Rebuttal to “micro consumerist bollocks”

Some well-intentioned eco-minded opinion leaders are coming out saying that any efforts to reduce our own footprint are just “micro consumerist bollocks.” That — as long as refineries and factories and banks and lobbyists and such are belching out bajillions of tons of evil every second — what is the damn point of any of us little people doing anything?

My response:

I consider this line of thinking extremely seductive and deadly. Trading our personal agency for the false comfort of feeling righteous and let-off-the-hook from any kind of responsibility for the mess on this planet is a really, really bad trade. Bye-bye to any personal power we might have! And this trade has a somnolent effect. It’s like a personal drip-feed of soma! You are getting verrey, verrrrry sleeeeepy …

NOOOOOOO!!! Stay awake!!! Don’t go down that sleepytime path!!!

I think all of our efforts on all fronts are valuable! Thank you all for whatever high-level, big-picture efforts you are making to pressure governments; and to shut down the refineries, and the extractive colonialist-consumerist system in general.

And, quite honestly, a BIG part of my motivation for choosing a low-footprint path (besides the wish to do my part though it be but a drop in the ocean) is to simply get used to living with less. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling to just not be so dependent and vulnerable as I used to feel before I got on this path.

Thoreau got it right when he said that “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” (Obviously this applies to people of all other genders as well.)

The amount of money I save by living a life of hardcore thrift reduces my cost of living by a huge amount, thus liberating me from having to spend most of my waking hours running around chasing money just to barely survive. I get to spend most of my time doing creative pursuits, running my little micro businesses, and helping my community instead.

Here’s another important point that may not have entered the conversation yet: Quietly changing our consumption patterns is an action that is immediately accessible to just about all of us. Whereas blocking a coal train, chaining oneself to a giant redwood, vandalizing drilling equipment, trespassing on private property to document abuses, and so on are just not things the average run-of-the-mill person is going to be able or willing to do.

At the same time as I admire the courage of the coal-train blockers and others who put their lives on the line, I’m also adamantly opposed to needless death and suffering. Would I be willing to risk my life to defend the planet for future generations? Maybe, possibly. But I would rather choose a path that will allow me to stay alive and keep making a difference through other kinds of actions that might be just as effective, without triggering some authoritarian crackdown.

Do I admire people who are willing to risk imprisonment or death for pushing for the right thing? Yes, I admire their courage and dedication. I’ve always thought it wrong that society lauds people as heroes for enlisting in the military and invading other people’s homelands at the order of their government, whereas the same society condemns people as terrorists for trying to protect the forests and rivers and air and wildlife of their own home bioregions — and ultimately the entire biosphere, on which all of our lives depend.

I’m not kidding myself; authoritarian crackdown of some kind is going to be almost inevitable as the fatcats see their easy profits and docile labor supply dry up. The crackdown would be more likely to take the form of protective legislation that reshuffles the economic deck in the favor of the powers-that-be.

That’s my interpretation of what happened a few years back when a huge percentage of the USAmerican population had fallen out of health insurance coverage. Instead of addressing the problem at the roots, the government made it mandatory for people to buy health insurance! Voilà, the corporate fatcats get their gravy train running again.* So basically, the fatcats will always keep finding ways to stack the deck in their favor. If too many people stop buying too much stuff, they might find a way to punish us for it! Already out in the media there’s an implication that we are hindering the economic recovery by being thrifty.

* (Later the penalty for not having health insurance was repealed, much to the relief of people who would have had to choose between buying food and buying health insurance.) (Note: I am aware that many people at the lower end of the income range have been helped by being able to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act.)

So it’s not that I assume there will be zero consequences for a quiet de-growth, de-consumerist revolution. But, for most of us, who may just not be Joan of Arc but are just average humans trying to put food on the table and keep our families together and repair the tattered fabric of our communities, “wallet action” is probably going to be our best bet.

I think everything we do matters! I think that dismissing household thrift and conservation as “microconsumerist bollocks” is self-defeating, and undermines our own best chances at self-reliance, creative and occupational freedom, and real happiness. Living an ethical life is one of the surest paths to genuine happiness even amid hard times. And doing our part, however small that part might be, to try to avert biospheric collapse is an ethical way to live.

Grassroots green revolution is real! Deep-green troops, mobilize! (like a herd of bioregionally hip feral cats)!

PS. Speaking of wallets, and “the economy” as defined by various overlords: An article that popped up in my feed the other day asserted that Americans are hoarding too much money and it’s hurting the economic recovery.

To which I say: Our individualistic, industrial-consumerist-colonialist society and economy actually encourages hoarding, be it in the form of cash or Wall Street stocks or bitcoins or what have you. These storage vehicles have become a (poor) substitute for mutual aid and community cohesion. And it’s all rooted in a disconnect from nature and from our fellow beings including fellow humans.

That said – this doesn’t mean we should be spending on consumer goods instead of saving. We owe “the economic recovery” nothing!! We need to make a whole new kind of economic recovery where we spend our money investing in family, community, local farms, local cottage industries, rainforest conservation etc etc.