When I make an “environmentally-” or “socially-conscious” choice, I feel such a sense of accomplishment and personal pride. I have made such a difference this time, I think. Yes, I buy mass-produced clothes from the mall, but I also shop at Value Village. Yes, I throw out my faded curtains and get a new phone when my old one turns staticky, but I also compost apple cores and sometimes even fish plastic bottles out of the garbage to transfer them to a recycling bin. Yes, I will still buy Nestlé chocolate, but I also buy Fair Trade Cocoa Camino once in awhile.
Why have I never realized that what is in question is not a product, but a person? When I buy Nestlé chocolate or a new pair of jeans made who-knows-where; when there is no convenient recycling bin so I throw out a bottle instead of bringing it home to recycle (or better yet, when I buy a disposable drink bottle in the first place) …
These choices I am making are socially-conscious choices. I am consciously and deliberately choosing to support abusive labour policies and the destruction of the earth.
Making the choice to “shop fair trade” and “live green” are not actions to be praised. They are not actions that should fill me with pride. When a parent doesn’t beat their child senseless, we don’t consider them to be an exceptional parent. That seems to be behaviour that we simply expect from any rational human being.
So why am I so proud of myself when I don’t support child labour, when I don’t actively contribute to the mutilation of my surrounding environment? These are not extraordinary feats. These are things that simply meet the bar of decency and common sense.
There are people dying because I expect them to provide me with a standard of living that is impossible to sustain, and even more impossible to share. And yet I expect a pat on the back when, once a week, I sip some fair trade tea (oh, and the kitschy mug I’m using was bought second-hand!)