A version of this essay appeared on 2nd Opinion.
I write this while wearing my boyfriend's white Zara shirt. I decided to put the white Topman v-neck in the laundry basket because I felt it looked, well, dated. It also felt less structured than before. After only three years and wearing it less than twenty times, I am already thinking of disposing that piece of clothing, and wondering what to buy next. Uniqlo, perhaps. Maybe H&M.
See what I did there?
In a way, dropping the names of those labels will allow you to have a hint of my shameless/shameful middle-class existence. Brands are symbols of our status: an obvious force separating or uniting us socioeconomically from and to our friends and peers.
An inconvenient truth: the biggest contradiction to my desire for a just world lies in the clothes I wear.
Here I am, preaching that I wish for a fairer world, but I continue to support fast fashion, turning a blind eye towards the real cost it takes to shape me into the cool, stylish man I pretend I am.
Here is Evan the vegetarian, who says shunning meat is essential to protect the environment and save the world from hunger.
Here is Evan the feminist, who says women must be given equal opportunities and rights.
Yet, here is Evan the fast-fashion consumer, who votes with his money to pump up an industry notorious for its abuse of women and our planet.
"Every civilization was built off the back of a disposable workforce,” opens the trailer of the upcoming movie Blade Runner 2049, a follow-up to the 80's hit movie inspired by Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
A timely observation, now more than ever. With the rise of automation and the looming threat on jobs across different industries, governments and companies tackle head-on what this means for the "future of work"--a phrase often thrown around optimistically by corporations chasing their bottomlines, and fearfully by laborers who see how this so-called future spells a more precarious existence, constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel.
While I admit it would be somewhat backwards to resist this progress, I mull over the implications this so-called progress has on me, you, and the many others who slave away in sweatshops, in Bangladesh or Cambodia or China, assembling the clothes I put on every single day.
In Andrew Morgan's documentary The True Cost, I realized how laborers are abused by the industry who demands that they work quickly and cheaply. They are cornered by a system that thrives on their poverty: this is an industry that wants to keep them poor so it can continually profit on their lack of options.
Fighting back can be depressingly counterintuitive, when a corporation can just transfer its operations elsewhere, where regulations are less tighter, politicians are more complicit, and people are too poor to complain.
It becomes a zero-sum game: you either agree to the abuse, or you lose the job.
The capitalist calls this heroism: jobs are being given where there are none. But is a horrible option really better than no option at all?
With automation, laborers don't even have to make that choice. Companies will be all too willing to dispose of their current workforce in favor of robots who never get sick or exhausted. Add to that: robots who will never complain.
Yes, the abuse disappears. But where does it leave the jobless?
There is much talk about implementing a universal basic income for people, with thought leaders like Elon Musk and Bill Gates pitching in the conversation. Given the unstoppable encroachment of AI in the many aspects of our lives, ensuring that these developments do not stoke inequality further and rip our society apart is crucial.
That will demand an overhaul of our economic system altogether. Already, people are saying that capitalism is dead. I am no economist, and I leave it to the experts to debate how a postcapitalist world will look like.
Whether we are progressing or regressing, I don't know.
What I fear though is what price we're going to pay to reach what's next. There's value in imagining the worst, if only to serve as a cautionary tale on what we should strive not to be.
I may be living in an irony. Here I am, surviving because the system is rigged in my favor. My tech startup, Taxumo, will no doubt disrupt the work that used to be the sole purview of accountants (of course, we argue that we are meant to assist, not supersede. Regardless, it will ruffle a few feathers, to say the least.) I also work in a media company that needs advertising money to survive. I consult for a digital marketing solutions firm that peddles brands.
"The problem with you is that you're too self-aware," my boyfriend tells me. With a lack of solutions, writing offers catharsis from the feeling of entrapment. I can only offer meager solutions to cripple the system: don't buy fast fashion, demand to know where our goods are manufactured, support fair trade.
Wanting less is great. Being more purposeful with our desires, even better. It sounds very trite, but the first step could be being more aware.
Maybe we don't need so much. Maybe we can be more purposeful with our production. Maybe we can seek and demand for more sustainable products, and make it more affordable for a larger number of people. Maybe we could see more meaning in people outside the labels they wear and how much money they have in their savings account.
I like this white Zara shirt I’m wearing: the way it hugs my body.
I think about the hands that labored on this shirt, and the stain of their sweat, blood, and tears that I will never see.
HELLO, MY NAME IS EVAN TAN.
I'm a writer and communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. Outside of my regular job, I like to travel, work out, volunteer, watch movies and plays, go to art galleries/ fairs and museums, read books, and eat vegetarian food.
More about me here.