March 08, 2007

Making a Statement

I was not planning to go off on this today, but a sour reaction to something I read usually makes for a long, if not especially cohesive, post. So here it is, Good magazine’s ham-fisted attempt at getting my hackles up—which worked, because I’m such a simpleton: Unconscious Consumption. Please do open it and read it.

I know that people reading this are of two political minds, so I will try my hardest not to name-call or swear or anything that would otherwise invalidate my argument, namely that this woman sucks so loud only dogs can hear it.

Her main point (I chose to save all our eyes by not adding Quotation Marks O’Sarcasm around many words) seems to be that she just wants to buy things without having to worry about the impact her purchases will have; in particular, she wants to shop at Wal-Mart and not have her liberal friends get all judgey about it. The entire article is a rationalization of irresponsible consumerism that would be brilliant if it were satire—which at first, I thought it was. I still hope it is.

Because who could actually believe this:

“Those aisles of inexpensive merchandise make eating, exercising, and even wiping your butt more affordable—increasing the standard of living for millions of working class Americans.”

Begging the question: which “working class Americans” does she refer to? The ones shopping at Wal-Mart (middle-income families who can probably afford to shop the competition), or those working behind the counter? I wholly agree with the latter, as the “competitive wages” offered at Wal-Mart probably aren’t the pull to employment there, as that ultra-competitive ten grand a year is a huge draw to one of two people: people who don’t need money, and people who need it very, very badly. I’m all for the employees to get mad discounts, they deserve it—but if Wal-Mart’s “increasing the standard of living” for anybody, it’s the Chinese laborers making pliers for 10 cents a barrel (I won’t go into the reasons why Wal-Mart sucks; there are whole websites devoted to the topic, so I’m treating it as a given).

Here’s where the fallacy of ‘$3 is hardly going to make a difference,’ prevalent throughout the article, falls flat: the speculation is short-sighted. Yes, if the world imploded today and yesterday you spent $3 at Wal-Mart, it’s a pretty moot point. However, if life goes on, with your children spending $3 per week for the duration of their childhoods, you buying whatever your simple, non-statement-making needs require while they do so—that’s going to have an impact. Also, these children will continue to shop there well into their adulthoods—and their children, and so on, blissfully unconcerned by the consequences of their choices. Whether you choose to believe it or not, all of your consumer choices have an effect. The ends-justify-the-means argument presented in the ‘Bob needs a belt’ statement is ignorant and dangerous. It’s not that simple—and worse, the writer knows it isn’t and pursues the obtuse argument anyway, and that’s what pisses me off.

Also pissing me off is the fact that the writer calls social consciousness “fashionable” (maybe it is, but? not the point), implying she shops Wal-Mart to escape the fad. OK, can I skip over the ‘utter horseshit’ part and just say that if you want name-brand, you can do it without supporting bad labor practices and without buying that trendy organic? There is a middle ground which has been, I fear, deliberately ignored. Several grocery chains operate in your area with at least a modicum of respect for their employees; this woman knows that she can get paper towels from manufacturers with scruples just as easily, and as cheaply, as she can at Wal-Mart, but she chooses not to—and attempts do defend that choice—without explaining why she won’t go to the competitors. She automatically assumes Bob doesn’t care where his money goes, but I assume he does; maybe it didn’t occur that making the responsible choice is less about fashion than fascism? You just want to buy, and don’t want to make a difference? Well, this is not Monopoly. Your purchases make a difference; you’ve got no control over that—it’s what kind of difference you have control over.

I realize I sound like one of those silly liberals, a prime example of the writer’s constant, weak stereotyping (how do you type ‘latte’ twice in under 1,000 words and not realize your argument is ad-hominem?). Maybe if we laugh at dreadlocks and hemp, we won’t notice that her main assumption is false: Liberals don’t want their purchases to mean something; we realize that they do mean something. Frankly, I think they don’t ‘mean’ enough—I feel good when I shop at Whole Foods, buying my free trade coffee, but I’m far too cynical to think the world is changing on my sole account. And I know Whole Foods profits from such well-intentioned na├»vete, and they mark up their prices as a result—I’m liberal, not stupid. So I don’t mind picking up my fresh cheese and veg at one market and going to plain old Kroger for my communist frou-frou soy milk because it’s a buck cheaper. People do that all the time, because that, basically, is America, and we get it.

