Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Consumerist environmentalism? Hypocricism

The Ad says it all "Is your home green? Want it to be?...moderng*eenliv* my house is smarter than yours"!!
Hemp t-shirts, holidays in eco-forests (what are those, aren't all forests "eco"?), biodiesel cars ( don't they pollute as much and increase food prices to top it off?).. take your pick, just pay a premium for the "green" tag.

Married with so ubiquitous a consumerist society that we don't even see the hypocrisy or irony of our actions. What can you do to save the environment? "Buy a Prius" it seems. I got this sarcastic soundbite from an article on the freegans in the NYT
Freegans in urban United States
The freegans are a community that basically lives off the fringes and throw-aways of a consumerist society
Umm... I certainly wouldn't meet them even half-way in terms of opinion but they certainly have a point.

One might easily be tempted to call the freegans parasites but they aren't. That they CAN live off cities' refuse doesn't mean they have to. Their way of living is sustainable and scalable to a point. In an enabled environment, they can immediately move to locally produced food and environmentally friendly housing, furniture and other items for living made within the community. And at its peak they might resemble some sort of a marriage between the Amish and Marx in a modern and liberal setting. While the majority seem to lean far far away into the left, you can see that they're educated, middle class younger people who're not doing these to be parasitic but to reduce the impact of society on the environment. My understanding of this comes from as simple a gesture as sharing the half full bottle of tide down the line insead of hoarding it. And while the left is always at the forefront of such campaigns, everyone can in fact be partly freegan simply by watching what you throw out and watching what you buy. Given that the fashion world couldn't possibly survive if people don't throw out last season's clothes or the automobile industry or the electronics industry... developed countries especially can build better, tighter reduce, reuse, recycle regimens.

I don't buy the argument of "exploiting resources" though. There is a certain price we pay for being who we are. Physics experiments take up enough electricity that could power cities for a whole year in minutes... are we gonna stop progress in physics then? How about stopping space exploration, the billions of tons of fuel that go up in...well .. smoke? Or giving up progress in nano technology, metals and materials, even garment technology because we don't like nuclear technology? Fashion stimulates and so does research in finance.

Another example of popular consumerism masquerading as environmentalism
Are people so stupid that the don't understand that globalisation is so entrenched that even if the t-shirt says "Made in Downtown LA", the cotton comes from Egypt, the dye from China and the rubber for printing from Malaysia and its worse to import all these including that large percentage which will inevitably be waste. Moreover its economically harmful for poorer countries if you import the raw materials and export finished goods and that is a throwback to colonial imperialist times?

Instead people with a voice can lobby for better public transport, faster and better trains instead of letting airlines proliferate, policy toward de-centralisation of the food market and encouraging local foods, policy that favours power from renewable energy, advertisements directed at children etc.... These issues do not restrict the pro effects of capitalism such as enablement of entrepreneurship but help reduce the irresponsible consumerist aspect of capitalism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Age of Barbaria
by Jorge Majfud; translated by Bruce Campbell
Published in the Humanist, July/August 2008

Annual trips back to the year 33 began in the Age of Barbaria. That year was selected because, according to surveys, Christ’s crucifixion drew the attention of most Westerners, and this social sector was important for economic reasons since trips to the past weren’t organized, much less financed, by the government of any country (as had once happened with the first trips into space) but by a private company. The financial group that made the marvel of traveling through time possible was called Axa. Acting at the request of the High Chief of Technology, who suggested infinite profits through “tourism services,” Axa transported groups of thirty people each to the year 33 in order to witness the death of the Nazarene, much as the tourist commoners did long ago when at each equinox they would gather at the foot of the pyramid of Chitchen-Itzá to witness the formation of the serpent from the shadows cast down by the pyramid upon itself.

The greatest inconvenience encountered by Axa was the limited number of tourists who were able to attend the event at one time, thus hampering the millions in profit expected by the investors. For this reason the group maximum was gradually raised to forty-five, at the risk of attracting the attention of the ancient residents of Jerusalem. That figure has been maintained at the request of one of the company’s principal stockholders, who argued, reasonably, that the conservation of that historic deed in its original state was the basis for the trips, and that if each group produced alterations to the facts, it could result in an abandonment of general interest in carrying out this kind of travel.

Over time it has been proven that each historical alteration of the facts, no matter how small, is nearly impossible to repair. Such damage occurs whenever one of the travelers fails to respect the rules and attempts to take away some memento of the place. The most well-known was the case of Adam Parker who, with incredible dexterity, was able to cut out a triangular piece of the Nazarene’s red tunic, probably at the moment the latter collapsed from fatigue. The theft did not signify any change in the holy scriptures, but it served to make Parker rich and famous, since the tiny piece of canvas came to be worth a fortune, and more than a few of the travelers who have since taken on the trouble and expense of going back thousands of years have done so to see where the Nazarene is missing “Parker’s Triangle.”

