Thursday Keynote – WPC-14 (April 11, 2013)

I’ve been meaning to post my notes from the WPC-14 conference for a while now, but I keep forgetting. I figure they’re decent, pre-typed up entries to toss up on the blog during this push through to finals week. So here’s my notes on Paul Gorski’s keynote speech from the WPC-14.


Notes & Copyright

Keynote: Hypocrisy and the Perpetuation of Systemic Macro-aggressions

Speaker: Paul Gorski

Introductory speaker: Talking about checking attitude, showing love and grace, and trying something new. Don’t be angry if a workshop is full and you end up missing it. Look for another workshop, be flexible. Says he was going to give announcements, but sees they are all in the program. Adds that sometimes in workshops, people will “show out”.

[Personal Note: The term seems to mean act inappropriately; to say or do something that is sexist/ racist/ classist or otherwise out of line]

If someone “shows out”, even if it’s the presenter, they need to be challenged on their actions or words, and we need to do that. Then he acknowledged the high school kids and invited them to an open mic later that evening on the rooftop. Cracked a joke about how he used to not be allowed into the building, and now he’s invited to the Penthouse. Then he introduced Paul Gorski, ran through his credentials/ achievements, and invited him onto the stage.

[Personal Note: Dr. Paul Gorski is super cute and young. That was unexpected.]

Dr. Gorski asked for a round of applause to thank those who have made this conference possible. Then he gave a shout out to the hotel employees who have helped make all this possible and are probably not being paid a living wage, and that we need to remember that and acknowledge the people who are so often invisible to us.

[Personal Note: If I was a hotel employee, I would feel so embarrassed and singled out right now. That comment really felt like more of a self-satisfied pat on the back than an actual awareness and consideration of their feelings.]

Gorski: I am a hypocrite. When I was invited as keynote speak, I spent weeks agonizing about what to talk about. Education? Marginalized communities? Others who are involved — educators, advocates, etc. etc. are better suited.

[Personal Note: It’s a little unsettling how self-congratulatory he sounds every time he says he is a hypocrite. Instead of appearing upset or suprised/ confused by this, he just sounds . . . . satisfied? As though he thinks it is a true-false thing. Like he has somehow drawn the teeth and poison of this perceived moral failing by recognizing it, naming it, announcing it, expressing regret, and then naming the behavior in others.]

Then he thought about talking about the way in which he personally perpetuates systemic racism, and that led to him thinking about how the process of learning about racism is an ongoing thing. There are progressive kicks in the ass, from the initial discovery of the individual/ personal relationship to racism to the institutional perpetuation of racism to the global and systemic perpetuation of racism. His most recent kick in the ass occurred because of three events.

  1. The International Multicultural Institute recently released their 2012 list of Diversity Awards. Among the companies listed was Sodexo.

[Personal Note: I don’t recognize that name, but they are clearly famous — or infamous — by the collective indrawn breath and shocked mutterings that cascade through the room at this information.]

Dr. Gorski did some research and discovered that Sodexo has won many diversity awards over the years, despite their various and frequent human rights violations. Apparently the CEO board is very diverse and they play well together, which is all that seems to matter. He also discovered in his research that Sodexo is involved with social justice programs much like this one, conferences that look at diversity and racial inequality. Sodexo has, in fact, funded and sponsored such conferences, and payments from these conferences in turn go to Sodexo and fund their company and continued mistreatment and underpayment of workers.

  1. Acknowledging the trivial, which is Gorski’s introduction to animal rights issues.

He gives a little “intro to cosmetics” and claims that if a product does not say it is cruelty free or not tested on animals on it, then it WAS tested on animals. He shows slides of animal testing and torture to illustrate his point. He tells the audience to get out any personal bottles of hand sanitizer or lotion they many have, and says if it does not say cruelty free or not tested on animals, then that lotion/ sanitizer was rubbed into some animal’s eyes before it was approved for final use.

