Spending with intent is, I wholeheartedly believe, a good start. It does not entail always spending for the right reasons, but it does bring the expectation of spending for reasons.
Case in point: Mx Socks.
Mx Socks (a pseudonym) grew up in an affluent household, but found eirself on the outs with eir family by the time e reached adulthood. E knew what it was like to have a boat in the driveway for the winter, a vast entertainment system in the living room, and the expectation that e’d be given a new car when e was old enough to drive. Eir life, however, was one of 60-hour work weeks necessary to pay the rent; a decided disconnect from eir younger days.
One of the ways that e coped with a life e found difficult was with eir socks. E put on a new pair every day, and then threw them in the trash after that once use. The feeling of new socks, in eir view, was a luxury which e deserved and could afford. A clean sock is not as nice as a new sock, and there’s always room in the garbage for a few more pairs of socks.
What this acquaintance of mine apparently didn’t realize is that eir behavior mirrored that of the villain in “Superman III,” who boasts at one point that e’s never worn a pair of socks twice. In the fictional case, they were apparently laundered and sent to poor children, which arguably makes this exercise in excess less villainous than simply dumping them in the trash each night.
As I understand it, Mx Socks’ first inkling that this sock-uation might be viewed as anything but a well-deserved reward for hard work came when e mentioned it to a coworker, who found the practice offensive, and told em so. Mx Socks was surprised and annoyed to be put on the defensive. From eir perspective, as an exploited worker in a capitalist system, e deserves those few luxuries e can eke out. From the perspective of just about everyone I have mentioned it to, eir behavior is right up there with wearing a monocle while having one’s cigar lit with a hundred-dollar bill by a bondsman.
Many of the pleasures the average exploited worker has are guilty ones. A classic example, in my mind, is the quest for smooth legs that many women pursue in the United States. Let us consider the case of a hypothetical Mx Shower-Shaver, who has bought in — literally — to the notions that 1) hairless legs are more desirable and 2) pink, disposable razors are the best tool for achieving that result. Having opted to pursue that goal, it’s not at all surprising that Mx Shower-Shaver derives pleasure and satisfaction from a well-shaved leg; e prefers not to consider the impact of disposable products on the environment, nor the patronizing marketing decision that led eir razors to be not only pink, but more expensive than the men’s version.
What’s more, e most likely shaves those legs in the shower, thereby extending the time spent under running water. E could turn the water off, but that hot stream is another of those small moments of pleasure, which are rare for someone who works 50 or more hours a week to bring home the bacon. How much water? With an older shower head, 20 gallons or more if the shave adds five minutes. That adds up quickly.
This isn’t to say that people who are not struggling economically don’t do these and other wasteful things; they most assuredly do. My underlying point is that within a modern capitalist system, being asked to adopt more sustainable life practices is, for most people therein, being asked to give up some of the few moments of joy in an otherwise oppressive day. Solutions that require more short-term sacrifice will thus be resisted, even by some people who recognize the long-term benefits. Until the conversations about reformation and revolution take that into account, the traction of such ideas among the wider population may well be limited by those forces which the revolutionaries desire to overturn. That’s because many of the people who would most benefit from radical change are engaging in intentional spending and thoughtful action which reinforce the system under which they are oppressed.
Is anyone engaging with these workers on an environmental level? Are they considered a population to work with when it comes to human rights, but the enemy when we’re looking at how to stop harming the world with wastefulness? Where should our sympathies lie?
Recently I bumped into Mx Socks again. I stopped by eir apartment building, and e met me in the parking lot. Eir feet were covered only by a pair of black socks, and I told em I was worried that they were getting ruined.
“It’s okay,” e said. “They’re new.”