Commentary: Buzzwords and phrases will not solve ethical crises
Whenever I hear someone say that there is “no ethical consumption under capitalism,” it often serves as an excuse to forgive their indulgence in mass consumption. It’s kind of boring to hear people absolve themselves of guilt for contributing to labor oppression, especially when I and so many other black and brown people don’t have that privilege. The phrase has been embraced in circles of progressive leftists who want to consume the fruits of black and brown labor, and it further perpetuates the wrongdoings we face.
While not everyone has the luxury of living a sustainable lifestyle – a concept that is inherently flawed – simply blaming capitalist structures does not ignore the fact that all consumption is unethical. . There’s a stark difference between buying necessities and gross overconsumption, and we can all do better to remember that our consumption, of all kinds, can be just as unethical.
This does not mean that we can ignore that there is also no ethical production under capitalism. Chinese migrant workers submit to physical exertion, weight loss, deprivation, calling it the “Shein Challenge.” When “Squid Game,” a South Korean drama, took the world by storm, viewers quickly circulated various interpretations and critiques of the show and its parallels to our current reality. According to the show’s creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk, the show is an allegory of modern capitalist society. As each player is buried in debt, desperately trying to stay afloat, it is revealed that the games are meant to entertain the ultra-rich who watch the games from afar. What sets us apart from the hundreds of gamblers, many of them debt-stricken, who entered a deadly competition in hopes of winning $38 million? Aren’t we all living a less than grand version of “Squid Game” without lavish prizes under the gaze of the 1%?
Equality cannot be achieved within a capitalist framework because the system will inevitably exploit workers and foster a social hierarchy. Using buzzwords and phrases to excuse your guilt does nothing to promote change. We recognize that the world is in crisis, but our differing perspectives prevent us from implementing measures of change, big or small.
Individual actions are not the foundation for unethical practices, nor do we have the ability to enact change on our own. Exploitation, oppression and destruction of the environment are inherent in a system that exhausts production for profit. But feeling disillusioned with the threats we face does nothing to stop them. We can and must advocate for change by challenging our government and our businesses. We all suffer at the hands of capitalism; we all have to just try. Instead of trying to blame the other, we should take responsibility for our own actions. Although our individual efforts cannot compensate for the destruction of the business, we can minimize our harmful outputs by reducing our waste.
I try to live more sustainably by making easy, cost-free changes. Using a reusable water bottle and grocery bags, for example, reduces waste. I try, and often fail, to buy wisely, thinking about what I need and seeing if there is a used option. I reuse containers, transform old shirts into rags. None of these changes have hindered my way of life, or solved our climate crisis. These are the privileges, however, that I can afford.
Moving towards a sustainable future means getting involved. If we can do something to help, why wouldn’t we do it?
It is our duty to recognize our unethical behavior. Making an effort to become a more conscious and ethical consumer requires us to use our privilege to uplift others. Although we cannot consume guilt, we cannot discharge it. Your “awakening” becomes meaningless when you continue to engage in operating systems without a second thought. Our decisions impact others, and for that, we must strive to do better.