As you, fellow Sahar’s Blog reader, probably have noticed a long time ago, one of the major lines of questioning I have been following is that of meaningful and purposeful social action.
As a way to develop a conceptual framework for social action, I recently started an online course on the topic (for more information on this course, go here).
The assignments include weekly posts on a discussion forum, and I thought that sharing some of my posts would be interesting to you guys. And if it isn’t, well, there are still going to be weekly reviews of our favorite TV shows, so don’t worry 😉
This week’s post: on altruism in a culture of consumerism
Oftentimes, discussions on the blogosphere surrounding the problems of the world turn around the battle between right and wrong, left and right, good and bad. However, the world is far too complex to be understood in such simplistic terms, and there are an almost infinite number of shades of gray.
There is also a puzzling problem that pops up time and again on the blogosphere: how, in a world populated by an overwhelming majority of good people, such bad things are happening? One blogger once emailed me musing that such things would only exist in a world of barbarians, and therefore, we are barbarians by nature.
That email really saddened me.
Understanding not only the culture of consumerism but altruism in such a culture is a great way to understand this situation.
When an altruistic person’s framework is based in a culture of consumerism, his very definition of life revolves around consuming. Therefore, according to this person, all ills can be treated by consumer goods. Such a person can contribute somewhat to ameliorating the human condition. For example, consumer pressure on such corporations as Nike and The Gap stopped them from using child labour – which is a great thing. However, all this did was to allow consumers to consume Nike and The Gap goods without feeling guilty. It didn’t address the root of the problem, and recent studies have showed that the life conditions of these children who used to work in sweat shop hasn’t improved since their closure.
We are seeing this again nowadays with the green movement; often, consumers refrain their framework within the culture of consumerism, and ask themselves ‘how can I buy green?’.
There are many traps in being altruistic in a culture of consumerism. For one, the root causes of a lot of the issues, such as the two mentioned previously, aren’t properly addressed. The immediate change makes the altruistic person feel good about his contribution, and he can develop a feeling of self-satisfaction.
Realizing that the conceptual framework of a ‘consumer altruist’ isn’t the solution is empowering, but it’s also a great struggle, as it goes against everything the world around us stands for. If it is to be permanently set aside, another conceptual framework needs to be developed, one far more complex than any that have guided humanity up to now.