There is a simple answer to your question.
Like pretty well everyone else, you’re unwilling to suffer an inconvenience or a change to your lifestyle to stop participating in things you know are terribly destructive to the world and to other people.
Take climate change.
The consensus of science as to what’s likely to happen is remarkably grim. It seems certain that a band around the equator will become uninhabitable — a region that is presently inhabited by about a billion humans. Another billion live on islands and coastal areas that will be dangerous or even underwater. Extreme weather will continue to increase. And of course, the ongoing extinction of species on the Earth, already at a rate unprecedented in the last 60 million years or so, will only be accelerated.
You know all this.
And what’s your response to that? Why, nothing, except your Medium article which flirts with, “I am powerless,” as an excuse but then backs away from even that.
And that attitude is shared by billions of others. And it’s an existential problem for the human race.
Look at the last US Presidential election. If you believe the consensus of science, climate change is going to devastate the lives of children who are living today — and yet it simply wasn’t an issue in the election.
I have an incredibly “liberal” group of friends on my Facebook page and yet they’re mostly having kids, eating meat, flying from place to place and driving cars.
And as for other issues like “Amazon,” which is a good shorthand for “no more good jobs ever again for 90% of America” — well, if you aren’t going to lift a finger to at least try to mitigate the destruction of your planet’s ecosystem, you certainly aren’t going to change your buying habits for some far smaller issue like “treating workers like human beings”.
Here’s the terrible and heartbreaking part — if a significant majority of human beings decided that these things were important problems, they would be completely solvable.
Right now, we’re an incredibly rich society, because we are still awash in natural resources and a mostly habitable globe. We have an astonishing and unparalleled scientific, technological, industrial and computational capacity — and yet we are using this great machine to feed you and a billion like you hamburgers, and electronics from Amazon.
If we treated it like the existential emergency it is, we could solve these problems: we have the knowledge, we have the skill and we have the resources. But we aren’t doing it. Why?
One way to see it is a sort of warped Prisoner’s Dilemma, where everyone thinks, “In order to mitigate climate change and the ongoing ecocide, we will all have to give something up. But if I’m the only one who gives anything up, it makes no difference. So I’m not going to give anything up.”
The reason I say “warped” is that the payoff matrix is so brutally skewed that a rational player would not actually make that choice.
If “Giving up meat” scores -10 points, then rationally, “Devastation of our entire ecosystem and unprecedented numbers of human deaths,” should be, how can you value that? -350 points? -10,000 points? — particularly if you yourself have children.
Another way to see it as a perversion of Kant’s Categorical Imperative: “I will do this thing because everyone else is doing it, though it be our doom”. I’d call it the Lemming Imperative, except that we all know by now that lemmings aren’t that dumb.
Stop and think. What will the world really be like in fifty years time? Look at the rate of extinction of species — the fouling of the oceans with plastic — the melting of the ice caps — the fouling and draining of aquifers that took millions of years to fill — deforestation — what’s it going to be like?
In the last few weeks we discovered that bird populations in France have dropped by a third since 2001. Germany has lost almost 80% of its insects in the last 40 years. 80%! And these are in places that measure and care about this sort of thing. What do you think it is like in Asia — in China?
Get out a map, think about the consequences when most of the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn becomes essentially uninhabitable, when Miami and New York are gone, when most of the insects and birds are gone, when the aquifers are gone and the oceans choked with plastic. What’s it going to be like to live in 2068?
Sit down and think about it all. Be honest with yourself. What, exactly, is the world going to be like in fifty years? Why will it be in that shape? And what will your role have been in that? How did you try to stop it?
Which leads to your question:
if you know something is bad for yourself, others, or the world, yet you keep doing that thing, does that make you immoral?
Yes, absolutely, 100% yes. This is the very definition of immoral — purposefully doing a bad thing. You knew the answer was yes or you wouldn’t have even written the article in the first place.
You know in your heart that a set of individual decisions by you — by “you” I really mean, “mainly you and half a billion other affluent individuals and everyone else to a significantly lesser extent” — can very well lead to a literal extinction event if we don’t get off our fucking assses and do something about it and that means you!
You really want to be morally complicit in what might literally be billions of untimely deaths and the devastation of our ecosystem? Well, that’s where you’re headed. If you keep it up, you will probably live to see and regret the shitty consequences of your lack of moral backbone, and there won’t be any redoes.
Yes, the entire society is out of balance. Yes, our very existence involves some degree on unnecessary waste. No, there’s no practical way to opt out entirely.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to extract yourself as far as you can from this moral shitshow of monstrous proportions!
I mean, come on — hamburgers? It’s ridiculous.
You know it’s wrong, that the rainforest is being cut down and farted out into greenhouse gasses through some tortured miserable animal caught in a great killing machine and ground into your Big Mac, and you do it anyway, and worse, you use sophistry like your article to somehow justify the whole thing by skirting around the issue and avoiding any actual conclusions.
The whole thing, the burgers and the Amazon orders and the airplanes…no one expects you to go and live in a monastery but you aren’t even trying, and you know it.
You know, I was going to tell you what to do here. But that would be a bad idea, because I know nothing about you — where you live, what you do, much of anything other than this article.
And it’s 2018. We should have started to deal with these problems thirty years ago. All the information is out there and has been for years.
You already know what to do, or you wouldn’t have written that article seeking forgiveness for not doing it. Go and do it.