Lately, I've been thinking hard about consumerism. Thinking hard about the choices we make; about all the things we do and buy which are not presented as choices. I've been thinking about the divide between what people think, and their self-identity, and what they actually do.
This post on lifestyle activism made me laugh. And this post about the latest status update meme made me laugh too. But it makes me sad that people think they are doing good while actually they are doing nothing.
Raising awareness. What does that mean? How does that translate into change? Well, most of the time it doesn't. You can set your facebook status to say anything you want. Saying 'bad palm oil' on facebook won't get it banned - it may make you feel warm and fuzzy for 'doing good', but actually no good has been done. Telling everyone the colour of your bra may make them think about breast cancer - but just thinking about it is useless. Raising awareness is liberal hippie bullshit unless it is backed up by meaningful action.
There are two sides to this in my head. One is 'good' people, who make consumer choices which are not just detrimental, but directly causing pain, suffering and death. People don't think, "I want to kill an orangutan today, and help contribute to the extinction of the species." They think "hmm, might go buy a broom handle. And while I'm at it, I'll pick up a packet of biscuits as well." 80% of the plywood in the USA comes from old growth forest, orangutan habitat. But we don't think of orangutans when we buy it. We don't want to destroy the forest or send hundreds, thousands of species to extinction. We just want to build a bookshelf.
So yes, I'd like people's awareness raised, because our society is set up so that we don't have to think about the consequences of our consumer choices, don't have to think of what happens around the world to get our cheap and easy products on the shelf. We have little or no knowledge of how or where our goods are produced. It's the privilege of ignorance. But there's little point 'raising awareness' if it isn't going to translate into action.
Because the other side of the coin is those who seem to think that mindpower will somehow fix things. This is the 'if I think pure thoughts the energy of the earth will be raised and change will happen" attitude. Yeah, hippie bullshit. One of my mates asked me what was needed to save the orangutans. I said, "Money. You're a musician - set up a benefit gig. Raise funds. Busk. We need money to pay the forest patrols, money to buy land for habitat, money to pay for food and medication. WE NEED MONEY."
So what did she do? Set up a facebook event, for people to change their status to 'save the orangutan, ban palm oil'. And somehow, she managed to tell herself that it would make a difference, that she was doing something for the orangutans.