[Personal Note: This information is both hyperbolic and false. I have several makeup powders and glosses made by a small 2-person company called Shiro Cosmetics. They are mixed by hand in her home and sold through her website. The website is marked as cruelty free, vegan-friendly and paraben-free, but the products are not.

I also have several lotions and body mists from The Body Shop. Again, the products are not individually marked as cruelty free, but the website is. The Body Shop does no animal testing and packages all their products in environmentally friendly materials. They are also paraben-free and vegan friendly.

I also have some Neutrogena and Aveeno items, parent company Johnson & Johnson. The individual product labeling does not indicate whether or not they are tested on animals, so I googled them. Johnson & Johnson is named on PETA’s website as an evil animal experimenter, but a perusal of Johnson & Johnson’s own website and policies reveals that neither Johnson & Johnson nor any of their subsidiary companies use animal testing on any of the cosmetic or personal care products. They also state that they abide by the sanctions and requirements of the EU regarding animal testing. I attribute the PETA hate to a line of legalese that indicates they will do animal testing for such products the law requires them to. Offhand, given Johnson & Johnson’s vast array of products, I’d guess there may be some laws requiring them to test things like medication or formula.

So Paul Gorski is using unnecessary fear mongering and emotionally charged images to manipulate his audience and drive home his point.]

Animals are tortured to satisfy our trivial cravings for hamburgers, fur and leather clothing, and personal care products. We deprive animals of vital needs to satisfy our trivial needs.

[Personal Note: I agree with the basic premise, but feel he is being hyperbolic and manipulative in trying to make his point, which ultimately undermines his credibility and argument. I also have a personal nitpick with his usage of the term “needs” in reference to why we are exploiting animals. These are not needs, they are wants. There is a difference. Henceforth, I will change any reference to human trivial “needs” as a reference to trivial wants.]

  1. He realized he supports corporations that exploit workers and the environment.

He talked about industries and corporations that destroy communities with clear cutting, environmental devastation, pollution, runoff, etc. etc. Says often the only jobs left to work in these communities are for the corporation that is destroying the community — or to leave and join the army. The members of the community have two options: Join the army, with all that entails; or become part of the machinery destroying their community. He says when we buy from major corporations and support industrial giants, we are contributing to these and other human rights violations.

Then back to the self-satisfied hypocrite announcement. “I am a hypocrite,” he reiterates, and begins explaining how he realized that his consumer habits perpetuate the global exploitation of other’s vital needs.

[Personal Note: I cannot believe this is a revelation to him. I simply cannot. This is the most baffling speech I’ve heard come out of the mouth of a college-educated adult. It’s even more baffling because he was introduced and has been lauded throughout the day as this incredible expert on social justice and activism, and he’s sitting here claiming he’s only recently realized the way corporations and industries perpetuate discrimination and environmental devastation on a global scale? And people are clapping and responding as though this is a revelation? This is either a giant circle-jerk with everyone congratulating themselves for their self-awareness or it is the saddest and most revealing insight into the “educated” minds of the leaders of the progressive movement that I will ever have.]

Then he begins talking about terms we’re familiar with and his spin on these terms regarding this corporate/ industrial perpetuation of global human/ animal/ environmental rights violations.

  • Familiar Term: Intersectionality. A popular but poorly applied concept.
  • His spin: Uber-intersectionality, which he says ties together in a corporate capitalist context the human rights violations, animal injustice, and environmental devastation.

 Then he added a quick caveat stating that he’s not in any way making a direct comparison of which is worse, human rights violations or animal testing, but he does want to clarify that all three of these issues are part of an overall cycle of violence and corporate greed. He also points out that historically, animal testing has also been applied to races considered inferior. An example would be the infamous Tuskagee Syphilis Trials, which were justified because the experimenters saw those populations as subhuman and not worthy of consideration or rights — like animal testing today. Any industry that exploits animals and the environment will also be culpable of human rights violations.

