Fair Trade Battles

At the end of 2011, Fair Trade USA resigned from its membership in FairTrade International (FLO).  Just last month, an advertisement in the Burlington Free Press (Vermont) made headlines.  Equal Exchange, the largest fair trade coffee company in the United States, urged Green Mountain Coffee to leave the Fair Trade USA network.  Business Week and others covered the conflict.

This incident represents growing division over how to best help the population that fair trade was intended to represent.  Perhaps the central reason for the split between Fair Trade USA and FLO was the decision  of Fair Trade USA to work with large plantations and estates (instead of the traditional small farmers and cooperatives). Is it better to work with large farms to promote fair wages for workers, even if the ideals of democratic governance and ownership of the product by producers (requirements of FLO) do not occur?

While not trying to simplify all of the issues involved with a decision to include large farms, one issue at stake concerns the relationships consumers and producers have within alternative markets.  My guess is that most of us do not know the people that bake the bread that we eat, sew the clothes that we wear, build the houses we inhabit, or assemble the components in our computers.  One of the initial aims of the fair trade network created in the early 1970s was to try and make the market more personal.  Consumers were connected with producers through more direct buying relationships; narratives of producers were highlighted as important to the products themselves. You can drink coffee and know under what conditions (and where) the beans were picked.

As someone who studies the intersection of religion and the economy, I’m particularly interested in the role of Christian actors in alternative trade movements.  Religious organizations were important to the formation of the first alternative trade network (following the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in 1968). Yet twenty years before that, the Mennonite Central Committee was involved in selling artisan goods produced in the global South to consumers in the global North, in a precursor to what was to become Ten Thousand Villages.

Christians are a relational people, both in terms of their interactions with the Divine, and their interactions with other women and men. Different traditions talk about these relationships differently, but most highlight the importance of these relationships.  For example, the Reformed tradition prioritizes the covenant among God’s people, while Catholics are more likely to rely upon concepts of solidarity and the common good.

This most recent disagreement between Fair Trade USA and FLO should cause us to think more critically about the relationships embedded within our economic transactions. I do not want to argue in this post for or against the decision of Fair Trade USA.  But for those of us who try to engage in ethical consumerism, what do we value?  Is the central goal higher wages for producers and workers?  Is it something more? How do we see ourselves in relationships with those producers, and what does it mean to have integrity in such interactions?

 

 

Liking the Quotes more than the Books

I read, for the first time, Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to my family the other day. Seemed like a better idea than yet another iteration of “International House Hunters” on the television. I’ve been a fan of Flannery O’Connor for a few years, but upon reflection my interest in her may be less literary than biographical. I think she lived an interesting, and unusual, life.

A year or two ago my former graduate school advisor sent around some of his favorite O’Connor quotes, many of which are fantastic, provocative, humorous, etc. (a few of which I repeat below).

But it struck me the other day as I was reading aloud what turned out to be a rather strange, dramatic, and grim story that I may in fact like Flannery for her numerous, witty retorts rather than for the content of her actual writing. As I grimly concluded “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” I found myself wanting to defend what I just read.

And I think it’s not just her. I find plenty of impressive quotations among authors whom I otherwise can’t seem to bear reading in their entirety. From The Confessions of Augustine to Plato’s Republic—two books I recently attempted, briefly, to read—I think I have “Classics envy.” I want to like that which I cannot seem to. There are some fine ones in Mere Christianity, but I found the book largely flat. Finally after 40 years, I’m actually making my way slowly through the Lord of the Rings, which—while not page-turners—can retain the attention span.

For an academic like me, this is all somewhat embarrassing to admit, not being attracted to the Classics and much great literature and all that. I want my kids to read them, and they indeed are reading more of them than I did at their age (or at any age, for that matter).

It’s not that I’m drawn to the NYT bestseller list, or to crime dramas. I haven’t read about hornets’ nests or wizardry, either. What do I read? Too much news, that’s for
sure. Classics envy, I tell ya.

So to conclude this dull blog day—next Monday will be more interesting, I promise—here are five nice Flannery quotes, though I can’t vouch for the totality of their originating sources:

“I’m blessed with Total Non-Retention, which means I have not been harmed by a sorry education.”

“On the subject of the feminist business, I just never think…of qualities which are specifically feminine or masculine. I suppose I divide people into two classes: the Irksome and the Non-Irksome without regard to sex. Yes and there are the Medium Irksome and the Rare Irksome.”

“Don’t let People and their Opinions affect you so much. I always count on a big percentage of Those Who Will Have None of It and do not let myself be concerned about remarks within that circle.”

