the myth of conscious consumerism

Is buying fair trade coffee and TOMS shoes hurting the reset of the economy more than it’s helping it? Are dollars spent on goods in support of charity actually voting to maintain the status quo rather than change it?

the hypocrisy of conscious consumerism

In this 10 minute animation, you can hear an excerpt of a lecture by the philosopher Slovaj Zizek. You’ll appreciate the clever animation regardless but, if sitting in on philosophical lectures “for fun” isn’t your idea of a day well spent as it is mine, I’ve briefly summarized his argument below.

Zizek hypothesizes that charity is no longer an act that occurs outside of the norm. And while less of our time and money goes to charity for charity’s sake, we have found ways to incorporate charity into our daily over-the-top acts of consumerism. What we consume justifies our own unnecessary spending.

Instead of earning money during the day and giving part back to those who need it in the evening, we keep it all for ourselves and make consumer choices to fulfill our desire to be charitable.

He cites two examples: Starbucks and TOMS.

In the case of Starbucks, he points out that when we buy a cup of coffee we not only buy the beverage but a set of coffee ethics. We buy the idea that our fairly sourced coffee is paying for farm maintenance, schools, health care, and quality of life for impoverished coffee farmers.

In the case of TOMS, he suggests that while we add another needless pair of shoes to our stash, the shoes going to help children in poor countries are doing nothing to fix the situation that got them there in the first place. New shoes don’t create free elections, vaccines, public sewage, or education.

We buy coffee and shoes and we buy into a whole set of ethics. We buy the idea that our money is going to charity while just getting more STUFF.

Zizek quotes Oscar Wilde:

The real aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible!

Agreed. That is the real aim. The question is: can any kind of spending – any vote with dollars & cents – contribute to reconstructing society on a fundamental level? Or is any kind of buy-in to consumerism a vote for the status quo?

I am a complete and utter sucker for cultural capitalist marketing. It was made for people like me. Why yes I want to change the world and I would love a new pair of shoes and an iced venti latte with extra ice while I’m doing it.

I am however cynical enough to believe that my buying power is not enough to make a dent. My dollars don’t have that great a vote in “the system.” And so I ask myself the question, am I preventing the ultimate reset of our economy by contributing to the continuation of the economic model of the last 30 years?

But what about spending in the new system?

At the same time, I really do wonder what Zizek would have to say about the indie craft movement. Does the indie craft movement represent an initial shift in the reset of the economy? Is constructing a marketplace where all are equal in the eyes of the consumer, where goods are purchased directly from maker, where bootstrappers are welcome & encouraged, in which mindful spending is practiced a step in the right direction? Or is it a hold over from the consumerist age, built to sound good to people with money to burn but enacting no meaningful or substantial change in society?

Is a company like Etsy investing in real change or the status quo?

Does micro business fix the ills of consumerism or exacerbate them?

I can tell you that I’ll be thinking about this for quite some time. I would be thrilled if you left a comment on the Scoutie Girl Facebook page with your thoughts! Let’s discuss!

{found via GOOD}