The Secret of Green Shopperism

“Tune in, turn on, drop out.” Good advice, or terrible? Can we really imagine winning fundamental change in the status quo without using our democratic rights and powers to name and fight “the system,” a.k.a. corporate capitalism?

It’s a long-running question inside what passes for a left in the United States. And the navel-gazing, polito-phobic answer continues to win out, despite the times.

The latest form is what I call Green Shopperism, or the proposition that attempting to live a less harmful personal life is the core, rather than the inherently inadequate sidenote, of radical resistance. The call to Green Shopperism is everywhere among the so-called “transition movement,” for instance.

The great common denominator in such circles is their careful and consistent avoidance of the topics of capitalism and social class. Instead, Green Shopperists treat social power in America as if it is merely a simple sum of all citizens’ co-equal votes in the marketplace. In this entirely conventional (and fictional) view, “the average American way of life” is both the enemy and the co-equal responsibility of all Americans, regardless of wealth or access to institutional power. Overclass domination and manipulation — things like transportation dictatorship and big business marketing — are nowhere, treated as if they do not exist.

Among the Green Shopperists, the logical conclusion of such familiar premises is that personal guilt and pledges to be a smarter “consumer” are the way out of present reality:

Twelve Step programs, brought to the world first through Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s and now operating in hundreds of fellowships internationally, offer some guidelines for how to recover from destructive behavior….If nothing else, it may be helpful to remember the message behind the often-cited Serenity Prayer shared at the end of 12-Step Meetings: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

my_part_prius In the Green Shopperist world, of course, there isn’t the courage even to name what needs to be changed, let alone an effort to organize a movement in that direction. I mean, who wants to do yucky and unpopular and extremely difficult things like attacking capitalism, when you can drive or fly to a workshop or a meetup and congratulate yourself for buying (or planning to buy) a Prius or planting (or planning to plant) a backyard garden?

3 Replies to “The Secret of Green Shopperism”

  1. Yes, thank you.

    The almost willful blind-spots of Green consumerism is incredibly annoying. I’ll just link to myself rather than go on an extended rant.

  2. As I said over at your place, even the word “capitalism” is almost always conspicuously absent from these kinds of green lifestyle how-tos. Meanwhile, corporate capitalists will indeed provide “the market” whatever it wants, provided it is massively profitable/wasteful. But the basics — capitalist control of transportation policy, subsidies to suburbanization, banning of any and all public enterprise that might compete with private business, not to mention free reign for commodification and commercialism — those are absolutely not open for discussion, green shopping or no green shopping.

    Meanwhile, Justin, what’s your impression of whether or not this transition town thing is anything but a minor theme for local coffee klatches? Even with my low expectations, I was really underwhelmed by McKibben’s recent “worldwide action” day. From what I’ve seen, Transition meetings look to be of the same scale.

    Personally, I think people know when they’re been pandered to. And it doesn’t take a genius to suspect that green shopping is mainly a pose.

  3. Excellent points. The “green” thing has become all over the hinterlands where I listen, but there are some fundamental problems.
    1. Greenwashing comes in many forms. One offshoot of it is in “progressives” stating that their way will lead to pure blue skies. Nothing in the data or trendlines suggests any such fantasy.
    2. “350.org” is an absolutely obscene, poppycock name. The globe is already far past 350ppm , the permafrost is melting rapidly, the patterns of carbon use by the overstuffed North has only gone up since the early sounds of alarm. There are no international bodies with any degree of regulatory power.
    3. And yet professors, especially, must pose as “optimists” of the most Orwellian kind, seeing magical solutions to come out of this gigantic waste and decrepit neoliberal order because, well, gotta have something for the kids to learn. What if the chair or the Prez learns you’re teaching doom ‘n gloom – how will that play with the job?
    4. “Transition” to what? Transition asceticism followers think that when the collapse hits, they, the ones with the former lives as purchasers/bullshitters extraordinaire will be the vanguard of the making clothes out of twigs brigade. Although the vast majority of their fellow citizens have, and will, continue to follow the neoliberal carbon lifestyle of Christian dominionism and screw-the-poor politics, the Transitionists think that their renunciations will herald and inspire the world to join them in their communal Shaking.
    5. We all exist in our social reality. Unfortunately for us, the supertankers are in the water tonight, and the Happy Meals are on their way.

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