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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Conscientious Consumption: Your Purchase is Your Vote

I came to the conclusion that I can't simply ride out the winter on my elliptical, that I need to return to the Acres Land Trust trails I discovered this past summer, snow-covered or not, at about the same time I read Ken Silverstein's article "Shopping for Sweat: The Human Cost of a Two-Dollar T-Shirt" in Harper's. The problem was that hiking in the snow called for some kind of boots, and countries with labor laws and environmental protections have a perverse tendency not to manufacture footwear.

After searching local big-name stores like Shoe Carnival and getting no closer than Vietnam--Vietnam?--I went on-line, where I discovered that both Wolverine and Redwing make products in America. However, I soon thereafter discovered that not all of the footwear these companies sell are manufactured here; in fact, only a few are. So, I ended up walking out of the Fort Wayne Redwing store, on State Street, with insulated, waterproof workboots, which are a little heavy for long walks and for which I had to shell out 200 bucks.

And now I need a coat because wearing a shirt and tie to work with an old hooded Carhart jacket is pretty hillbilly. Must I begin the search all over again?

It's a pretty sad commentary on us as a nation that the single determining factor in our choice of where to shop is the quality/cost ratio, especially if, as Silverstein suggests, an extra dollar added to the cost of most consumer products could make a significant difference in the lives of factory workers in third-world countries. Imagine if we as consumers demanded, en mass, that there be a third column beside product description and price which explained--accurately--the circumstances surrounding the item's production. Would we be willing pay a little extra for products made by people who make more per hour, enjoy reasonable amounts of time off, and work in healthy environments?

Unfortunately, this information goes unremarked upon, unthought about, and we go about life in our shoppers' paradise, callous and oblivious. Now I bet Target has cool jackets--I'll stop there on my way home.

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