By Brian Karimi
This letter from the editor is in response to last week’s “Water Week’s message must run deeper: ban the bottles” by Erin Delman.
Delman’s call in the Feb. 9 edition of the Concordiensis to ban water bottles on Union’s campus suffers from various glaring and unmet difficulties. Least important among these is the fact that Delman leaves the proposed ban completely unexplained. How would it work? More egregious is that part of her argument rests on a characterization of the student body which teeters on the demeaning in an effort to gain a moral high ground over those not willing to sacrifice convenience or enjoyment for a cause they do not have a moral or even normative requirement to care about.
“I can already hear the objections,” Delman explains. “I need my water bottle! It’s convenient, I like the feel of non-biodegradable, disposable plastic in my hand! I only trust water extracted from the illustrious rainforests of Fiji. Besides, Nalgenes don’t fit into cup holders in the elliptical machines!”
Besides being a rather crass way to make one’s point, Delman leaves the assumption that her environmental concerns are more important than the convenience or preference of her peers entirely undefended. She simply makes the assumption and moves on without considering that there exists a plurality of values, many of which do not have the power to trump one another.
It is not at all clear that our involvement in harmful or even destructive activity—if water bottle consumption can even be called that—confers upon others the right or duty to limit its occurrence. If water bottles are so destructive as to be in consideration for banishment, a far more advanced argument than the one Delman provides is required. And even then, there will remain serious questions. We ought not take lightly actions which limit people’s enjoyment and freedom simply on the basis that a certain activity is indirectly or even directly related to some harm. The protection of market freedom and personal choice is a robust one, and Delman’s pleading is rather flimsy in the face of it.
Delman preemptively dismisses the attack that the idea to ban water bottles is utopian and instead names it “barely progressive” and “logical.” It is very unclear that Delman’s argument conforms to logic, and if it does she again leaves us guessing. Instead, it smells like moralism because she, like many environmentalists, fails to connect the goodness or utility of the idea with a morally acceptable reason to limit others’ behavior or free choice. There are many values in the world and the environment is but one of them. To state simply and bluntly that valuing the environment trumps personal enjoyment, free choice in the marketplace, or personal convenience is to confer the environment undefended preeminence. It is not even clear why we should voluntarily buy into the idea, much less be forced to buy bottled water elsewhere.
We must be careful with our arguments. We cannot assume our values are better than the values of our peers, and we ought never to demean them or their values in order to make a point.
Brian KarimiWorld Editor