Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reading Response: "Practices of Looking" Chapter Seven

So here's the thing--capitalism rules our lives. Whether we mean to or not, we define who we are by what we buy and where we buy it and so on and so forth. I, for example, have purchased my way into the identity of not caring what's "cool" and just going with what fits, looks alright, and is reasonably priced. Yet I've also strayed from that identity by getting a bunch of Gap jeans over Winter break. So now my wallet (or my mom's wallet, really) says that maybe I do care about the label a bit, because $70 is kind of crazy for a pair of jeans, when really it's just that Gap happens to be the only store that sells jeans that fit me.

This is where I start having issues with "commodity culture" and "voting with your wallet" and things like that. There's this idea that you should only buy from a company if you agree with their ethics and want to support them in their endeavors, but practicality tends to get in the way. So no, I'm not particularly fond of what I've heard about Wal-Mart's ethics, but the fact of the matter is that they have low prices and I'm a broke college student with no job. So yes, I still shop at Wal-Mart, because if I don't, I won't be able to eat by the end of next year.

I distinctly remember chatting with a co-worker once who said that it bugged her when people wore "go green" shirts without thinking about the fact that those shirts were made by underpaid child labor. And I thought, how many ethical missions can you support at one time?

Really, if you want to live a green life without supporting the evil industries of the world in their exploitation of underprivileged workers, you have to grow all your own food and make all your own clothes--oh, but don't buy your fabric off the shelf, because that's mass-produced somewhere, too. Make your own fabric. And by the time you go that far, you're taking up so much land for farming and such that you're contributing to over-crowding the planet, because it's that much more space where other people can't live.

The more I learn about this sort of stuff, the more helpless I feel to it all. I just don't know where to find a balance between taking care of myself and taking care of the world, so I end up only taking care of myself. I mean, I try to recycle, but beyond that? I want to be ignorant, if only to avoid the guilt of doing nothing when I'm trapped by the big bad companies and my empty wallet.

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