Sunday, October 31, 2010

Choice and political consumption

As you know yourself, we are faced with a multitude of choices each time we try to change our lives in some way - Which of the 23 beds that IKEA sells would be the best bed for me? Should I get 70% cocoa chocolate, or 75%? What wine will my parents like? A late harvest Chardonnay, or a Riesling aged in stainless steel? In the end, we can get flustered with the 93 kinds of cereal available in the cereal aisle of a big grocery store. How can we ever be satisfied with the cell phone we have purchased, knowing that there were 20 other models available at the same or lower price, and that in two months, the newest, most advanced G4 phone ever will be brought into the world? Brett pointed me to The Paradox of Choice in his comment on my post Doing things because we can. He said,

"...sometimes the more choices we have, the less happy we are. "Hey," one thinks, "this is a cool [fill in the blank], but it's not as cool as my friend's. Maybe I should have gotten the other [emphasis added] one at the store; maybe I should get a new [emphasis added] one." This often creates not only an endless stream of needless consumption but also a continual lack of satisfaction due to actual and anticipated buyer's remorse." 

This lack of filling our satisfaction yet continues to fill land, water and air with waste and pollution.

There is another way we can view the issue of choice as related to consumption, and that is what Ethan, another Graham Fellow, is studying by looking into what is termed as "political consumption." Generally, consumption and choice are studied in isolation, not in relation to politics. Generally, we are not thinking politically when we buy a certain product. But about 5-10% of people consume with politics and ethics in mind - how do the choices we make reflect our values, beliefs and morals? For example, many of us choose to buy locally grown, small-scale farm organic foods because we are against the political forces driving the industrial agricultural engine. So here is a loaded question that Ethan posed as a part of his dissertation work: 

When and how does the issue of choice and consumption turn into a political matter? 

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