[Personal Note: He makes a really salient comparison with the rationale behind animal testing and the Tuskagee trials. Also I find it kind of amusing that he’s so quick to preemptively try to defuse or rebut potential arguments against his inclusion of animal testing — is this a hot-button debate in the community?]

  • Familiar Term: Microaggressions.
  • His spin: Macroaggressions, which he defines as the not necessarily purposeful participation in the global system of oppression. Gives examples:
    • Someone wanting or purchasing wood furniture usually doesn’t consider the clear cutting and community devastation that occurs so that furniture can be made.
    • Someone who is hungry and stops at KFC will not be thinking of the human rights violations perpetuated in the raising and harvesting of the food, or of the animal torture endemic in factory farming.

 He says he has perpetuated and participated in these systems, and has therefore perpetuated and participated in global human rights violations and endemic sexism, racism, and classism. He is part of the problem.

[Personal Note: There’s the admission and repentence. Now comes the finger-pointing.]

White liberals see themselves as super progressive, but refuse to acknowledge the ways they benefit from and perpetuate these macroaggressions.

[Personal Note: I am amused that he singles out white liberals, as though we’re the only ones who can be guilty of having both the means of perpetuating the systems, and the education to be aware of our complicity in the system and associated guilt. It seems to have unconscious tones of both classism and racism to it.]

As examples of his consumerist hypocrisy, he cites examples of eating at McDonalds, enjoying coke with lime, and wearing Nike shoes. These are all consumer habits that perpetuate macroaggressions.

[Personal Note: Despite my issues with his presentation of his argument and the somewhat classist/elitism assumptions reeking through his language, I begin assessing my own consumer habits to see where I can improve the world in my own small way. I think the most effective choices for me would be to stop shopping at Amazon once and for all, to switch from bottled water to a reusable water bottle, and to change my meat-eating habits by both eating less and by purchasing certified free-range meat.]

He talked about the conditions of animals in factory farms: Birth to death in a cage, fed foods that are unnatural to them in order to increase growth, and how at birth, male chicks are separated from the females and tossed live into wood chippers. He also says eating meat at every meal is a new phenomenon that was created and marketed by the meat industries.

[Personal Note: I knew that. I knew everything in that paragraph, including the change in our meal habits. I’m finding it really disturbing that this is apparently not common knowledge.]

He tells us that workers at factory farms are paid well below a living wage, not provided health insurance, and denied both safe working conditions or protective gear. Because so many of the employees are illegal immigrants or brought up on a visa, the working conditions and safety violations go unreported. Even in predominantly white communities, factory farm workers are minorities, migrants, and immigrants.

These minority workers are exploited by their employers. They are threatened into silence through their fear of deportation. They cannot report violations — there is little to no government protection for them, they are often unaware of what protections they might have, and they fear the loss of a much-needed livelihood.

In Brazil and third world countries who provide much of the world’s exploited labor force, the farmers will use debt labor. They employed armed guards and local militia to intimidate workers and prevent them from leaving. Child labor is rampant on factory farms. It is also common for the guards and employers to rape women and children employed on the farms.

[Personal Note: I don’t know if I’m in a particularly bitchy mood or what, but I am having a really hard time trying to wrap my head around this speech. I mean, clearly, he’s trying to educate the audience on the necessity of changing their consumer habits, but he’s stating information I seriously thought was common knowledge; information I had assumed people generally choose to ignore their awareness of because the discomfort of the knowledge interferes with their psychological welfare in their day-to-day lives.

His presentation of this information, however — the depth and detail he goes into in describing it — indicates that he does not have reason to believe the animal rights violations are common knowledge.

Earlier referred to a company, Sodexo, but didn’t expand or explain what the company produces or who it’s subsidiaries are, or what human rights violations they’ve been accused of. He assumed that information was a known quantity, and did not expand on it.

In contrast, he explains the animal rights violations, environmental impact, and human rights violations of factory farms in detail. He names the working conditions and safety violations. He specifies the substandard wages and clarifies that the workers are denied legal protections or recourse. He carefully outlines each of these facts in detail, with the apparent assumption that the audience is unaware of these facts.

