We pay a lot of attention to elections where we voice our opinions by voting. But there’s a more important form of voting that happens everyday. When I spend money, whether I know it or not, I’m often supporting not only a good or service but also a set of principles and values.
One example is grocery shopping. Michael Pollan writes in his book Omnivore’s Dilemma, “Shopping in the organic supermarket underwrites important values on the farm; shopping locally underwrites a whole set of other values as well.”1. Buying a dollar of organic produce means one less dollar for the non-organic food industry. It’s a vote for one over the other, and vice versa if you buy non-organic over organic.
How I spend each and every dollar is a vote, a political act. I’m making my wallet speak for me. So let’s not forget that voting for politicians may happen only once every two years, but voting with your wallet happens everyday.
Choose Your Principles Then Live by Them
I don’t understand how some people call themselves anti-capitalist (I’m talking about people who are socially and politically liberal) yet are voracious consumers of industrial goods. That’s hypocritical. By being a consumer, they’re essentially voting dollar-for-dollar for the capitalist system (unless they’re strictly buying from fair trade organizations or from groups who don’t put profit as their bottom line). It’s as absurd as a moral vegetarian buying leather shoes or someone who works at a non-profit to provide safe drinking water to developing countries regularly buying bottled water. (By the way, bottled water is a not a necessity, it’s a luxury and a life-style choice.)
I’m not saying that if you have reservations against capitalism, the only way to retain the moral high ground is to live in the woods and grow your own food. There are practical limits. I’m concerned about climate change, but I’m not willing to paddle a boat across the Pacific instead of getting on a plane for China. I’m advocating a more thoughtful approach to consumption within bounds of reason and practicality. Eating less meat is better for the environment in that it’s a carbon offset, but vegetarians who force their dogs to be vegetarians don’t understand that dogs have evolved to be carnivores.
We should strive for consistency between values and action. Hypocrites suck. If you love cigarette companies and love smoking that’s fine. If you think big banks can never be too big to fail and the bigger they are the better, more power to you. But if you believe in animal rights, don’t buy furs and leather.