The theodicy of ethical consumerism

I wrote a few weeks ago about the ideological function of free will: we don’t blame people because they have free will, we say they have free will so we can blame them. In the theological realm, the goal of granting us free will isn’t to enhance our dignity or the meaningfulness of our life, but to make sure God has someone to blame for all the bad things that happen — and I believe we can apply the principle of a homology between the theological and the political realm here as well.

A perfect example of this is dynamic is ethical consumerism. It often strikes me as bizarre that we’re even given a choice between the gross processed food and the healthy organic food, or between the hideously wasteful product and the ecologically conscious product — much less that the “price signals” are invariably tilted toward the bad option. Wouldn’t it be better to remove the bad option in the first place? Why is something so important left to arbitrary individual choice?

Here I think the fact that we know consumers will generally make the wrong choice is not a bug, but a feature of ethical consumerism. The political class and business elites have already collectively decided that ethical farming and environmental sustainability are not important goals — and so they have left them up to individual consumer choices so that they can disavow responsibility and blame all of us for not choosing correctly.

Whenever we’re offered a free choice, we’re being set up.

6 thoughts on “The theodicy of ethical consumerism

  1. “The political class and business elites have already collectively decided…” Could this be James Bond’s nemesis, SPECTRE? Have a cabal of Illuminati super-elites taken control of our world?

  2. I’m thinking in terms of a Foucauldian “conspiracy without conspirators.” I’m not saying they took a vote — I’m saying that the balance of forces among the elites has definitively turned away from the “giving a fuck about the environment” faction.

  3. I remember reading somewhere a similar argument applied to the technology of catalytic converters in vehicles. Installing them in vehicles was initially extremely expensive; however, it drastically reduced emissions. If left to individual choice, practically no one would pay thousands of dollars to reduce their own emissions when they know that the majority would not. Framing the decision on the individual level of consumer choice ignores the fact that it is irrational to make the “ethical” choice as an individual. Why pay more when it won’t make any real difference? Implementation of the “ethical” choice required state intervention through EPA regulation.

  4. What people seem to forget is that the “invisible hand” that makes all our shitty decisions into something awesome is not the emergent immanent logic of the market, but the providential hand of the state.

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