Attic Man is going to scream when he sees the title of the post, but it’s so apt I’m keeping it. (I’ll also have him know that I’ll be using the Clever Title: Boring Title format for my dissertation, which I’m allowed to do whether or not he thinks it’s dumb. Hurumph.)
Over the years I’ve swung back and forth between a radical anti-capitalist orientation and an overwhelmed apathy. My objections to capitalism won’t be new to anyone who’s read boomerific for a while: the endless pursuit of profit at the expense of all else, the endless pursuit of individual material acquisition at the expense of all else, the emptiness of every gesture (where giving is just a roundabout way to receive—google “corporate philanthropy”), the bleeding of the earth’s resources, the growing poverty…the list keeps growing the longer I examine myself and the society I move and work in.
What I usually do when re-radicalized is typical of an ADDer. I obsess, reading and planning and thinking to the exclusion of everything else in my life, and do one of two things: either plan to intervene in an entirely untenable way, or become so overwhelmed by the options for intervention (alongside their futility) as to forget the project altogether. For example, several years ago, after becoming familiar with the problem of sweatshop labor here and abroad, I decided to go completely sweatshop-free. Completely. Some of you may be giggling right now, as well you should. Although Coop America’s site is comprehensive, the market is so flooded with unethically produced and traded goods, and the fairly traded ones are so scarce and expensive, that I was able to stick to it for a few weeks, max. The plan was flawed, theoretically, anyway: I was still participating in a capitalist system. Fair trade is awesome and grand and fantastic, but it is still a market-based endeavor. (I’m not sure what the alternatives are; these are things I’m still working out and will be for some time) At any rate, it fizzled out pretty quickly and I was back at Target in no time. As for being overwhelmed by the options and giving up? This happens to me on a monthly basis.
So I need a way to make incremental changes that I can incorporate into my life in order to begin to disengage from a capitalist frame of mind and way of life and move into engagement with a community. In order to do that I need to start thinking about changing my mindset before I can even begin to work on behavior and action. The other day I was thinking about how price-driven our economy is, how our demand for the lowest prices (fueled of course by low wages and lack of good benefits) drives the ‘race to the bottom’ as Charles Kernaghan has called it. I realized that I had been taught to shop based on price first, except when buying toilet paper, even in which case the lowest price non-generic was the purchase for the week. When there are two items of similar quality and features on the shelf (too often they’re exactly the same thing packaged for different markets, anyway) I was taught to grab the lower-priced one. I was thinking about how I might re-orient my criteria for making purchases to bring them more in line with my moral and ethical objections to late capitalism. To wit, I came up with a list of questions to ask myself before making a purchase. The questions act like a chain; if the answer is no, I stop. If it’s yes, I go to the next question.
Do I need it?
The answer to this question is usually no. However, there are some cases in which while technically the answer is no, the purchase of such an item can have benefits for people and the earth that justify it. For instance, we bought a good set of knives and found that we ate out at chain restaurants less often and consumed more vegetables. All of the sudden that huge order from the CSA was more manageable.
Do I have something else I can use instead? Can I make said item out of materials I already own?
Sometimes approximations fill the need just fine. Sometimes the modifications really stretch our creativity and cause us to grow in all sorts of ways. Although I found that I didn’t have the right sort of sheets to make my own sling, I gave it a whirl and in the process became more open to other ways of wearing the Snapper. It also taught me to take better stock of what I already have.
Can I buy the item used or trade something I no longer need for it?
Attic Man and I really wanted to work out but we didn’t want to join a gym (admittedly the decision was based on the affordability of the gym, not a social conscience). We wanted a more intense workout than a body-weight only workout could provide, so we found a used sporting-goods store and bought a pretty nice weight set and benches. I’m also seriously considering going back to thrift-shopping for my clothing, though it’s kind of hit-or-miss sometimes.
Can I buy it fair trade (within my budget)?
I had a really lovely morning, so lovely that it inspired me to write this post and to title it what I did. I stopped by a little local store, Baby Matters. I found, to my delight, that not only do they have slings for sale, but that the owner makes them (and brings her daughter to work, which means I can support a culture of valuing children and babies at the same time) and also sells fair-trade ones. I ended up combining the two, having her turn a HUGS sling into a ring sling. The fabric is gorgeous and I can’t wait to start using it. In the meantime we had an awesome conversation and I got to know her and her vision a little better. It’s a store that serves the community in a very real way, holding classes on breastfeeding, the local chapter of LLL, how to make your own baby food, natural childbirth, and so on. It’s a place where you can go to get connected. It’s a small enough place and specialized and local enough that conversation and connection is inevitable. I love that. It’s still a business but it’s a lot closer to my ideal than Babies ‘R Us is, by leaps and bounds.
If all else fails, then I go ahead to Target and get the thing and leave my guilty conscience at the door. I make note of the country of origin and buy it with mindfulness. It’s the best I can do.
Or is it? …
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