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Ideas / EthicalConsumerism

Why ethical consumerism is only an answer

(And certainly not The answer)

(in response to this deviantART journal by my uncle:, it's this comment:

no, not a cop-out :) I just don't distinguish that much between MacDeath and the rest of the consumer industry that I seem to spend so much time being a part of.

Here's a bit more in depth if you're interested:


I really don't believe that we can claim to lead ethical lives of the sort hankered after by ethical consumers (and the tone of this entire journal/responses seems to be exactly the tone of the ethical consumer, so I might have chosen that label wrongly, but not lightly) through adjusting our modes of consumption within the (fairly narrow) limits advocated by ethical consumerism.

As far as I can see, ethical consumerism is just the thin end of the wedge for rescuing far gone consumers, not a final solution for the likes of me who already find consumerism distasteful and so can take more direct routes to living ethically in the given sense.

What worries me is that ethical consumerism may end up not being the thin end of a wedge that helps disestablish consumerism, but is in fact just another coddling protective layer for the existing consumerism.


I think I've been to MacDeath just once in the last several years. But that's more an indicator of my social class than my ethical standards.

Closer to the truth is that I'm a fairly frequent patron of the entire unethical food industry. (And that that patronage is an undesired side-effect of other unethical consumer related activities of mine, and certainly not a direct life-style choice.)

If anything, my main food crimes are buying processed/prepared food for a much more middle class target audience, which I suspect are just as bad, but have been duly stamped with the requisite conscience soothing labels. Conscience soothing that is, if you have the credulity of a good middle class consumer.

I don't like this villifying of the 'old' consumer establishments: usually it feels like a thinly veiled way of actually villifying the followers of the out-of-fashion, and the working class (or the plebs, proles or whatever else you might want to call them).

Yes it would be possible for me to put in the effort to be as ethical a consumer as I can be. But realistically, I don't think it's worth my time (and maybe even a counterproductive use of time, even within the scope of the problem), because it's just not a scalable solution: the real tragedy is all-encompassing consumerism. So my choice is not to devote myself to ethical consumerism (but I'm glad some people do, I just hope they don't buy it's self-deceptions for too long), but to devote myself to finding communicable methods of reducing my consumption of any kind of consumer goods. Further, to minimize my consumption of any kind of material/energy-intensive production.

So the question I ask myself is not, are these goods that I'm consuming ethically produced, but, why am I consuming these goods in the first place? I'm beginning to get reasonable answers to the second question, and as I do, the first question evaporates.


Also, there's a glaring philosophical mistake at the core of the current implementation of ethical consumerism: ethical consumerism today works by labelling products with ethical judgements. Ethical consumers are literally outsourcing their ethical judgement. Sounds like religion again. And as with religion, or any oligarchic mode of service provision, the service providers aren't usually greatly trustworthy.

A better form of ethical consumerism is to make the production process observable to the consumer, so they can make their own judgements: based on sense data, not just theory and propoganda. The most ethical way I can think of to do that is to bring the production process to them: and have them take part as much as possible. We move from being consumers to being (co)producer-consumers.

I would like to concern myself with that process of making production observable and inclusive, not so much trying to dig through the web of confusion that just hides ugliness anyway. The confusers/confused are better at it than me, so I won't stake my conscience on trying to beat them at their own game.

And I certainly won't feel guilty about taking part in a game that is hard to opt out of, although I do feel responsible. So I do do my best to opt out of it. And to help others to.

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Page last modified on June 01, 2007, at 09:10 PM