The reason I changed my lifestyle and why a sitcom might make you do the same.
By Josie Stewart, ’21.
What do we owe to each other?
This is a question that I often considered throughout my life. After learning about sin in Sunday School, I focused anxiously on how I affected others with my decisions.
That may seem like a lot for a second grader to be thinking about—and you’re right. This anxiety of making the right choices started early for me, but after a few lessons and many differing experiences, I was able to transform this anxiety into a conscious, ethical mindset that I realized I had after finishing season four of The Good Place, a sitcom developed by acclaimed writer Michael Schur.
Despite my admiration for every aspect of the show, I wouldn’t consider this a review or a way to persuade you to binge all four seasons. Instead, I’m writing to show an often missed broad passion and empathy for your own life and that of those around you as portrayed in Schur’s writing
The plot (briefly) follows four humans in an afterlife made up of both a Good and Bad Place. There are no Gods, but rather demons and architects who either torture you or tend to your every need for eternity, respectively. This placement is based solely on the number of “points” humans are awarded on Earth for their actions. The real story, though, comes into play during the third season when the protagonists realize that no one has entered the Good Place in over 500 years.
After a series of episodes, they realize it is nearly impossible for humans to live a “good” life considering the chaos and complexity of life on Earth.
Although I agree with the show, I find this view of complexity has been twisted in daily life to justify unethical actions. The show offers an example of a man who buys a tomato. He loses points for the purchase since the fruit was picked by underpaid workers, negatively impacted the environment when it was shipped and gave even more money to a racist CEO.
Yes, there are always unforeseen consequences to every action, but to me, there is a significant difference between purchasing an essential need without knowing these effects and purchasing a want with the knowledge that it is actively harming others.
Clothing brands like Shein and Zara have been shown time and time again to use child labor and sweatshops to produce cheap products. As a fashion lover myself, I understand the appeal of inexpensive statement pieces, but it seems that having a cute outfit doesn’t outweigh the suffering of another human being when many other options exist. You cannot say that you are against child labor and underpaid workers while simultaneously purchasing from brands that use either.
This is known as cognitive dissonance or having inconsistent thoughts or beliefs relating to behavioral decisions, and you may be suffering from it.
The response of “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” seems to be an excuse to make people purchasing these products feel better when in reality, you are being ignorant of the real world and the importance of your actions.
In order to change the actions of these companies, we have to show that we won’t support it. Purchasing products is supporting these practices whether you say you’re against it or not. We all have to draw our own moral lines somewhere, and I recommend that you draw yours equivalently to your own words.
Cognitive dissonance is more than this, too. When you are heartbroken by the sight of a dead dog, why can you justify the killing of pigs who are just as intelligent? I cannot force you to care about the lives of animals, but I can ask you to follow through with your promises. If you’re against animal cruelty, be against it even if it’s not to your advantage.
While I may not be well-versed in moral philosophy or ethics more than what Chidi taught me about Kant throughout The Good Place, I can say that most philosophers and religions believe in one general statement: “do good.”
This answers the question asked many times throughout the show. We owe to each other what we ask of life for ourselves and must stick to the moral promises that we speak aloud with our actions. If we choose not to follow through, we instead forfeit our right to speak against these and therefore are missing the empathy that we need to survive.
We do not know what waits for us in the afterlife, but we should choose to be better now. The expected reward should not be eternal peace but a general respect and acknowledgement that yours has been a life worth living. Maybe, The Good Place or this piece can be the end of this dissonance for you.