horrible!’

‘I know.’

‘What if the couch isn’t made of leather?’

‘Well, that’s good for the cow, but I don’t know how much better it ultimately is. You’re probably using some other material made in a factory that likely uses coal or another unclean energy source that again pollutes the air terribly, and that factory is probably in some poor country where workers work in awful conditions for very little money. Then you have to ship the finished furniture off all over the world, using huge amounts of oil, which drives up the demand for and dependence on it. That’s the case for most manufactured things.’

‘At least the cows don’t die,’ he said feebly. ‘But I guess hamburgers are pretty bad then, right, and hot dogs too?’

‘Are you kidding?  Hot dogs are made of all the leftover bits of animal: hoofs, ground down bones, noses and horns. And they’re processed with all sorts of nasty byproducts. Lets just move on past all meat, shall we? It’s just too easy.’

‘But milk isn’t bad, is it? Nothing is killed.’

‘Milk is awful. Cheese too. They don’t treat the cows any better, you know. They keep them in tiny little indoor pens so they can hardly move, attached to all sorts of tubes and machines that suck them dry. They feed them on bits of other animals, and inject them with hormones so they produce more milk. They essentially keep them pregnant but take their babies away to get slaughtered. And you know what’s even worse? Dairy farming is completely unsustainable. It uses enormous quantities of natural resources, and creates massive amounts of chemical waste, and green house gasses, like methane.’

‘Does that mean ice cream is also awful?’ he asked sadly.

‘Ice cream is delicious, but what they do to get it is appalling.’

‘So, I guess chickens get a rough deal too.’

‘Sure. All farm animals do. They aren’t considered to be living things. Chickens are de-beaked, stuffed in tiny cages and never see the light of day. They live only to fill the pot and pop out eggs.’

‘So eggs are also bad?’

‘The way we treat chickens to get their eggs is a nasty thing indeed.’

‘But vegetables must be OK. You’re not killing anything when you eat vegetables.’

‘Sure, but agriculture uses most of the world’s water supply, which is running out, mind you, and most of its land too, cutting down forests, and damning up rivers in the process. It is responsible for habitat loss on such a massive scale that they project a quarter of the world’s animals to go extinct within the next twenty years. Then, you have the rampant use of pesticides, which are not only bad for you, but run off into rivers and eventually the sea. Who knows how much damage has been done by the time that piece of broccoli gets on your plate?’

‘I don’t know what I’m going to eat anymore!’ he said fiddling with one of his jacket’s buttons.

‘So forget food; let’s talk about something else?’

‘What about clothes? Are they also like couches?’

‘In a way. Most clothes are made in sweatshops so they can be manufactured cheaply and sold at a profit. Often, children as young as four or five work twenty hour days without a break for something silly like two dollars a month. This happens in all industries, especially in developing countries, but it’s not like the developed countries are innocent. They are the ones outsourcing their work to these places, so they are the ones sanctioning it. Anyway, whatever the product—coffee, computers, toys—someone is taking advantage of someone else; in fact, a small minority is taking advantage of everyone else. The people who do most of the work see the least of the benefit. As I said before, they work incredibly hard, in miserable conditions, with no medical insurance or safety net, and some asshole in an office in Los Angeles, or London, or Abu Dhabi makes millions without lifting a finger. And the sad thing is: by buying and using these products, you are supporting this system. You are keeping it going and strengthening it. We are all complicit. We are all guilty.’

I had finished my lunch by now and decided to stop listening and move on. The conversation had left me feeling uncomfortable. Thing is: the woman was in her forties but the boy couldn’t have been older than twelve, and I thought it a terrible shame that he should have to acknowledge all these facts at such a young age. One needs a time in one’s life to live in ignorance, without the terrible weight of knowledge and its responsibility – to be free in a flawed world without awareness of its flaws. I don’t know what I would have done without my enthusiastic, ignorant years and this woman had robbed the boy of his, when he’d just be starting to find his identity and develop his tastes. The world is surely corrupt, yes, but I felt this a terrible corruption too.

 By EM Vireo

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About EM Vireo
flooding the world with fiction

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