Friday, February 08, 2008

Story of stuff

My friend sent me a link to this site which is called the story of stuff.

Story of stuff
It is about.. exactly what the site name says ... story of stuff.
However, it is not what we usually have in mind when we think of stuff or products.
The whole idea of this project is to make people, I think mostly aimed at Americans, more aware of exactly what it takes for us to consume things and what the consequences of this consumption is by taking a glimpse at the whole process of ..stuff.
Although for most, especially scientists or people who deal with these issues, it is a rather simplistic view on the world, it maps out the total process of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal.

Media driven NEED
The key point of this video is that we are trained or pushed by society and capital into thinking that we are in need of things, and this is driven by media which is funded by capital. That consumption, or the golden arrow of consumption, has been emphasized especially after the Second World War so that society can generate ever increasing need for it.

It also talks about how we ourselves realize ourselves through consumption these days and well media drives our needs for new stuff and buy stuff to make us feel better about ourselves or just to sustain a certain level of self image.

Production process
But more importantly, its the point that when we do this, we forget the exact process it came through or what disposing of it will do in the longer run. In other words, when we buy a product, as a consumer on its own interest, will try to buy the cheapest product available, which suits one's needs. Not taking the responsibility of how exactly this product was made to be sold for what it costs. What we fail to realize is that us, as consumers buying the product, we are in fact encouraging the previous processes of how this product came about (thus the extraction of natural resources, production= with harmful chemicals, exploitation of labour etc). The beauty of it all is that the product manufacturers are so good in hiding this and distracting our focuses elsewhere- in our realization of selves when we buy the product = marketing. Also the key ideas of capitalism are based exactly on such things, of how individuals acting on their own free interest will eventually end up in an equilibrium and of larger profit. (such is the ideas of the invisible hand market or economic liberalism)

MEAT and food
Although this video has not taken produce/food products as its main focus point, it is the same process. I think the reason why we are consuming vast amount of meat, more than doubled per capita in the last 4 decades, its because 1) its become more cheaper and available, 2) we have no idea about how it is produced. This is due to the picture of the happy cow we see on the cover of our ham. We imagine a world where ham grows from trees so to say.
We have turned ourselves into happy blissful consumers, for our own interests. We are at the point of time, where we are able to consume as much as we want to a point of Glutonny. Raised by parents who have suffered from wars, children of the mass media and marketing age we are used to easy consumption.
However, I think times are changing and although slowly, we have came to a point when we realize that this is not sustainable. The focus on economy and capital generation with short term projections will not do.
We must be responsible and take charge of what is happening.

Revolution from within
I think we are in a age or a new enlightenment, where we critique the ideas of pure capitalism. If up the era of after WW II (1950s) to the end of the cold war (1990s) can be categorized as the fight between capitalism and socialism, I think now is the time of true evaluation of our capitalist society not from a East vs. West view, but with a post-modernist view of socialism, a critique from within. Not only must we own what is rightfully ours so to say, it entails rightfully taking responsibility of our behaviours. And what I seen now more and more especially in the societies where capitalism has already flourished to its up most, is this type of need for change. People realizing that this societal structure cannot go on like this.

In this respect Marx may have been right. We might now go into socialism... hurrah~

Hard choices
Having said all this, one last point to make is that, although everything is easily said, and maybe easily understood however, it is hard for us to change our live styles to live more responsibly. Especially when we take everything into account. I have a friend, who have said that earlier on his life, he wanted to be aware of every consequence of his behaviour, especially as a consumer and a living being of this society, it ended up him not being able to do anything and being chronically depressed. He had a point there, it is that if we think of all things, it might lead us to a conclusion that its best to go rot in a flower bed somewhere because whatever you do, and however we live, we will destroy the earth somehow.
The key point is about balance, and trying to change your whole approach to things. First of all, to be more conscious of behaviour, especially your consumption behaviour- yes including food. I don't mean just buy organic food. Eat less! Eat just as much as you need. when buying anything think of the consequences of it- see where and how it was made - such as if it is fair trade, doesn't exploit labour, doesn't exploit the earth, - as well as how it looks and how cheap it is. (I've heard that in Germany there is a book called the little black book of manufacturing... or something that tells you all about the major manufacturers' production characteristics..)
Fair enough, living with these rules is not easy. If you go out and buy only organic food- first of all its hard, because with the exception of few major cities- such as Berlin, New York etc - its probably impossible to buy all organic, and will cost you at least twice as much and have been critiqued as being the new way of showing money of the upper middle class. But yeah, unfortunately this is the price we pay, but then again if many people think the same, this will form an interest group, pressure groups for politicians and government to really crack down on the food industry so that the organic mark becomes redundant because everything is grown organic.
And then comes the balance. its hard to find out exactly what is the right balance of things, so you don’t go kill yourself and are able to enjoy yourself, while being more conscious. How can we do this?

Help groups
The most important step is to reassess your ideas on what are your wants and needs are. You need shoes, but not need Pradas. You need clothes, but do not need five pairs of jeans of different designs every year. Its hard to re-train yourself into trying to really change your consumer habits, since we are almost forced into increasing our needs making ourselves believe that we need several things to survive by media and society. Think about your current living methods, and see what can be changed, little baby steps...
It might be that we actually need rehabilitation to really change our behaviours, and well the good news is that there are groups that can help - such as those who make you pledge not to buy anything for a year or the same but just for clothes. The bad news is that joining the group ain’t the end of it and this consists of a life time commitment.

Free time comes along the package
But then again, having said this, I've actually have experienced not buy anything other than food and essentials(okay I'm sorry but this included books and CDs) for a given number of months, not really as a rational choice but more because I was lazy, and you have no idea how liberating it feels. First you gain a lot of free time, because you don't have to go and waste time eye shopping, shopping for bargains, trying various things, and lastly finding something you like. All that time shopping is used on other things.


Hwa Young J said...

Are you yourself so far removed from the food process that you think ham comes from cows, happy or otherwise?

Hey you know, getting organic isn't that much expensive. I should know, you just need to eat less. Also, I don't buy any meat, so that could be non-contributing to the grocery bill.

insatiable hee said...

I choose my role as a blissful consumer because, just like other people, 1) I already have too many shit to take care of 2) am not able to do otherwise ==> no bio shop around..
but as you mention, its not that easy, but the other thing is I am NOT a vegetarian or a vegan, I would go organic, but not veggie. I don't eat that much meat to begin with, and rather be conscious eater, not choosing to just focus on one thing. Also I cannot give up kimchi.

Hwa Young J said...

I'm not saying I'm a vegetarian. I tried, but as you say I can't give up kimchi, or other seafood dishes. I'm still wrestling with with to eat sustainable Korean food. It helps that I live with someone who is super aware and hyper conscious about origin of food. He was shooting daggers at me last night because I had one little choux cream bun. "How do you think the cream is made? Not from organic milk, eggs,..etc"

Dave said...

I wrote a long rant here but now it's just in my clipboard. I'll erase it by accident later when I try to use my machine for something. Such is the fickle world of keyboards, bits, and mild hangovers.