Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What if you could buy social justice?

We have a real treat today readers.  Professor What If is guest posting today.  She makes some excellent points which I am sure will lead to great conversations.

What if you could pop into Whole Foods and purchase an end to human trafficking? What if your local grocery store produce picked by workers who earned a living wage? What if you could buy some no-sweat clothes (clothes not made via sweatshop labor) as easily as digs made out of the lifeblood of others? What if American Apparel sold diversity rather than anorexic chic, racism, and sexism? Heck, what if you shopped at Wal-Mart and could purchase a union membership or some fair labor practices? Well, all of the above would be pretty darn cool. I, an admitted shopaholic, would love to be able to buy me some social justice.

However, as much as we are exhorted to “go green,” “buy organic,” and “shop for the cure,” being avid consumers will not a socially just world make. You can shop until your wallet is empty and all your credit cards are maxed out at Sprouts, and this will not make the food industry any more safe or fair. You can get a hip new hybrid and zip around with a softer “carbon footprint,” but this will not change Big Oil pillaging or the toxins corporations color our water supply with. You can buy a “Inspi(red)” shirt from the Gap, and this will not eliminate AIDS/HIV. Or, as News Out of Africa puts it, “it’s a sad thing to promote consumerism as even a partial solution to funding the HIV/AIDS pandemic.” More generally, it’s a sad and dangerous thing to promote consumerism as the solution to the world’s problems.

The inability to make socially just purchases is a problem for all of us as we can’t very well walk around naked and starving every day as we try to find clothes made by workers who are paid fairly or food to eat that has not been either genetically modified or harvested via the exploitation of others. It is also difficult because we here in the land-of-the-not-free-or-equal are taught from birth that if you buy it, you will feel better.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting a ten part series over at my blog, Professor What if, that will critique consumerism and the trend to promote shopping as a way to save the world. At this, perhaps the most shop-crazed time of year, I think a consideration of our worship of consumerism is in order. Posts to come are as follows:

Part 2: The One True Religion: Consumerism

Part 3: The Temple of Wal-Mart

Part 4: The Church of Disney

Part 5: The Mall as a Place of Worship

Part 6: Wearing Justice: T-shirts, Bracelets, and Ribbons, Oh my!

Part 7: Driving Your Way to Eco-Freedom: The ‘Go Green’ Message on Auto-drive

Part 8: Saving the world Oprah style: I’ll give you a million dollars to save the world…

Part 9: Think Pink: Cancer Profiteering

Part 10: Avoiding the ATM: Breaking the Consumerist Mindset


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