“One of the effects of modern liberal Protestantism has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend upon feeling instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention…. I find it reasonable to believe [orthodox Christianity], even
though these beliefs are beyond reason.”

“My cousin’s husband who also teaches at Auburn came into the Church last week. He had been going to Mass with them but never showed any interest. We asked how he got interested and his answer was that the sermons were so horrible, he knew there must be something else there to make the people come.”

The Religious Non-Christian Diaspora

In my continuing research over Asian American diversity, one of the recurring issues is religious diversity. I blogged earlier that Asian Americans are the least Christian of all racial groups in the US. About 46% of those who are Asian American are either Protestant or Catholic according to multilingual surveys. So the other 54% are a combination of non-Christian religions and those who say they have “no religion” (which is a tricky issue when we talk to Asian Americans). Of the non-Christian religious adherents among Asian Americans, the biggest three are Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. There’s some debate over what percent of Buddhists are Asian (versus white) and what percentage of Muslims are Asian (should we count Middle Easterners as Asian or White?). But nevertheless where there are Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, there are likely Asian Americans.

One of the neat resources made available by the Association of Religion Data Archives are county-level maps of religious groups supplied by the Religious Congregations and Membership Study. And as of their data collection in 2010, we have enough data to map adherents of non-Christian faith traditions by county. I recently had a chance to study a few of these maps (which are all free and online by the way), and would like to share them with you here. This is a map of Hindu adherents according to 5 equal-sized groupings or quintiles. The Hindu-Asian connection is clearest since the vast majority of Hindus in the US are south Asian.  [Read more…]

Ritual and Routine in Everyday Life & Faith

Over the weekend I did my laundry, as is my custom, and it took my about 30 minutes of actual work—loading, advancing, and putting away. But, let’s say I wanted to do it 150 years ago; that would be a very different story. Most households set aside a full day for laundry, usually a Monday, and the poor person doing it (read: housewife) would spend the whole day soaking, pounding, rubbing, boiling, starching, rinsing, and drying clothes and linens. It involved all sorts of nasty chemicals (starting with lye) and manual tools—such as wooden paddles and dollys to manually spin clothes soaking in a tub. And, all of this assumes that they already had fetched the necessary water and made the soap. Why Mondays? Because the weekend usually left extra meat and other food to eat on Monday, so the housewife could focus on laundry without also having to cook. (Graphic description of laundry courtesy of Forgotten Household Crafts: A Portrait of the Way that We Once Lived, by John Seymour). It wasn’t just laundry, for just about every aspect of home life involved copious amounts of routine labor.

Life in earlier times required copious amounts of difficult, routine labor, and my first reaction to thinking about spending one whole day a week doing laundry is along the lines of “just shoot me now.” Anyone who complains about life today should spend, oh, 30 minutes back then, and they will come back and kiss the ground their Maytag washer and dryer rests upon.

Still, few things are all bad (or all good), and the routine lifestyle of the past had its benefits. It created a routine and rhythm to the day, the week, and the season. It also afforded the opportunity think things over and let the mind ruminate on things while the body is busy with manual activities. It also provided a context for ongoing interactions with family and friends, for you spent a lot of time doing things together in a small space. Given the great efficiencies provided by today’s technology, we have far less of imposed ritual and interaction (think big houses with computers, tvs, and fully-stocked refrigerators), and obviously we prefer it that way, or we wouldn’t buy all this stuff. Still, I find myself sometimes craving imposed routine.

Perhaps this reflects the downside of what I like so much about my job. As an academic, I am constantly learning new things, and I have a remarkable amount of autonomy in that I can study just about whatever I want. (My joke is that I chose to study sociology so that I wouldn’t have to make up my mind about what to study). The downside is that I am continuingly exposed—every single day—to things that I don’t know or haven’t done before. The more that I know, the more awareness I have of what I don’t know. When I read an article, I learn not only what that article has to say but also learn of dozens of articles cited by that article that I probably haven’t read. I can feel overwhelmed by all this information and novelty.

This may be why my hobbies tend toward the routine. I love cycling and its rhythmic nature—80 spins of the crank per minute for an hour or two or three. I also walk and hike—one foot in front of the other again and again—all the while thinking about ideas, experiences, and conversations that have occurred since the last ride or walk.

I also routinize my work. I try to write for four hours each morning, from Monday through Friday, and I like to write in the same place each day. I schedule research meetings on the same afternoon each week, and so forth. This superimposed routine is a safeguard against runaway and exhausting novelty.

