Better than a ‘buy nothing day’

I wouldn’t have even been aware ‘Buy Nothing Day’ if it hadn’t been for a couple of misguided friends joining some such group on Facebook. They can be forgiven – having as they do a limited grasp on social organisation and economics.

“Buy Nothing Day” was started many years ago by the ever-sanctimonious Adbusters magazine and passed unnoticed on November 23, buried among stories of crazy “Black Friday” sales and cross-border shoppers.

I’ve always thought the day and the non-publicity stunt to be rather counter-productive if not stupid. In this day of specialisation and division of labour it’s hard to get much of anything done without buying something. There probably are days when I don’t buy anything – but it’s not ever going to be because some group tells me to.

I can understand the desire for something to counter-act the seemingly mindless mass-consumerism that dominates so-called ‘Western’ culture, but is attempting to stage a protest day really an effective means? Adbusters didn’t even attempt to connect their “Buy Nothing Day” with all the toy recalls that have been going on. For a bunch that allegedly worked in the advertising and marketing industry once they certainly missed the boat. Heck, they could have even attempted to fit it into the whole subprime-creditcrunch-commercialpaper-meltdown thingy – but only people who actually understand economics would be able to think of that, I suppose.

What really annoys me is that the purported point is to ‘raise awareness’. Because it implies that it would never occur to me or anyone else that I would reflect on my spending habits if they weren’t around to lecture me about it. I’ve always thought that whole concept of ‘raising awareness’ is profoundly stupid. I remember getting stopped on the street in London one time because a group was raising ‘awareness about racism’. I asked the person if they had any particular goal they were working on and just got more about raising awareness and some sort of ill-defined media campaign – not about any particular issue mind you. I argued that most people already know that racism isn’t a good thing and that those who don’t probably don’t care.  The same goes for consumerism or materialism.

Then there’s the concept of over-consumption. I don’t tend to live an overly luxurious lifestyle by any means but neither do I care how others squander their money. I do sometimes buy things I don’t need; if I’m having a bad day I might indulge in a little pick-me-up and nothing picks me up more than a nice pair of shoes. Except maybe a nice filet mignon.  I sometimes have one glass of wine too many too but I don’t need or want someone else rebuking me for it. The underlying presumption of these ‘buy nothing day’ followers seems to be that they do know just what you need and how much, otherwise you’re a mindless programmed consumerist robot zombie. Takes one to know one.

As much as mindless programmed consumerist robot zombies would make a great B-movie, I do think that most people are capable of making up their own minds and if they aren’t, that’s the business of their lender, not me or some self-appointed bunch of activists.

As for ‘buying nothing’ – the human race is a little over-populated for everyone to go back to farming and making everything themselves. The basis of modern civilization is the division of labour facilitated by the exchange of goods – buying stuff.

The biggest problem with the whole concept is that it is entirely negative. Spending one day buying nothing will prove nothing and will make no point.

My alternative is better: “buy something day”. But not just anything – buy something made locally or something of genuine quality. And not something cheap – something the retailer could actually make money on. Buy a wooden toy or a nice piece of jewelry or a handmade shirt from a local shop. Get some bread from a place that bakes it on site. Buy a specialty cheese from a Quebec dairy or 20-dollar bottle of olive oil.

The best counter-measure to all the cheap plastic crap from China is to start stimulating demand for an alternative: high-quality goods made by skilled and well-paid artisans and trades-people. Pay more, buy less, but end up with something that is just soooo much better.

Bring back Quality. Bring back discriminatory taste and sneering down one’s nose at ‘cheap crap from China’. Bring back the pair of shoes that cost $15o dollars, not because they’re endorsed by some athlete but because they will actually last through the next season. Start up a business that makes only fine hand-crafted goods – the retail version of the slow food movement. Create a website that promotes all the local artisans in each major city. Maybe stagger some sort of cross-country promotion going from one city or town to the next and have it year-round.

Because really, what needs to be counter-balanced isn’t necessarily consumerism or even materialism, but the concept of buying as much crap as possible as cheaply as possible. And that demand for cheapest at any cost is what has lead to the credit crisis, and depressed wages and the countless toy and food recalls not consumerism per se.

But that would take work. It’s a lot easier join a facebook group or send a self-righteous press release through a company called – of all things – marketwire.

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