What Are You Really Buying? A Shopping Ban Update
I'm now twenty-one days into the shopping ban, and I feel good. I feel stronger, like I've been flexing muscles I haven't used in a long time. I feel sharper and more focused. No longer am I tempted by the storefronts and cafes in the bustling neighborhood where I live and work (yes, I'm extremely lucky they're so close). My lunchtime walks are no longer marred by my former hesitations, and I am no longer a slave to window shopping. Down with capitalism; I have been liberated!
I am only half-joking. There is an undeniable freedom in abstaining from consumption, if you're someone who has always had the privilege and the luxury of consuming freely. The abstention makes me more creative, more resourceful. I feel, surprisingly, more punk. Maybe that's because punk has always been about rejecting the establishment, and that feels very much like what I'm doing in refusing to participate in the capitalist consumer game.
I felt like a (punk) rock star until yesterday, when I suddenly wanted to participate in that consumption cycle very, very badly. Watching Okja last weekend reignited my activist fire for animal rights, and I was deep into vegan social media. I stumbled across a badass graphic tee that was a collaboration between vegan brand Beet x Beet and advocacy organization Mercy for Animals.
I really wanted that shirt. The message of animal liberation resonated with my renewed commitment to direct action for animals, and a portion of the proceeds would go to Mercy for Animals to fight factory farming. And - the kicker - it was on sale in my size. Donations and products made by colleagues are on the approved shopping list, so technically, I reasoned, this shirt could fit under that category. I thought about it all evening. I asked my partner whether he thought buying the shirt would be breaking the rules. I even tweeted the question out, in hopes that someone (read: Cait) would give me permission to buy it. (She didn't, but she did send me a lovely response.) I decided against it, only to change my mind earlier today. I even added the damn thing to my cart, though I felt terribly guilty. Then, while on my run this evening, a realization struck me like a lightning bolt.
The shirt is just a symbolic object, a stand-in for what I actually want. And what I really desire is to engage in animal rights activism. I felt so strongly about a piece of clothing, uncharacteristic for me, because of what the clothing represents. The decision then became simple to make. I'm not going to break my shopping ban when what I really want is intangible. Instead, I'm going straight to the source of my obsession: spreading the vegan message. Though I'm a tad embarrassed that I was so easily tempted, I learned an important lesson: oftentimes what we're buying isn't actually what we're buying at all. That is to say, we buy material things in an attempt to satisfy our desires for greater, less tangible pursuits. There might be many reasons we do this, but one is the most important, and that is fear. We fear the thing we want; we find it to be so big, or our own hunger for it so intimidating, that we choose surrogate objects because they're more attainable. Safer. These proxies will never be enough, however, and the resulting dissatisfaction may even sharpen our need rather than dull it. I'm scared to engage in vegan activism, not least because my veganism remains, among my friends and peers, my least popular conviction. But I want it, and so I am not going to buy my way into complacency. I am going to do it.
So, the next time you buy something that isn't essential, ask yourself: why am I buying this? Because I want it? Or because I want something else, something deliciously terrifying?
"If it excites you and scares the crap out of you at the same time, it probably means you should do it." -Jack Cheng