Doing Justice in an Unjust World

Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation
by Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda
Fortress Press, 2013

Consider the following paradox: many of the everyday tools of engaged citizens and progressive activists—especially our various electronic gadgets—contribute directly to the suffering of other unseen human beings in ways that we scarcely realize.

Discarded electronic devices often become hazardous waste exports to developing countries, where they are dismantled by low-wage workers who risk their own health and that of their children to salvage materials for reuse in industrial processes. Likewise, the standard lifestyle of active participants in affluent societies typically involves consumption of energy and fossil fuel resources at a level that is simply unsustainable and will trigger rapid global warming, barring a massive reversal of that course. However, the harshest impacts of climate change will be felt first not by those with the largest carbon footprints but by residents in the developing world living in proximity to oceans and nearer to the equator.

Nonetheless, to be an effective change agent in the United States and other “advanced” nations more or less requires use of these tools and participation in this lifestyle. Yes, individuals can become far more conscientious about their consumption, where their stuff comes from, and how it’s made, and they can use their consumer power to promote an alternative, more social economy. Yet, at the end of the day, even the most conscientious of us will still be using far more resources than most others on the planet, in ways that cannot be morally justified.

This is the kind of moral quandary that Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda’s magisterial volume Resisting Structural Evil places before readers. The claim at the heart of Moe-Lobeda’s book is that the everyday workings of global capitalism are endangering the survival of the planet and perpetrating structural economic violence on many people in the developing world. This in itself is a challenging claim, but it’s only the starting point for an extended ethical reflection that tries to answer honestly this question: how can flawed people like ourselves who are hopelessly entangled in practices and institutions that perpetuate injustice and violence against the earth (and ultimately our own children and grandchildren) possibly live an ethically responsible, justice-promoting life?

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