Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fighting Back Against Corporatization-- Taking on Consumerism

We're here at the end of a week of blog posts focused on corporatization and it's time to talk about how to get out of the rut that we're in. I had originally planned one more post on this topic, but I find that there so many options that these will be dribbling into next week.

Strategies for decreasing the corporatization in our lives emerge from looking at each of the characterizations that I have written about, and changing, challenging, or attacking each of them. To recap, the four characterizations that have used this week are: 1) an economic system that reduces us to consumers; 2) a legal entity that centralizes relationships; 3) psychopaths; and 4) colonizers.

Let's start with consumerism.

Buy less.

In a system that is designed to get us to buy more and more, the easiest solution is to buy less. Start with baby steps. Try to go one day without buying anything. Or to buy one less item on a shopping spree. Then, get more ambitious. Really question whether you need to get the next generation tech gadget. Wean yourself off retail therapy.

The point of this, at first anyways, is to get you thinking and to interrupt your habits as a consumer. As materialism wanes, there's a pretty good chance that your happiness will blossom. For one, you won't have to work as much to feed your shopping habit. For another, you'll spend less time organizing, cleaning, and culling your stuff. When you spend less time working, you can spend more time on other activities that you enjoy.

While this cycle is very zen, there's no need to take a vow of poverty or embrace an acetic lifestyle. Just buy less.

Make buying decisions based on factors other than price.

There's always a certain thrill in finding a good bargain, and I certainly wouldn't advise you to spend your money unwisely. But you get what you pay for. If you are paying the least you possibly can for a product, you are encouraging corporations to race to the bottom, through practices such as, outsourcing, running sweatshops, improper disposal of waste, and cutting corners on benefits. If a company is acting ethically or promoting social justice, support it by purchasing their products. Their products may cost more, but that just reflects the real cost of making it. You can also think about the price difference as a very efficient charitable donation.

If it's the the hunt that you love, consider buying second-hand goods or freecycling. Not only do you get what you want at a lower price, it keeps stuff out of landfill.

Cut out the intermediaries.
Make your supply chains shorter by purchasing directly from a producer or buying locally. Community supported agriculture and eating foods that are grown closer to home are easy ways to do this. You get produce that is fresher, the food doesn't have to travel as far (less fuel used, smaller carbon footprint), and the grower gets a bigger share of the retail price.

Another option is to buy from individuals or small businesses. I'm a big fan of (it's like an ebay for crafts, but without the auctions). Rather than buying an item, such as a necklace or toddler car seat cover, from a department store, I pick it up on etsy. I'm supporting a small business, usually run by a woman out of her home, and encouraging the propagation of craft skills. I really like the idea that an item was made specifically for me and that my shopping is subversive.

Barter and trade.

My final suggestion is to not use money, but to barter or trade for your goods instead.  Trade time, skills, or goods rather than paying. Our family has traded babysitting, and woodworking for food with our neighbors. I use websites such as and to exchange books and DVDs for ones I haven't see or read yet.

Rushkoff spends the last chapter of Life Inc. on how to take back our lives from corporations and focuses on these kinds of solutions. They didn't seem especially strong to me. (Others probably made the same comment and the paperback version of the book has a new, large section consisting of successful projects. These case studies are far more diverse and interesting.) The most interesting idea was the creation of local currencies, i.e. money that could exchanged for goods and services withing a local community. This idea was particularly clever, because it even avoids centralized currency, further strengthening the local community and person-to-person relationships.

So, these are the ideas that I have read about or come up with. Do you have any to add? Have you used any of these strategies? How have they worked for you?

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