When we say “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism”, it can make you feel as if you’re the monster. You’re the target of the people who want a world without slavery, hunger, or children rationing their own insulin to help mom afford gas to get to her second job. They want to expand that potential future by reducing your already narrow horizons.
This isn’t so.
When you buy the cheapest spare tire — the one that you really really feel was made in a dirt-floor factory without safety gear or worker’s comp — you feel like you’re contributing to the amount of blood that the global machine-that-turns-people-into-blood produces. You feel like you’re sentencing innocent people a world away to a foreshortened, painful life. No.
You are the victim and they are the victims. The perpetrators sit in the middle, doing no work and feeling no pain.
If you were to go a few shelves up to the definitely-ethical, smiling-worker tires in the premium price bracket, you might be buying something made by people who will be seeing their partners and children a few more years than their counterparts from the shelves below, but no amount of premium purchases will displace the bottom brands. Poor people can’t afford premium tires, and the machine makes poor people as readily as it makes tires.
I find it helps to give capital a face. Capital is John McAfee.
You realize you’re a few feet from a warm corpse with a butterfly knife stuck between its ribs. You’re on your knees and John crawls up to you, smiling. He’s got flecks of blood in his beard and his breath smells like a tannery.
He grabs your wrist, pulls you towards the body, and cups your hand around the knife’s split handle with both of his like you’re learning CPR. He’s so close to you that you see his pores, the little pink scars he got picking at himself while tweaking, the nicotine yellow vignetting his scleras. He’s nose-to-nose with you. You’re watching yourself, a small child at the wrong end of the telescope reflected in his eyes. He moistens his lips, ratchets up the smile, and says, lovingly:
“We’re in this together, now.”
You’re not, though. You were forced into this. If you carry the weight in silence, it will kill you and, eventually, everyone. John takes a turn with each of us, alone, and makes us complicit. We don’t need you to do good works to wash your hands clean after what John forced you to do. We need a world without him. We need you see yourself in the pain everyone is feeling, and to recognize that struggling to fix it will also be painful.
This new pain is the pain of something trying to be born. We need you to join in making a gap in the inferno and giving it space to grow. We need to each place a hand on the heart of those who suffer most until no crack remains to push in the knife.