The writer assumes we don’t. She is practicing stupidity of the worst kind, the educated-but-willfully-ignorant kind, and is trying to frame an argument around it when she it’s false, just as she knows all actions have consequences—including, if not especially, what we spend our money on. For all she supports capitalism, she neglected to mention the free market. For example: if one business is, say, killing kangaroos on a small Mediterranean island to get kangaroo… oil, for… doughnuts (it’s obviously a hypothetical, so just roll with it), the hippies are gonna strap on their Birkenstocks, grab their signs, and get picketing. A lot of like-minded everyday folk will stop buying the product, because kangaroos are cute, or because they’re vegetarian anyway, or because they don’t like doughnuts, or they think kangafritters taste funny or because it’s wrong to kill animals for human consumption, whatever. By not buying the product, there will be less demand, and thanks to the patchouli brigade and scary vegans (PETA), there will be lawsuits aimed at the kangaroo killers. The product will hopefully not live much longer. The power to ‘save the world’ lies within the people—more specifically, the people’s money: how they choose to spend it reflect the values they hold, the choices they make. The best example: keep buying oil, and shady people will find a way to get it to you, usually in illegal, immoral ways—but that’s okay. You just wanted some gas.

I’m not on a high horse, here. I need gas, too. Which is why I read as much as I can on where to buy it—not where it’s cheapest, because most days they only differ by a nickel or so anyway—but which company is not outright evil (Exxon) or in league with evil-minded people (ahem). I keep it to the least of the evils, currently Citgo. And yes, I know, Venezuela; I’d rather support a South American dictator than an American one, at least until those windmills get here. But I don’t blindly live my life expecting that life to have no consequences, no impact on the people or environment in which I live, much less do I try to rationalize that lack of responsibility while instilling it in others. Saving the world is a trite phrase for something that is such a long, hard fight—and this woman catapulting us back fifty years with her conscious-consumerism backlash is not only not helping, it’s insulting.

It’s not one party’s responsibility, either, any more than it’s ‘liberal’ to want to know where your money is going or ‘conservative’ not to care. Saving, doing, fixing—it’s on everyone who chooses to breathe. And no matter where you get your data, citing a study about giving to charity as compensation for supporting crappy institutions does not absolve you of that responsibility. Unless you’re giving money to the Stop Wal-Mart campaign, that fact is totally irrelevant—except to say that high-income families are more likely to donate money than low-income, which… look, the kangaroos took all the hypothetical out of me, and there’s not enough space on the internet for me to explain common sense.

My point: If you know that Wal-Mart is the devil and wish to continue shopping there please 1) stop rationalizing your keeping them in business 2) at least have the sense to hang your head in shame about it and 3) shut your piehole before I buy a plane ticket and cram a pair of outsourced snakeskin jeans into it. I shopped at Wal-Mart when was in college, because I needed pants that fit when my other pair got too holey; I needed food and laundry detergent and I bought all of these things when I couldn’t afford to get them at Meijer, when the dime was a big difference. It isn’t now. But it’s a big difference to some people, more people than I’m comfortable with, and if you need to shop Wal-Mart to stay alive, go for it. If you’re making middle-income, I wholly suggest shopping where workers are allowed to form unions and receive benefits regardless of the employer’s prejudices.

But that’s just me talking, with my mouth full of granola.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

We all know that I'm probably the most conservative person you know (I will stop short of calling myself a Republican; we differ on some issues), and I will be the first to tell you that satan loves Wal-Mart...although not for the most popular reasons.
(see http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewCulture.asp?Page=/Culture/archive/200608/CUL20060829b.html)

No matter who you are, there is a reason why you too should not shop at Wal-Mart!
The author of this article is a real piece of work. The way she talks about "liberal secularists" to justify her spending money at Wal-Mart is one of the reasons "conservative Christian" leaves a bad taste in people's mouths.

Another crazy idea: don't take your kids out every week to buy cheap crap that will break before next week. I know. I'm a radical!

Jen

Anonymous said...

and another thing...

This woman makes such a big deal to let everyone know that her children pay their tithes, yet neglects to teach them what good stewardship ACTUALLY is. It isn't paying God his ten percent like it's a bill you have to send off. It's using every resource you have for His glory. Yes, that includes a tithe (given in love and reverence) and ALSO making sure that your resources are spent wisely elsewhere....your money, your time, even your talents and words!

Sending your kids "wherever" to spend their money, with no education on where that money goes or what it is used for, is not teaching good stewardship. And "Johnny needs a new pair of shoes" is no excuse. If Snidely Whiplash is on the corner selling shoes for 1.00 a pair to finance his tie-Nell-to-a-railroad-track fund, I'm gonna pass, thank you. Target is just up the road.

GRRRRRR! I have to have a little lie-down now...

crdrue said...

This kangaroo donut idea sounds delicious, but it turns out kangaroo is only 2% fat, and it would take a handful of kangaroos to fry a dozen donuts.

Beedoo said...

I wouldn't worry; there'll be plenty of heat in your H-E-double hockey-sticks suite, kangakilla.