This means one of two things: One, the speaker was previously unaware of these facts and is sharing new and horrifying information under the assumption the general population is also unaware, or Two, the speaker knows the audience does not possess this knowledge and is genuinely imparting new information to them.

Since I am sitting in this room of educated white-collar professionals who are attending a conference about social justice and activism, it is reasonable to assume that one or both of those choices are accurate. It’s just really hard to wrap my mind around.]

At this point, he reassures the audience that he knows they do not intend these consequences, and do not realize when they say things like, “I could kill for a cheeseburger,” it could very well be literal. He says it is not about intent, but about the effect. Then he continues moves on to the environmental impact of factory farms.

Factory farms contaminate soil and water, cause environmentally devastating soil runoff that damages and/or permanently alters local ecosystems. This impacts the health and life expectantly of nearby poor and rural communities. Studies have shown that the spread of factory farming is harming the poorest communities; those with the least resources and abilities to deal with the devastation.

Factory farming also contributes to worldwide food and water shortages. Factory farms use 40% of the world’s grain supply and 15% of the world’s distilled clean water — just to feed livestock. Factory farming is the leading factor in human-caused climate change.

All these issues are traced to factory farming, and most strongly effect the poorest people around the world.

[Personal Note: I like steak as much as anyone. I don’t particularly like poultry. I read an article recently that mentioned the chicken of today is different in flavor and texture from the chicken of yesteryear, due to the changes in the way we raise and feed them. Apparently a happy chicken is a tasty chicken, so if you want yummy and flavorful poultry, you need to raise your own chickens and kill them at the peak of their life. I am actually thinking about doing exactly this, for all the issues stated in regards to factory farming. I am unsure if my landlord would let me.

Steak I do enjoy. I don’t buy free-range steak, but the last time I purchased steak to cook at home was in the summer of 2012. I plan on buying free-range steak the next time I purchase steak at the grocery store. I don’t particularly enjoy hamburgers or cheeseburgers, and the rare times I eat them is at a restaurant. In that regard, I could do better.

There is a difference, apparently, in the texture and flavor of free range steak. The steak sold today has been fattened on corn subsidies and grain, which is not what cows have evolved to digest. Cows are supposed to graze on grass; that’s how they’ve evolved. When we feed cows corn subsidies and grain, it fattens them up more quickly, increases the fat (and marbling) and (apparently) changes the flavor of the meat to something more bland and generic. Further, since cows have a hard time digesting the corns and grains being fed them, they fart more. Cows fart methane, and the vastly increased amounts of methane created by the practice of feeding factory farmed cows with corn subsidies and grain is what makes them the number one factor in climate change.

We do not purchase our meat sustainably at this point, partly because we just don’t eat much meat — maybe two meals a week feature meat. In the summer, John fishes and we all go crabbing and clamming as a family, gathering the majority of our protein from the Puget Sound. I’m pretty sure that’s a sustainable, eco-friendly, and non-exploitative practice. My son might disagree about the non-exploitative.

I guess my overall reaction to this portion of the talk is that we’re aware of the problems, now does he have any solutions and suggestions to address it?]

Next on the list of bad consumer habits is soda pop. Soda is made to be addictive. It is nutrient-less and pumped full of harmful chemicals. Soda pop companies prey on youth, poor communities, and people of color with targeted advertising.

[Personal Note: I hate soda pop. I dislike the flavor, texture, and sensation of it. I have for years. This is apparently an odd dislike to have in our culture, so I’ve frequently found myself having to explain my personal distaste for soda pop over the years. I’m going to assume it’s because of that history that I’m aware of the negative health effects and predatory marketing practices of soda pop companies, and that this is an area I should not assume is common knowledge.]

Martin Luther King actually called for a boycott against Coca Cola shortly before his death, citing their discriminatory employment practices.

