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Is it Possible to Ethically & Responsibly Consume Under Capitalism?

A common thread I’ve seen in political philosophy and leftist circles online is about the concern many have for how we can consume more ethically under capitalism. So this blog post is prompted by those online and IRL conversations. Let’s break it down a little further…

The more I think about consumer culture, the more I think about it’s impact on us. The social, political and environmental impacts are intrinsically linked with this heritage we’ve founded in modern day consumerism. We all know that consumerism contributes to capitalism and we’ve all heard; “There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism.” being thrown around in leftist circles. But whether or not you believe that, there are way to make your consumption a little more principled. This post is about the more practical aspects one can take which can have a multitude of benefits. Firstly, making you better about your purchases. Secondly, helps you play a little less into commercialism and covetousness. Thirdly, helping you support small businesses or artists that genuinely are more justified and deserving of more support. Who are also very distinguishable from the likes of Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault or Jeff Besos.

I don’t believe the burden of addressing of over-consumption lies on us as the consumer. I believe that the responsibility is on those who continually and regularly exploit the working class. So when we ask the question of how a individual consumer feel better about their own purchases, it’s a question that requires you to extend a little grace and compassion unto yourself. Because we all have to consume one way or another, whether you have the same sweatshirt you bought when you were in high school, you still bought it. And once you outgrow, stain or lose it you need a new one. I don’t believe there should be any guilt in buying products. There is no way out, you need to in order to contribute and survive in a capitalist society.

I empathise with people who struggle, because they maybe need to use services like Amazon. Frankly it is one of the easiest and most accessible platforms out there. And yes, most of us can agree Jeff Bezos is despicable. But that fact is his own fault. People have needs that need to be fulfilled, even though they are directly supporting him, we cant take away things that are accessible simply because the man at that chain of command is contemptible.

There are structural changes that is needed to dissolve these giant corporations and monopolies. This is not fault nor the direct responsibility of one person. Use your vote to see policy changes strike in solidarity with workers, use your voice on social media and speak with your local community and agencies to use your voice. But the blame isn’t on you. Stay updated on the things you consume from. When workers are striking show your camaraderie by not using these companies and their services. Including their sub-companies! The capitalist democracy we live under offers us ‘choices’ when in reality it is only the illusion of choice, also being the illusion of freedom. It is important to also educate your family and loved ones, the moment we talk about and think about our consumerist tendencies the less we contribute towards them.

Some practical aspects include; buying second hand. Gone are the days of your high street second hand shops. I highly advise many people who still use these shops to look into the practices of these shops. Many of these second hand shops are notorious for various and shopping at these establishments does not their practices are ethical. Depop and Poshmark are two of my favourites, unlike the high street second hand shops you can speak directly to the owners of your favourite goods. There is a second life for almost everything, two owners and two lives for a pair of shoes is better than one. You spend less money on these items, there are less things going into production and less waste going into landfill sites. Many of these items are new or like new! Singing up to these sites are free and you pay a small fee when you sell an item, so getting involved with things you have no use for any longer means is also a great option! These sites sell everything too, from vacuums to the new Jimmy Choo spring/summer heels of a newly divorced housewife for an absolute bargain!

Another great practical tip is to repurpose things! The containers and boxes that comes as packaging for products is one of my favourite things to repurpose. I store jewelry, pins, make up and some skincare in these boxes! They’re great quality and sturdy half the time and little things like this can help you a little bit better about consumption. So think twice before you throw packaging out, especially from food! They’re can be quite handy and convenient when you have that Saturday night leftover curry.

Another tip I have started using more recently is to make lists of things I want (not need) it is important to not deprive yourself of essential things but to simply keep a list of purchases you want to make. You can even create a mood mood of sorts with items you want in your life (you can do this on Pinterest too). As time goes on you can see how you feel about said item more clearly. If it was really just a trend, or an impulsive purchase you were going to make. We’ve all had that one item that grows less and less on us as we already have it. Creating this board of pictures really tests if it’s lust or love. I’ve found myself removing items after as quickly as two days!

Value is created by labour. Ethical consumption is created by the idea that individuals can essentially vote with their dollar and change the way consumerism works. No matter how ethical you try to be the reality is someone, somewhere is being exploited. Or some natural resource somewhere is being exploited. The majority of resources and wealth are owned and controlled by a very small minority. This minority exploit people and produce for profit rather than for actual human need. As long as this structure is in place the rights of people and the sustainability of the environment will continue to suffer. People who decide they want to do something in good faith are not going to change anything about that system. However as individuals we can work to make small difference in our communities, our own lives or the causes we feel passionate toward. It is still just as important to work toward the larger dismantlement of capitalism. Because not everyone is going to try and be an ‘ethical consumer’… Do it for your conscience and mental well-being and educate yourself on the dynamics of modern day capitalism and the class struggles. And if you’re a centrist who’s here to browse small brown owned businesses. I’m sorry you had to read this!

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