Thursday, January 21, 2010

Smart Choices

It's hard to get happy after this week's developments. First, Teabagger Brown won the Massachusetts special Senate election. Obama and the Democrats' response was to hang their heads and claim that  they won't be able to get anything done now - least of all, health care.

Second, and far worse, the Supreme Court ruled today that corporations can now spend unlimited piles of cash on political campaigns, which will make it difficult, if not impossible, for voters to make informed decisions when the go to the polls in future elections.

It's becoming painfully obvious that we, as average Americans, will not be able to change business as usual in Washington if we continue to sit around and expect the politicians to do the right thing and help us out. That'll never happen. Our government has devolved into a predatory institution that is working in collusion with big business. They're not working for our welfare, they're reaching for our wallets.

We can't change them, so we have to change ourselves. In other words, when it comes to corporations and our government, we need to STOP BUYING WHAT THEY'RE SELLING!

This needs to be more than a catchy slogan - it needs to become our way of life.

I was having a little back-and-forth on Facebook about this concept with a friend of mine from grade school. His basic (and paraphrased) response was, "Hey, I like my car, my computer, my cell phone, my TV, my heating and air conditioning system, etc. This stuff makes me happy and comfortable."

To be fair, my friend's response was mostly tongue-in-cheek. But for a lot of people, the thought of giving up some of our creature comforts or lowering our standard of living in order to challenge corporate power through good, old-fashioned demand-side economics is out of the question. However, that's exactly what we need to do, or else we will remain subservient to the Corporatocracy, who will continue upping the ante until they can charge us exorbitant rates for the very products we need to survive. By that point, sadly, we'll be desperate enough to pony up.

Listen, I know it's unrealistic to expect people to give up all the things they need to survive and be comfortable. Don't worry, I don't think that we should start making tools out of sticks and living in caves. But we need to start shifting our habits, gradually at first, and then pick up the pace. Technology innovations will help out, so long as we demand new, efficient solutions and refuse to use the old, inefficient technologies - this change will be gradual unless the price of oil forces our hand, (and it probably will, sooner than we think).

So for now, in this culture, we still need to buy stuff. I don't know anybody who can instantly start a garden, and never again walk inside a supermarket. Maybe back-to-the-earther Eustace Conway, but even he admits he still likes a plastic bucket.

Maybe the first step for many of us is to begin making smarter choices when we shop. The Better World Shopping Guide is a big help in this arena. It's not perfect (they still give Whole Foods a good rating - disregard this!), but their guide book will help you choose companies that are making smart, humane decisions, as well as avoid the "corporate villains", as the guidebook puts it.

The Guide rates companies based on five key issues: human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. You'll find out which companies are running 3rd-World sweatshops, which companies are the worst polluters or union busters - and conversely, which companies are giving back to citizens and working towards being part of the solution. The Guide fits in your pocket and costs $10.

Better World Shopping's website reads, "As citizens, on average, we might vote once every 4 years, if at all. As consumers, we vote every single day with the purest form of" We need to make those votes count, and this is an easy way to begin the transformation.

If you can grow a garden, by all means, do! And please make the effort to buy as many of the products you need from local and/or smaller, independent companies. Spend less, spend wisely.

We need to do much more in the long run, but becoming more conscious of how we spend our hard-earned money and making better consumer choices would be a great start!

PS - my intrepid fiancee Beth just found another great site to help you shop more responsibly.

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