In What Are You Complicit?

There are many problems and injustices in our modern world. From the threat of climate crisis to political unrest, from mass shootings to species extinction, hardly a day goes by without hearing of the latest development on some problem front.

While it is tempting to state that you are unequivocally against one problem or another, life isn’t quite that simple. While your words might say one thing, your actions may say something altogether different.

The infrastructure that is in place in our society often acts in a certain way, due to economic and political pressures. By taking part in that overall system, you are reinforcing the behavior of the system, even if it does something you disagree with.

For example, let us suppose that you are against the exploitation of agricultural laborers. The people who pick the fruits and vegetables that fill our grocery stores and restaurant pantries often work in dangerous conditions for poor wages.

You might support improving those conditions and are in favor of paying workers more. However, you might also buy the less expensive options at the grocery store, and you may not have any knowledge of where the produce comes from or how it is picked.

Your participation in the system — buying less expensive produce — reinforces the economic pressures that lead to growers paying less to people picking their crops.

This is true for just about every issue, regardless of your political affiliation. If there is something in our society that you disagree with, and yet you are part of society and contribute to it, in greater or lesser degree you are complicit in that problematic behavior.

If you drive on the freeway, you are complicit in the way neighborhoods were broken up when they were constructed. If you vote for a political candidate because you like their policies, you are complicit with any negative act that politician participates in. If you use a social media platform to keep in touch with friends and family, you are complicit in the bad behavior the company does to gain an economic advantage.

This is not to say that you are solely responsible for these bad acts, but you cannot claim complete innocence, either. By participating in a corrupt system, you are partially corrupt yourself.

Can you think of ways that you are complicit in acts and behaviors you don’t like? Can you think of things that you might do change the system or yourself?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What do you do that you shouldn’t? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? What are you doing to make the world a better place?

1 thought on “In What Are You Complicit?”

  1. I am complicit in many things. Nearly everyone in America and the developed world is. And knowing what you are complicit in helps you choose the matters you want to improve yourself and the systems you find yourself in. I/You are not perfect. We will not reach perfection. Defenders of the status quo frequently use the question to deflate the people trying to do good. The key is to avoid falling for this trick. Know that, even state that, you are complicit in certain injustices. But act based on what you can do (not an impossible standard of perfection).

    But realize that I am not giving everyone a “Get out of jail free” card. Acting on what we say matters to us is a must: if we want to mitigate climate change, if we want fair wages for all, if we want to house everyone affordably, if we want to eradicate hunger, if we want to preserve seed diversity, etc.

    Right now, the forces backing the status quo are winning. They have convinced many of us that action is futile and that charity is the best response, as we can make life less painful for small groups of individuals suffering due to our choices and political decisions.

    List what you are complicit in, and find out how to make better choices as a consumer or voter, for instance. Stretch yourself and act, but don’t choose actions you know will burn you out. As you learn more about the issues you are complicit in, you learn how to make even more impactful decisions and gel with communities fighting for systemic change.

    To answer the question for myself, I travel by airplane to some vacation spot at least twice a year; I also don’t take public transit. While I do things to try to mitigate the situation, I am undoubtedly complicit in climate change.

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