[Personal Note: I did not know this! I have learned something new!]

Coca Cola still practices discriminatory employment practices and other human rights violations today. The list of oppressions perpetuated by both Coca Cola and Pepsi include:

[Personal Note: I did know this.]

  • False imprisonment and enforced labor.
  • Use of paramilitary and military plantation guards.
  • Union busting.
  • Violence against workers.
  • Murder.
  • Torture.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Water privatization
  • Guards raping the women and children they are “guarding”
  • Use of prison labor in China
  • Child labor exploitation.
  • Predatory marketing targeted at poor, undernourished communities where the population lacks access to healthcare and water.

He says his love of a glass of coke with a wedge of lime is another example where his trivial wants have exploited and erased other’s vital needs. Next on the list: Bottled water!

[Personal Note: This is an area where my trivial want for convenience definitely trumps the vital needs of the world. I tend to justify my continued purchase of plastic bottles by recycling them and reminding myself that I am purchasing bottles that are made of recycled plastic . . . but it’s a poor excuse.]

People in the US drink more bottled water than in any other country. 17 million barrels of crude oil are used annually to make these plastic bottles. There are over 1500 million plastic bottles in landfills and oceans. Landfills are usually located in low income minority communities, which means the impact of plastic bottles in landfills is not seen in wealthy white communities.

[Personal Note: This is a result, I think, of what John calls the NIMBY effect: “Yes, I want clean air and reusable energy! But don’t put those windmills near my house,” or, “Yes, I want the convenience and ease of bottled water, but don’t but the landfill near my house.” It’s the not-in-my-backyard. Please provide the results, but do it in such a way that I am not aware of any except the exact results I desire.]

And onto Nike. Converse is owned by Nike.

[Personal Note: Okay, that one I did not know. Damn it.]

Nike is also guilty of various and repeated human rights violations.

[Personal Note: I did know that. Hence the “damn it.”]

I think the speech has probably been going a little long, because he doesn’t go into a detailed list of Nike’s human, animal, and environmental rights violations. He skips onto the language of consumerism, which casts wants as needs:

  • I need an iPhone 4 to replace my old iPhone 3.
  • I am dying for a coke.
  • I have got to have those new Nikes!
  • I would kill for a steak right now!

Nike’s list of human labor violations is as long as Coca Cola’s.

[Personal Note: Oh, I guess he will go into it.]

Nike has been found using child labor in India and Indonesian sweatshop labor. The blamed the contractors, stating that Nike does not have any oversight of contractor activities — bullshit.

Nike has also utilized Indonesian paramilitary to intimidate workers. The runoff from Nike’s factories is ruining the surrounding ecosystems. Nike regularly practices discriminatory employment policies and health violations abound in their factories and warehouses.

Then he puts up a list of clothing brands/ corporations who are also guilty of the aforementioned human rights violations and environmental impact. A partial list is below.

Abercrombie and Fitch; Adidas; Ann Taylor; Banana Republic; Billabong; Calvin Klein; Champion; Columbia; Dickies; Express; Fila; GAP; Jansport; JC Penney’s; Lands End; Levi’s; Macy’s; Nautica; Nordstrom; Old Navy.

[Personal Note: You know what all these stores have in common? I don’t shop there. Ba-da-ba -tsssh! I kid. I shop at Old Navy for my son’s jeans when they do their $5 jeans Back to School sale. Otherwise, I actually don’t shop at any of these stores, because I don’t like shoddily made clothing steeped in the tears and blood of exploitation. Clearly, well-constructed clothing steeped in the tears and blood of exploitation would be a different matter . . . I kid, I kid.]

Consumerist society perpetuates and preserves endemic systems of oppression. He then promotes veganism.