A few have posed objections to this kind of travel, which, they insist, will end up destroying history in ways beyond our notice. In effect, it has: for each change introduced on any given day, infinite changes are derived from it, century after century, gradually diluting or multiplying its effects. In order to notice a minimal change in the year 33 it would be useless to turn to the holy scriptures, because all of the editions, equally, would reflect the blow and completely forget the original facts. There might be a possibility of tracing each change by projecting other trips to years just prior to the Age of Barbaria, but nobody would be interested in such a project and there would be no way of financing it.

The discussion about whether history should remain as it is or can be legitimately modified also no longer matters. But the latter is, in any case, dangerous, since it is impossible to foresee the resulting changes that would be produced by any particular alteration. We know that any change might not be catastrophic for the human species, but could potentially be catastrophic for individuals: we might not be the ones who are alive now, but someone else instead.

The most radical religious groups find themselves on opposing sides. Barbaria’s information services have recently discovered that a group of Evangelicals belonging to the True Church of God in Sao Pablo, will make a trip to the year 33. Thanks to the charity of its faithful, the group has managed to gather together the sum of several million charged by Axa per ticket. What no one has yet been able to confirm are the group’s intentions. It’s been said they will blow up Golgotha and set fire to Jerusalem at the moment of the Crucifixion, so that we thus arrive at the greatly anticipated End Times. All of history would disappear; the whole world, including the Jews, would recognize their error and would turn to Christianity in the year 33. The entire world would live in the Kingdom of God, just as described in the Gospels.

Others dispute this as conspiracy theory, or they question how the travelers could witness the Crucifixion without trying to prevent it. The theological answer is obvious, which is why those least interested in preventing the martyrdom of the Messiah are his own followers. But for the rest, who are the majority, Axa has decreed its own ethical rules: “In the same manner in which we do not prevent the death of the slave between the claws of a lion when we travel to Africa, neither must we prevent the apparent injustices that are committed with the Nazarene. Our moral duty is to conserve nature and history as they are.” The crucifixion is the common heritage of humanity, but, above all, its rights have been acquired totally by Axa.

In fact, the changes will be increasingly inevitable. After six years of trips to the year 33, one can see, at the foot of the cross, bottle caps and magic marker graffiti on the main beam, some of which pray: “I have faith in my lord,” and others just limit themselves to the name of who was there, along with the date of departure, so that future generations of travelers will remember them. Of course, the company also began to yield in the face of pressure from dissatisfied clients, leading to a radical improvement in services. For example, Barbaria just sent a technical representative to the year 26 to request the production of five thousand cubic meters of asphalt and to negotiate with Pontius Pilate the construction of a more comfortable corridor for the Via Dolorosa, which will make less tiresome the travelers’ route and, besides, would be a gesture of compassion for the Nazarene, who more than once broke his feet on stones that he failed to see in his path. It has been calculated that the improvement won’t mean changes in the holy scriptures, since there is no special concern demonstrated there for the urbanism of the city.

With these measures, Axa hopes to shelter itself from the storm of complaints it has received due to alleged inadequacies in service, having to confront recently very costly lawsuits brought by clients who have spent a fortune and have returned unsatisfied. The cause of these complaints is not always the intense heat of Jerusalem, or the congestion in which the city is entrapped on the day of the Crucifixion. Above all the cause is the unsatisfied expectations of the travelers. The company defends itself by saying that the holy scriptures weren’t written under its quality control, but instead are only historical documents and, therefore, are exaggerated. There where the Nazarene really dies, instead of a deep and horrifying night, the sky is barely darkened by an excessive concentration of clouds, and nothing more. The Catholics have declared that this fact, like all those referenced in the Gospels, should be understood in its symbolic meaning and not merely descriptively. But most people were satisfied neither by Axa’s response nor by that of Pope John XXV, who came out in defense of the multinational corporation, thanks to which people can now be closer to God.

Jorge Majfud is a Uruguayan writer who received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, and who currently teaches at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. His essays, story collections, and several novels have been translated into Portuguese, French, English, German, Italian, and Greek. His latest novel is The City of the Moon (Baile de Sol, 2008).

Bruce Campbell teaches Hispanic Studies at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in Minnesota, and is the author of Mexican Murals in Times of Crisis (University of Arizona, 2003) and the forthcoming ¡Viva la historieta! Mexican Comics, NAFTA, and the Politics of Globalization (University Press of Mississippi).
© 2008, American Humanist Association