disobedia : editorial
is there blood on your hands?
[preaching on the ills of modern consumerism]

issue 4.2 | fall 1999

We are stupid consumers and we should be ashamed of ourselves.

It's not just that we buy too much, that we buy things that we clearly do not need, or that we think nothing of the waste we produce. It's that on top of everything else, we never question from where it is that all the things we buy come or to whom it is that we are giving all our money. We are to blame for the current mess this world is in, and sadly, we do not even realize it.

The next time you pull out your wallet to buy something, ask yourself honestly, "what am I paying for?" No one is simply buying a product or a service. It's not just an apple or an orange, not just a car or a house or a program on the computer. It's not just a carton of milk or a pair of pants, a bottle of cologne or a gallon of gas, not just a dry cleaner, a hospital or a restaurant...Most of the time, it's a conspiracy -- and we are the ones funding it. How do you feel about that?

Do you know what resources were necessary in the creation of this product or service you are about to buy? how did the people selling this to you acquire those resources? did they get it in a fair deal or did they steal it from someone else? in the process, did they poison our air and water or did they irreparably rape the land? in the process, were people oppressed or mistreated? did people die or become sick? Do you know whose pocket it is that you are lining? what will they do with this money? what do they believe in? what sort of conscience do they have? who are their allies and their enemies, who is their parent company? When you give them this money, what power are you giving them? and ultimately, will they use this power against you one day?

Ask. Just once. Stop and think. Just for one minute. If you are paying for it, then it is your money which makes the lying, the stealing, the poisoning, the oppressing, the maiming and the killing possible. If you knew you had blood on your hands, would you feel guilty? could you sleep at night?

Maybe we should ask -- maybe we need to know. Maybe we have blood on our hands.

Modern technology has advanced and complicated the process by which everything is produced and delivered. At the same time, industrialization has specialized every person to the point that few people know anything about the details of producing and delivering life's basic necessities, let alone all the frivolous things we consume. Moreover, it appears that most people prefer the pursuit of wealth and the luxury of ignorant selfish spending habits rather than the pursuit of a better quality of living for themselves and for the future of our kind. We are not getting wiser as a species; we are simply consuming and destroying more stuff. Unfortunately, I predict that if this manner of living does not catch up with us in our lifetime, surely it will in our children's lifetime.

Perhaps a few centuries ago, our greatest enemy was mother nature or the king or an invading tribe, sect or nation. But I believe that today, the entrepreneur, particularly large corporations, have become the prevailing danger. Now please don't misunderstand me, I am not against free enterprise and I am not against people improving their lot in life. I've just noticed that more often than less, entrepreneurs big and small don't seem to have their customers' (let alone humanity's) best interests at heart. Many companies have people running them who seem to have no conscience and people working for them who seem unwilling or afraid to question. Even though we all suffer the same proverbial slings and arrows, when the money makers are out making money, many of them seem to disassociate themselves from other humans or other groups of humans. It seems fair game to hurt or cheat people, especially if they don't know any better or can't protect themselves. And it certainly seems to be acceptable practice to jeopardize the viability of the only place where we can live: this planet.

Some of these offending companies spend a fortune on advertising. They know that as of yet there is nothing to force us to buy things, so they must make every effort not only to influence and persuade us, but to brainwash us and to prey on our weaknesses. Ironically, the money for all this so-called persuasion comes from us. Our continuous shopping spree funds the ever-growing bombardment. It's a vicious cycle, and as the stakes grow higher, it is no longer enough to inform or suggest. There is no substance, no questioning. They will club us over the head until we can think of nothing else but trying what they want us to try and buying what they want us to buy. Sure it's nice to treat ourselves to a convenience or a pleasure that we do not need, but where does one draw the line between justifiable privilege and sheer excess?

If left unchecked, they will begin to control us by making us a bunch of addicts and then squeezing us to do their bidding so we can get our fix. To some degree, they are already doing this. Are you an addict? I'm not just talking about alcohol or cigarettes. I'm talking about something far more insidious. Are you addicted to your television, to your car or your cell phone, to shopping, to having more, to being wasteful, to having it bigger or faster, to having it "super," to always having it shiny, new and clean? Have you bought yourself into bondage? Do you find you do not have enough time to watch the sunset, to hold your child -- to even catch your breath -- because you must constantly work to make the money to buy all this crap? Why do you think you need all this crap? Meanwhile, the people who control these enterprises are comfortably riding on our backs putting forth far less effort and enjoying far more shameful, wasteful extravagance.

Many of these huge corporations have as much power over our lives as government, and where they do not wield direct control, they exert influence -- all of which they buy with our money. Our continuous shopping spree funds their political lobbying and their court defenses. They have well-ironed spokespeople who spew a lot of fancy rhetoric to explain why they should be trusted to police themselves or why something is not in our "economic interest." And all the while, behind the smoke and mirrors, our money is being used to buy off the very people we supposedly elect to serve and protect us. For those who bother to vote, the act of casting one's ballot is gradually becoming a formality or a farce.

If you had to choose between taking a salary cut or cheating people for higher pay, between becoming unemployed or taking a job where you poisoned people, what would you choose? I fear that many entrepreneurs are having difficulty making similar ethical choices. In fact, as I see it, many entrepreneurs are having difficulty seeing that there is a choice...perhaps they do not believe they can make a living or turn a profit any other way, or perhaps they do not even see that there is harm in what they are doing. I imagine that is how they can live with themselves; they not only disassociate with humanity, but also with the reality of their role in any wrongdoing. They deny or justify to the extreme. Just as specialization has detached the consumer from any understanding of the specifics regarding the goods and services which he buys, so it serves to detach the manufacturer, distributor and retailer from any clear responsibility and blame for the same specifics about what they sell. Everyone perceives himself as just an insignificant cog in the machine, and as such, each participant would like to think he is not culpable for his participation. Quite the contrary. Every participant -- including the consumer -- bears some liability.

Wake up! Know the true consequences of your actions. Know what you are buying and whom you are buying it from. Be a responsible consumer. Think before you buy. Don't support companies that steal, cheat and lie; that control and manipulate; that poison, pollute, and kill. Their behavior effects all of us in the end. They think we don't care, that we don't know. They think we are too busy, too tired, too lazy, or too stupid to stop them. Let's prove them wrong. Ask questions and dig deeper -- don't take their word for it. When you discover something you don't like, don't wait for someone else to take care of it. You have power; you have a "vote." Every penny in your pocket is a vote. Spend it carefully; vote carefully. Remind them that in a free market, it is they who need us...and we will not stand for their behavior.

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