Anderson Issues

Commentary on the Zeitgeist

Consumption and Personal Responsibility

Posted by Mr. Earhart on February 7, 2011

In watching Manufactured Landscapes, I was reminded of several conversations I had over the summer involving personal responsibility in relation to one’s ecological footprint, and, for that matter, one’s humanitarian footprint.  The film begs the question: How much responsibility does one bear in relation to the plight of those working in the dismal conditions of Industrialized SE Asia? One often feels helpless in resolving (or limiting) the horrific consequences of a society driven by consumption.  It seems that many segments of society no longer questions why we are doing thing – we simply do.  I feel for the people of SE Asia, yet my purchasing habits seem little altered as a result.  All I seem to feel is guilt.  Over the summer, we came to a quasi-consensus that one needs to recognize that one often has more choices than previously considered.  The thought that my actions, on an individual level, are meaningless is a cop-out.  I must accept responsibility for my actions.  I still have a choice to purchase a 42″ HDTV whilst disposing of my 19″ regular TV.  I choose to buy a new shirt when one is available at the Salvation Army.  I don’t have to feel guilty about this type of consumption, but I must recognize that my choices have consequences – and, I’m responsible for these consequences.

It also begs the question of the role of government in resolving many of these issues.  How much freedom should one have?  Should I still to have my groceries bagged via plastic?  Should Styrofoam cups, bowls, and plates be legal?  Should one be able to buy a Hummer without engaging in the “liberation” of Baghdad?  I can personally reject all of the above; but should our government enact policies to force the issue?

I want this post to merely spark a conversation about how society can limit and/or efficiently alter consumption in relation to equitable working conditions and environmental preservation.  In relation to these topics, I would prefer comments related to:

  1. What choices can/should I make as an individual?
  2. What choices can/should a government make?

For the last 6 months I’ve done an excellent job of shopping next-to-only at thrift stores and avoiding disposable coffee cups.  In 2012, I wish to up the ante by bringing my own bags for all groceries.  What else should I do?  What will you agree to do?

Also, how in the hell do I get that damn phone book from landing on my door step every few months?  It’s 2011!  No one under the age of 97 uses a phone book.

11 Responses to “Consumption and Personal Responsibility”

  1. Wizard said

    Buy locally grown and organic food. And yea, phone books are pointless. The U.S. has a culture of consumption and waste that will not be easily thrown off. People are so used to their creature comforts and being able to ignore the consequences of their happiness, that I can’t see a change happening in the near future without a ridiculously earth-shattering event happening first.

  2. babyblue said

    Honestly I think there are infinite amounts of things an individual can do the help the situation in SE Asia. However, the major hold back is that so many who have the mind set of wanting something to the extent of HAVING to get it, that I feel like making any real changes are minimal at this point in time. And I don’t think it is a good idea for the US government to get involved directly with SE Asia at the moment. I find it strange that a nation well known butting into other nations’ businesses, wanting to help things like living conditions, is the home to the very people who are infamous for their contribution to the situation in SE Asia. I can see guilt playing a big part of the government’s inclination to help, but the US can’t really help until the great majority of the country is willing to help.

    And as for the phone book thing, I think the only real use for them is a way to reach higher places. At least for me it is.

    • I guess I should have clarified my question in relation to what our society/government should collectively do. I was referring more to what types of policies our government could enact within the US (or within local communities) that would indirectly influence SE Asia.

  3. Aussie said

    I know i try to do right by recycleing etc. but i also know that it probably wont impact the big problem in SE asia. Although this doesnt stop me for a few reasons. One, it makes me feel good to know that in contributing to help reduce waste and saving the environment and two i believe its just the right thing to do. I dont think we can change what is happening over there not individually anyway. There has to happen so many things for just one tiny thing to change. Thats just my opinion.

  4. CR said

    Mr. Earhart! There’s supposedly a way to stop receiving phone books. Your’e going to have to look into that yourself though.
    http://www.grist.org/article/2009-08-25-time-to-get-rid-of-phone-books/

    • Wow, Missouri metro areas are ahead of Austin on this one – unacceptable. C’mon Austin, as the article basically says that my only current option is to recycle said phone books – or to politically organize and present a plan to the City Council or Texas Legislature. Somebody start/find a Facebook group about this issue.

  5. Kwoww said

    Although all of these are great questions they focus on so many current issues. Going green, going to war, even going to what store to shop at. Everything always looks good on paper but we struggle on putting these ideas to practice. And to address how to reduce your carbon footprint, buy an electric vehicle! But of course those are hardly affordable…

  6. hotchips said

    I agree, electric vehicles are far and few between and as of now are not so practical due their elevated costs, few numbers (would be harder for maintenance or replacing parts), and safety concerns (batteries over-heating and catching fire).
    About one’s personal responsibility in terms of mindful consumption, I believe that as an individual there are few immediate actions to take that will influence a global corporate market but I realize that there are several important methods that may hopefully be benefecial enough to influence others. One of these is to eat at home more often (about 4-5 days per week), therefore decreasing the demand that restaurants frequently place on processed foods and materials to operate that come from other areas around the world.
    The tricky thing about about a mindful consumption is the inverse impact that it can have on those who build and deal with products outsourced to their countries. If people were indeed to make a large enough impact to reduce the demands on these outsourced products (Walmarts and Targets would probably effectively cease to exist :P), then what would become of the jobs that are required to make them? To those people in manufacturing and developing countries who often work monotonous and low-paying jobs as manufacturers of goods, this is probably the only way that they can earn any kind of income. A paycheck is a paycheck, no matter how small, and it is important for a country’s economy that these people remained employed. With that being said, I believe that mindful consumption should definitely be considered, but that an increase in attention given to the betterment of the working conditions of these manufacturing workers in countries like China and Bangladesh be given a high priority as well.

  7. Cold said

    I think that it is hard as an individual to make choices that do not benefit ourselves. It is hard for me to go against the crowd and stop buying the clothes I like, for example. Although I would really like to be the kind of person who could do that, the reality is that not many people are. Therefore, I think that we have to rely on other things than just letting people make this choice for themselves, because not many people will. To really see a difference, we need people forcing us to make the right decision. The government can decide that only fair trade food is allowed to be sold in stores and decide to restrict trade with for example China until they improve conditions for their workers.

  8. New things are being created every day, they have new phones that come out, different looks, upgraded technology. They advertise these things on tv everyday. Nowadays its hard for people to be satisfied with what they have, they “NEED” to have the newest things that are coming up in every corner. So when they get a new phone they just throw away the old one they had without thinking about where it goes. I think that makes it hard for people to hold back on buying new things. I guess this doesn’t really answer your question but i just thought i should say, that people can say they want to change the world and make it a better place…but this time it’s not the thought that counts.

  9. sourpatchkid said

    i definitely think we have a responsibility to reduce the amount of materials we consume and attempt to contribute less trash and waste to the earth. reduce reuse recycle. but i must say, i honestly dont feel guilty for those living in se asia. i mean, i feel for them in that they have a sucky government and poor living conditions but i dont really understand how our consumption is negatively affecting them. unless we are forcing them to make our products against their will, or are the ones enforcing horrible working conditions and wages on them….i dont really see how we can be blamed? if we just stopped purchasing from them, millions of people would be out of jobs. i think our over consumption is a problem, but i dont think that’s the problem in se asia. i think the problem is their corrupt government. granted, im pretty ignorant on this topic, so theres a very high chance i have no idea what im talking about.

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