CONTEMPLATING CONSUMER ETHICS
Lately I have been thinking a great deal about my moral responsibility, as a human being and as a consumer, to shop ethically. And not only that; the long fingers of unyielding obligation, to preserve what is left of a disintegrating planet, have been scratching at my conscience – I have a daughter and it would be nice if the world she inherits is not overwhelmed by landfills and melting icebergs.
I’m not sure if it’s Hugh’s Fish Fight, which is commanding lots of media attention at the mo (and rightly so), or society’s increasing understanding of the importance of organic, free-range and fair-trade products, that has spurred some serious overtime thinking on my part? Either way, I do know that over the last couple of weeks I have had three separate conversations, spontaneously evolved, about the great conundrum of consumer ethics, which suggests that I am not the only one who is contemplative.
What I realise, more poignantly than ever before, is that every individual, with conscious intent or subconscious behaviour, has created his or her own personal brand of moral obligation. And yet most of the time, the modern lifestyle that dictates our actions undermines our efforts and renders our ideology hypocritical and inconsistent. The fact is; we live in a world of mass production and mass consumption. It sucks but it is what it is. If we all joined together and fought the system to disband monopolisation and excess, life would be peachy. But ‘keeping it real’; that ain’t gonna happen. So let’s work with what we’ve got – a broken system. Within that brokenness we do our best to preserve, and to fix what is damaged. Or do we?
Does living in a broken world absolve us from responsibility – I mean, if it’s already broken…? Not a chance. Who broke it in the first place? And just because our ideas are often philosophically flawed, does that mean we don’t try? No. It doesn’t. I think that the best way to make a difference is to start small – commit to buying a couple of eco-friendly, fair-trade and/or organic products on a regular basis. And then build on that. Sounds doable right? But here’s where my thinking hits a snag; how far do you go – where do you draw the line? What is considered a reasonable limit? There are people out there who fight the ‘animal anti-cruelty/save the planet’ battle in extreme measures – veganism being an admirable option. But then if your philosophy tells you that it isn’t okay to slaughter animals and you are able to live a lifestyle in protest against the commodity status of animals and the use of animal products for any purpose, surely water, electricity, cars etc. – all the elements that contribute to global warming – are also out of the question? We’ve got to save the polar bears right?
I do want to save the polar bears but I also want to be clean. I try not to waste water unnecessarily, I fit energy saving bulbs in my house, I don’t leave the lights on unnecessarily (high five to me) – but I do slip up and I know that more is required of me. I am honestly not really sure what I am saying here, other than it is unlikely and impractical for us to go and squat on a piece of dirt and live off the land. We are to blame for moulding our society into the consumer capital that it is but if we want to be extreme, if we want to be consistent in our ideology, we have to go all the way, as in squatting, subsisting, dirt…
I guess the point is that only a select few are really willing to sacrifice life as we know it. So, to compensate the earth for our selfishness, we pick matters that are important to us; some of us avoid all meat and animal bi-products but shower three times a day, some of us buy free range meat but then eat ‘whatever’ meat at restaurants, some of us vote to save the fish but chow down on a battery bred chicken. Some of us install eco-friendly bulbs but use plastic bags and disposable nappies, some of us will always buy fair-trade bananas but genetically engineered apples make their way into the same trolley and some of us buy eco-friendly washing powder but use Fairy to wash the dishes because it cleans better.
It’s all just so weird and difficult to negotiate. I tell myself that every little effort helps – and it probably does. But every day I realise more and more that I need to do better.