[Personal Note: I hate the missionary zeal of the newly-converted vegan. Look, buddy, I’m glad you like being vegan and I’m glad it works for you as an answer to the issues presented by factory farming, but it’s not actually an answer. Imagine, for a moment, that the entire world did go vegan. Would the environmental devastation and human rights violations cease? No. Because (surprise surprise), crops can damage the earth and cause environmental runoff and devastation, too. Like animals, crops are a nature-based resource exploited by humans, and in the production of our resources we push all boundaries of moderation, common sense, and indeed, sanity. So a vegan world would not actually address this issue, it would just change some of the language of the conversation, from the unnatural feeding and housing of cows to the unnatural planting and fertilizing of crops. Further, how the hell would the human rights violations of workers stop? Somebody has to pick the damn plants, same as someone has to kill the damn cows!]

We call out racism, sexism, and discrimination on an individual level on Facebook and in society, but we find it inconvenient to stop perpetuating macroaggressive systems of complacent discrimination. Consumer culture itself is predicated on assumptions of access and wealth. Wealthy communities offer the option to “opt out” — to live vegan, to buy free range meat.

Poor communities are therefore exploited twice over. Not only are they exploited by having to produce these systems, but they are then exploited by the intense and targeted predatory marketing to their communities which forces them to participate in the ongoing cycle of exploitation. This predatory marketing perpetuates a system that enforces the complicity of the exploited communities in their own exploitation both in the production and consumption of these items.

Then he asks us to be mindful and take stock of our personal participation in global macroagressions, to ask ourselves who was exploited so we could have this want.

[Personal Note: Okay. Clearly I had some issues with his presentation and the arguments he chose. At the same time, I do agree with his basic point, which is precisely why I have been slowly but surely altering my own consumer habits over the past several years.

Groceries and food: Eating less meat, purchasing from local stands and grocers when possible, patronizing local and sustainable restaurants to support the community, not buying unnecessary foods, reducing overall purchases of snacky-type foods and soda pop (John loves soda pop, and I haven’t been able to convince him to drop it completely), baking and preparing our snack items when possible, and harvesting our own seafood.

Clothing and shoes: The bulk of our clothing purchases are second-hand items through thrift stores and consignment shops. A very small percentage of items are “investment” items — well-constructed clothing sold at a locally owned and operated shop that has a seamstress or tailor on site for alterations. The shoe situation is a little different. I am trying (and thus far, failing) to find a company that makes sewn-sole shoes and boots that are both fashionable and well-constructed. Once I find the damn company, I’m going to buy myself a pair of boots — don’t care about the cost! — that will last longer than 6 months. When they finally do start to wear out, I am going to take those boots to the shoe repair shop and have them repaired and then I am going to keep wearing them. And once I find this damn company, I will also buy boots/ shoes for my husband, because I am sick of paying out the wazoo for shoes and boots that are so poorly constructed they just fall apart after only 6 months of wear. IT IS NOT RIGHT.

Household Items and Electronics: Before I buy, I determine whether it’s a want or a need. I research the hell out of the brands to determine which one is of the highest quality and will be “for life,” the sort of quality product I can use to the end of my life and maybe even pass onto my children. I also try to look at the company’s treatment of workers, the environmental impact of the product, the expected life span, and a variety of other factors. We often choose to purchase household items used from garage and estate sales, thrift stores, and auctions.

Makeup and Personal Items: As noted earlier, I purchase all cruelty-free and environmentally sustainable makeup and personal care items. I also try to support small businesses when I can.

Worst habits: As stated earlier, my worst and most shameful consumer habits are centered around my desire for convenience. I purchase stuff off Amazon, I use bottled water, and since I started working, I’ve gotten in the habit of purchasing pre-packed quick-cook meals. These are the specific consumerist habits I have that place my want for convenience above the vital needs of others. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to address these without sacrificing too much convenience, and think I’ve come up with some solutions to implement — no thanks to this talk.

My biggest issue with this talk is not his language or vegan missionary-ism or hypocrisy. My biggest issue with this talk was the complete lack of suggested solutions, aside from “go vegan and stop buying stuff from bad companies.” It was a solution so generic and useless as to be laughable. Grrr.]


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