"Because you can't hug a tree if you can't find one."


Anti-Consumerism 101

I have been thinking a lot about consumer culture lately, ever since reading about how westernized countries (led by the US) use so many more resources (and “need” so many more products) than the rest of the world. Because of overconsumption, communities and natural habitats are destroyed by the pollution from mining, refining and farming; fresh water and oceans are poisoned by industrial waste; whole forests are felled for the sake of packaging or the daily newspaper. And in the end, most of what we buy winds up at the dump (either locally or in other countries), which is probably not the best use for land.

(See my friend Mitchel Cohen’s article “Trading in Waste” for more about what happens to consumables once we are finished with them.)

And what effect does consumer culture have on people as consumers?

  • Our privacy is invaded (legally) by corporations that want to both figure out what we want, and manipulate us into wanting whatever they have available.
  • Through advertising and through very sneaky PR, it tries to make us want what we don’t yet have (see previous point), rather than valuing and enjoying what is already in our lives.
  • We have to work more hours in order to pay for all the things we either want to get or already bought on credit.
  • Consumer culture turns everything into a commodity (things, people, animals, the land, sea and air,) and trains us to use and abuse everything, then cast it aside and get a new one.
  • We are owned by our things, which have to be used, stored, displayed, cleaned, maintained, protected and insured. (And in the case of pets, fed and walked and scooped after.)

While few people living within a consumer society can unplug completely, some are willing to try. There are lots of alternatives out there for anyone wanting to ease up on the shopping and owning way of life. How about trading and sharing things among friends, family or neighbors? How about growing some food, making some of your own things, and even making better use of things you have? If you live in a city, you might be able to enjoy public libraries, public art and free museums and performances. There are even online resources, like Freecycle, for giving away what you don’t need and getting things for free, and a growing number of web sites for trading used books.

If you can think of some more anti-consumer resources and ideas, please let me know. Sharing ideas might be even more important than sharing things.


- jesse said...

I agree! My blog focuses mainly on the fashion/"Martha sector" of housewares but I'm trying to "advertise" reusing whether on a personal level or supporting companies that reuse/recycle product if need be. I think the concept of *reduction* in cosumerism is hard to pitch people, especially since we're so consumption-driven.

Also, hello fellow Brooklynite.

Johanna said...

Surely you're not placing having pets in the same category as other kinds of overconsumption? I don't agree w/buying or breeding animals, especially when there are so many that already need homes. And I don't think pets need diamond-encrusted collars. But aside from that, I don't think of my cats as "things" that need to be scooped & fed & looked after. What I gain from opening my home to these cats far outweighs any burden, & I don't think it's comparable to that of having to care for too much "stuff" @ all. If anything, I think having pets can often teach folks about more important values than the endless quest to have more stuff.

Rejin L said...

Johanna, I don't think having a pet is the same as having an SUV. I also don't think loving something means having to own it (think: the Mona Lisa, a beautiful sunset, or crisp mountain air). I have opened my home to the birds that come to the feeder in the backyard or eat the berries on our bushes. They are free to come and go as they please, rather than being locked in a cage to keep me company.

An issue I have read about is how Westerners' need to surround themselves with familiar pets (and plants) have historically had devastating effects on lands (especially islands) they migrated to (that is, colonized). Dogs and cats are nice, I have known and loved some myself. But (for instance) the songbird population in this country is seriously threatened by cats (which are not a native species but are very efficient predators,) and native species all over the world have been decimated - if not extincted - by our furry friends and other imported animals.
I don't mean to make the blanket statement that pets=bad. But human patronage gives a big advantage to our chosen species, often with serious environmental consequences that we refuse to acknowledge or address. Which of our important values does this represent?