Wendell Berry on Consumer Responsibility


Since my years in University I have come to the conclusion that our only real democratic vote now lay with our dollar/peso/pound; our consumer currency.

We vote once a year or once every four years for someone that is so wrapped in bureaucracy and under-the-table handshakes to be rendered useless if not harmful to the greater good.

We are much more powerful in our daily activities to vote each and every day (hopefully resting one day a week) with how and where we spend our dollars. This is a sword with two edges that cuts deeply to the heart of the matter; by giving our dollar to an efficient merchant/producer that is working to be part of a solution (i.e. organic food or sustainably harvested timber) we also keep it from an inefficient merchant/producer that is continuing to be part of a problem (i.e. chemically farmed food or clear-cut timber). This is much more powerful than relying on the diplomat (diplomat comes from the French ‘di plume’ meaning ‘two faced’).

Have you ever read something and said “I wish I could of said it like that.” I’m reading Wendell Berry ‘The Unsettling of America’. He is a Kentucky farmer and poet/author. It is my current Bible. Jesus would have loved this man. I recommend it to everyone. Here is a little excerpt:

From ‘The Unsettling of America’ by Wendell Berry

‘The consumer may proceed to organization and even to legislation by considering only his (her) “rights.” And most of the recent talk about consumer protection has had to do with the consumer’s rights. Very little indeed has been said about the consumer’s responsibilities. It may be that whereas one’s rights may be advocated and even “served” by an organization, one’s responsibilities cannot. It may be that when one hands one’s responsibilities to an organization, one becomes by that divestiture irresponsible. It may be that responsibility can be fulfilled or failed, but cannot be got rid of.

If a consumer begins to think and act in consideration of his responsibilities, then he vastly increases his capacities as a person. And he begins to be effective in a different way – a way that is smaller perhaps, and certainly less dramatic but sounder, and able sooner or later to assume the force of example.

A responsible consumer would be a critical consumer, would refuse to purchase the less good. And he would be a moderate consumer; he would know his needs and would not purchase what he did not need; he would sort among his needs and study to reduce them. These things of course, have been often said, though in our time they have not been said very loudly and have not been much heeded. In our time the rule among consumers had been to spend money recklessly. People whose governing habit is the relinquishment of power, competence, and responsibility, and whose characteristic suffering is the anxiety of futility, make excellent spenders. They are the ideal consumer. By inducing in them little panics of boredom, powerlessness, sexual failure, mortality, paranoia, they can be made to buy (or vote for) virtually anything that is “attractively packaged.” The advertising industry is founded upon this principle.

What has not been often said, because it did not need to be said until fairly recent times, is that the responsible consumer must also be in some way a producer. Out of his own resources and skills, he must be equal to some of his own needs. The household that prepares its own meals in its own kitchen with some intelligent regard for nutritional value, and thus depends on the grocer only for selected raw materials, exercises an influence on the food industry that reaches from the store all the way back to the seedsman. The household that produces some or all of its own food will have a proportionately greater influence. The household that can provide some of its own pleasures will not be helplessly dependent on the entertainment industry, will influence it by not being helplessly dependent on it, and will not support it thoughtlessly out of boredom.

The responsible consumer thus escapes the limits of his own dissatisfaction. He can choose, and exert the influence of his choosing, because he has given himself choices. He is not confined to the negativity of his complaint. He influences the market by his freedom. This is no specialized act, but an act that is substantial and complex, both practically and morally. By making himself responsibly free, a person changes both his life and his surroundings.

It is possible, then, to perceive a critical difference between responsible consumers and consumers who are merely organized. The responsible consumer slips out of the consumer category altogether. He is a responsible consumer incidentally, almost inadvertently; he is a responsible consumer because he lives a responsible life.’

Thank you Wendell for inspiring me to become more responsible. The ability to respond comes from daily discipline. Observing my mind and subsequent behavior. Blessings to all.


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