The rotten Apple: fueling conflict and the user-friendly co-option of Gandhi

Are you a chronic pimple-popper who needs a virtual venue in which you can get your fill of puss-driven ecstasy? There is an app for that.

Would you like to intonate a gamut of context appropriate flatulence? Hey, there is an app for that: iFart.

Want to know where you can get homemade tacos 24 hours a day made by transvestite Eskimo nuns? More than likely, there will soon be an app for that too.

As techno-geeks, brazen socialites and avant-garde activists alike clamor about the “revolutionary” technological advancements made by Apple in their iPhone, iPod and iPad products, a closer look at the company’s policies and practices reveals a more savage and unethical ethos of capitalist profiteering at the expense of foreign labor (a.k.a people). While trying to portray itself as the pioneer of casual, cutting-edge ‘cool’ through its “Think Different” campaign, Apple has sought to align itself with such iconic peacemakers as John Lennon and Mohandas Gandhi (see Salman Rushdie’s thoughts on the matter). Yet even a cursory glance at the foundation of Apple’s manufacturing scheme which relies predominantly on the horrendous exploitation of Asian and African laborers, clearly reveals the gratuitous cultural and spiritual symbolism from which they seek to draw in order to achieve their empire of branding supremacy.

Yeah, so I guess on some level I know that the materials used to build my phone come from “somewhere else.” Yet how many of us cell-phone users really consider ourselves as intricately wound up in what is considered by Robert Hormats, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agriculture affairs, as “one of the most significant moral issues of our time?”

Yet students at some of our nations’ most prestigious universities have seen themselves as an inextricable component in the malicious supply-demand chain that is embedded within the technological web of producer-consumer relations. And now they have vowed to do something about it.

Nearly 30 schools nationwide (Canada too), including Stanford, Duke, Boston College and University of Pennsylvania, have taken up the cause of banishing conflict associated electronics from their campuses and making university representatives more accountable in their business dealings. Emphasizing that their intention is not an entire boycott of Congolese minerals, the students issued a Public Statement in April, in which they recommend the implementation of several policy measures designed to mitigate and hopefully end their implication in the country’s violence. This student-led movement, a project of Enough’s Raise Hope for Congo Campaign, boldly declares that:

For too long our consumer products have contributed to mass atrocities and human rights violations in Congo – the time is now for students to lead the conflict-free movement for peace in eastern Congo.

Student activists Sara Egozi and Liza Starr note that:

Making the minerals trade more transparent and accountable could not only help bring an end to the conflict, but would also promote sustainable economic growth, strengthen Congolese state institutions, and reduce corruption in the security services.

The student movement is privy to the inherent injustices of contemporary electronics manufacturing and highlights the immoral and inhumane treatment of human beings in the efforts of multinational corporations aimed at the production, exportation and, ultimately, the consumption of the delicacies of “civilized” modernity.

In an effort to expose and parody the injustices of corporate impropriety with respect to cell phone fabrication, Molleindustria, with collaboration by the Yes Men, has created the first “anti-iPhone app,” a truly innovative and artistic communication and pollination of the seeds of capitalistic self-destruction. The application, known as Phone Story, takes users on a virtual walk through the production, usage and waste phases of a cell phone’s lifespan and focuses on the critical role that the Congolese, Chinese and Pakistani labor forces play in this vicious cycle. The app, which was just released last month, has been officially banned by the Apple AppStore. So you can have an app about endangered Congolese gorillas, but not about endangered Congolese people? What is Gandhian about such corporate hypocrisy? And while Apple prides itself in being revolutionary, the company is really just marching to the same tired iTune of corporate cannibalism and bottom-feeding. This is not what John Lennon was “imagining.”

Should technological progress be commensurate with the preservation of the dignity of human labor? Yes, but under the intoxication of capitalistic aspiration, we consistently jump the gun. Even as a peace activist, I must confess that the convenience and apparent practicality of cell phone usage has almost become a no brainer, an indispensable “tool” in the fight for a more just and equitable society. But can the means ever justify the ends? Can we rely on the bloody tools wrought of savage pseudo-civilization and expect to bring about the prosperity of human equality and dignity that we envision? And so I contemplate Gandhi, trying to catch a glimpse of the man beyond his co-opted corporate symbolism and I am forced to seriously consider his flight to the primordial essence of human assembly and his strivings to assert the human dignity expressed in the self-sufficiency and liberation of communitarian fraternity.

While many of our students are up in arms about conflict-goods, how many of them are renouncing modern communication devices in favor of smoke signals, carrier pigeons and foot pilgrimages? And are there any homegrown and more socially responsible alternatives available that would afford conscious consumers the ability to boycott conflict-associated goods and hit irresponsible corporations in their pockets where it hurts?

Raising awareness is undoubtedly a crucial and necessary aspect of any social justice campaign and I commend the efforts of the student activists in this regard. But what would Gandhi do, the man who spun his own clothing in order to dispel the notion of the inevitability of oppressive foreign dependence? Although cell phones have become “necessities” to modern living, they are no more so than clothing or food. Gandhi organized the masses not with fancy gadgets but with the power of human dignity, with local salt and cotton. Critics and opponents scoffed at his practical and aesthetic regression to the Middle Ages, but in the end it was the power of his simplicity that brought about victory.

And now we have become dependent on the exploitation and maltreatment of outsourced labor. Unlike Apple, Gandhi tells us not only to “think different” but also inspires us to “act different.” Yet are we really acting any differently that we may liberate ourselves from our complicity in the corruption of human decency?  Revolution… is there an app for that?

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