Similar issues arise in how we do church. Some services have plenty of routine. When I was attending Catholic and Episcopal churches, you could stop them at a random point, and most the people in the audience could tell you what is supposed to happen next. This type of routine, called ritual in this context, frees the mind up to ponder the more mystical and abstract, though I suppose that too much of it could be tiresome. In contrast, a charismatic or evangelical service can be much more spontaneous. When I was attending a Vineyard church, the pastor would occasionally change direction completely mid-service. It could be exhilarating, but too much of it is disorienting. The community church that I attend now has a nice blend of routine and spontaneity, as is intentionally planned by our pastor.

A balance of the routine and novel seems important, both in our personal life, and in our faith.

Sexual Expectations and Realities in Marriage

Who out there thinks they’re having too much sex?

The answer appears to be: nearly no one (under age 40, that is). Analyses involving new nationally-representative data on 18-39-year-olds, results from which I’ve highlighted in previous blog posts, suggests that very few young adults in America think they themselves are oversexed. Respondents were asked, “Are you content with the amount of sex you are having?” To which 50 percent replied “yes,” 43 percent said, “no, I’d prefer more,” and only 3 percent said, “no, I’d prefer less.”

An additional 4 percent refused to answer the question, which admittedly might have struck some as being irrelevant to them or presumptive of their own sexual activity. (That happens sometimes in survey research, and in that case it makes sense to pass on the question.) Indeed, plenty of people in the dataset aren’t even in relationships; the question could strike them as odd, or not. So what about the ones that are in relationships? And even more specifically, what about the ones that are married?

Well, it turns out—of course—marriage doesn’t completely take care of the sex drive. As if I expected it to. (I’m trying not to make this blog post personal.) It turns out that 53 percent of married young Americans are quite content with their frequency of sex, while 43 percent wish for more and only 2.1 percent wish for less.

Given the historically-strong gender connection with sex drive, what do the numbers look like when we split them by male and female? Well, your grandmother probably could’ve predicted this one. About 61 percent of married women are content with the extent of bedroom activity they’re experiencing, compared with 44 percent of married men. It should be noted that only 7/10th of one percent of married men are complaining about too much sex. It’s just an uncommon gripe. More women than men, but only 3.3 percent total, voice such a concern. It turns out that 54 percent of married young men would appreciate more sex, but so would 34 percent of married young women.  Those are numbers worth noting. To be sure, life and busy-ness can get in the way—and marital problems will often either concern sex or become intertwined with it. But it’s notable that many married (18-39-year-old) men and women wish to be intimate with their spouse more often than they are. I guess that’s good, and certainly better than the other way around.

So far I’ve said nothing about this group’s reported actual sexual frequency, which varies widely:

— 19 percent reported no sex in the past two weeks

— 16 percent reported once in the past two weeks

— 16 percent said twice

— 13 percent said three times

— 10 percent said four

— 15 percent said 5-6

— 6 percent said 7-10 times

— 4 percent of married young adults reported 11 or more times in the past two weeks.

[Cue the irritation of some, and the blessed “Oh, I’m normal” response of others.]

To be sure, there’s a nearly linear association between the two variables:

— 91 percent of the (11+ timers) said “yes” when asked if they were content with the amount of sex they’re having. (The nerve of those other nine percent…!)

That number dips to 86 percent (among 7-10 timers), then 66 percent, 65 percent, 61, 40, 41, and down to 37 percent among those married young Americans who reported no sex in the past two weeks. The most notable dip in contentment here–from a majority that’s content to a minority that is–appears between those who say “3 times” and those who say twice (in two weeks).

The same numbers among men only: 85 percent of the male 11+ timers said “yes,” they’re content. The same (85 percent) among male 7-10 timers, then down to 66 percent, 60 percent, 44 percent, 30 percent, 36 percent, and only 21 percent of married men who’ve not had sex in the past week say they are content with the amount of sex they’ve been having. The most notable decline here is from “4 times” to “3 times” (in two weeks).  This reminds me of the Woody Allen film in which his character responds to a therapist’s question about his sex life, saying, “We almost never have sex, like, only two or three times a week.” Diane Keaton, his partner, responds independently to the same question, “We’re always having sex, like, two or three times a week!” (In fact, 54 percent of married women who said “zero times” to the frequency question also said that “yes” they were content with how often they have sex.) In general, young women appear far more content with their married sex lives than the men. Not a shock, I know.

I’m pressed for time—given this is a holiday weekend—so I won’t add more commentary to these numbers. There are of course other variables to consider–like how long you’ve been married–and other predictors of sexual contentedness that a short blog post cannot accommodate, but that invariably readers will wonder about. Wonder away.

 

On Memorial Day, here’s to those who have served, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We are grateful.


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