consumption

I’ve discovered reduced consumption doesn’t equal reduced community or reduced contentment.  There is something liberating about unplugging the machine to discover the heartbeat of life still thumping.  Maybe we don’t need those wires after all.  Maybe we’re healthier unhooked from the life-support of consumerism than we imagined.  Is there a less traveled path through our me-first culture that is more adventurous and fulfilling than the one so heavily trod? One that sacrifices none of the good parts of the story but inspires us to reimagine the sections that are bleeding us all dry?

I think maybe there is.

—  Jen Hatmaker

We have been duped into moving capitalism’s problems around instead of resolving them, into the foolish notion that buying green is an act of divergence from capitalist exploitation.

Worried about car emissions? Buy Tesla’s Model S. Want to fight water misuse? Take shorter showers. Concerned for underserved children around the world? Use a credit card that supports a NGO. Interested in bettering working conditions for exploited laborers? Look for the “fair trade” stamp at corporate outlet malls.

But by all means, NEVER stop buying.

Identifying the central issue with this behavior, Derrick Jensen explained, “Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance.”

As individuals we should do what we can, but we have to realize that letting corporations frame/limit global issues like environmental responsibility to consumer choice is self-defeating. We need bigger tools than our individual selves. Imagine trying to fill a dump truck using a spoon. That is what we are doing when we decouple the need for organized, community-wide political resistance from our individual ability to partake in generating and sustaining solutions.

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Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption

For his series Intolerable Beauty, photographer Chris Jordan peered into shipping ports and industrial yards around America. Though these sites remain unseen by the majority of the population, they hold the stunningly massive remains of our collective consumption. Jordan’s findings include seemingly boundless troves of cell phones, e-waste, circuit boards, cell phone chargers, cars, spent bullet casings, cigarette butts, and steel shred. Jordan describes the immense scale of our detritus as simultaneously “desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful.” Like Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of our vast industrial landscapes, Jordan’s images portray a staggering complexity that verges on the sublime. The photographs reflect the loss of individual identity that results from actions that occur on such a large scale, but Jordan hopes his work can “serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry” and inspire people to reestablish a personal stake in issues of energy consumption.

The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture by Vincent Woodard. Edited By Justin A. Joyce
and Dwight McBride. Foreword by E. Patrick Johnson

Scholars of US and transatlantic slavery have largely ignored or dismissed accusations that Black Americans were cannibalized. Vincent Woodard takes the enslaved person’s claims of human consumption seriously, focusing on both the literal starvation of the slave and the tropes of cannibalism on the part of the slaveholder, and further draws attention to the ways in which Blacks experienced their consumption as a fundamentally homoerotic occurrence. The Delectable Negro explores these connections between homoeroticism, cannibalism, and cultures of consumption in the context of American literature and US slave culture.

Utilizing many staples of African American literature and culture, such as the slave narratives of Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass, as well as other less circulated materials like James L. Smith’s slave narrative, runaway slave advertisements, and numerous articles from Black newspapers published in the nineteenth century, Woodard traces the racial assumptions, political aspirations, gender codes, and philosophical frameworks that dictated both European and white American arousal towards Black males and hunger for Black male flesh. Woodard uses these texts to unpack how slaves struggled not only against social consumption, but also against endemic mechanisms of starvation and hunger designed to break them. He concludes with an examination of the controversial chain gang oral sex scene in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, suggesting that even at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, we are still at a loss for language with which to describe Black male hunger within a plantation culture of consumption.

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10 Shocking Photos That Will Change How You See Consumption And Waste

As individual and anonymous consumers, it’s seemingly impossible to even estimate the physical ramifications of our daily consumption and waste. While our personal imprints may not seem in themselves worthy of alarm, the combined effect of human’s habits and rituals is hard to look away from.

Photographer Chris Jordan works with the debris we as a society leave behind, photographing massive dumps of cell phones, crushed cars and circuit boards. Squished together in dizzying quantities, the discarded goods resemble hypnotic puzzles, abstracted color fields and hallucinatory fractals. Jordan compares the complex layers of wreckage to the overwhelming detail of the Grand Canyon.

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Within this culture wealth is measured by our ability to consume and destroy…

Seeing the insanity of it comes as a direct contradiction to our daily function. We can sample humanity’s dissonance in the acronym GDP (gross domestic product), whereby a tiny phrase serves substitute for the enormity of converting all life into human-serving commodities at a rate of 85 trillion dollars a year (the value of the world economy). To understand that better, a stack of 85 trillion dollar bills would be about 5,768,618 miles high. This is like going to the moon 25 times.

Yet, still, for the most delusional of our species, it’s not enough. The drive to expand, consume, exploit at rates ever escalating is presented within the global market as a zero-sum game. Either our economy must grow, or we will suffer. Either our economy must grow faster than all other economies, or our nation will suffer.

If the rate at which we convert the planet into human consumption slows, we call it a recession — nothing to celebrate, for to us recession represents austerity, loss of jobs, and altogether diminished livelihoods. If the rate at which we convert the planet into human consumption reverts, we call it a depression — again, nothing to celebrate, for to us economic depression represents declining power, that maybe we are in fact not exceptional or separate from the natural world.

In this culture of death only if and when we expand our evisceration of the planet can we be comfortable in our lives.