After returning home from a clothing swap and tea with a lovely new friend earlier tonight, I came across one of many scribbles I made while having a solo brunch at Local 188 on January 1, 2012: “Need to resist the idea that finding the proper combination of tops and bottoms/sweaters and skirts will solve anything.” Somehow that thought seems relevant to the ideas on consumerism as activism I’ve been ruminating on the past few days. I haven’t had time to properly sort through them, but as luck would have it I stumbled across this passage from a Rolf Potts essay which articulates them far better than I can late on a chilly Sunday evening.
“In March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck a reef off the coast of Alaska, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Initially viewed as an ecological disaster, this catastrophe did wonders to raise environmental awareness among average Americans. As television images of oil-choked sea otters and dying shore birds were beamed across the country, pop-environmentalism grew into a national craze.
Instead of conserving more and consuming less, however, many Americans sought to save the earth by purchasing “environmental” products. Energy-efficient home appliances flew off the shelves, health food sales boomed, and reusable canvas shopping bags became vogue in strip malls from Jacksonville to Jackson Hole. Credit card companies began to earmark a small percentage of profits for conservation groups, thus encouraging consumers to “help the environment” by striking off on idealistic shopping binges.
Such shopping sprees and health food purchases did absolutely nothing to improve the state of the planet, of course — but most people managed to feel a little better about the situation without having to make any serious lifestyle changes.
This notion — that material investment is somehow more important to life than personal investment — is exactly what leads so many of us to believe we could never afford to go vagabonding. The more our life options get paraded around as consumer options, the more we forget that there’s a difference between the two. Thus, having convinced ourselves that buying things is the only way to play an active role in the world, we fatalistically conclude that we’ll never be rich enough to purchase a long-term travel experience.”
Yes! Yes! Yes!