Thursday, 9 June 2016

The illusion of power



Knowledge is power. So why is it that the more I know the more I realise how little power I actually have? We live in an age where information is thrown at us on the daily whether we want it or not. Even without turning on a news channel or owning a TV, if you have access to the Internet and facebook/twitter/instagram you are likely up to date with the latest shock and horror stories.  The question is do you have the tools necessary to figure out what is real and what is BS? This not the question of intelligence, street smarts or even expertise. It is funny how when you start researching any industry be it food, fashion, beauty, etc you soon start seeing similarities with regards to hidden dark corners, dishonesty, misinformation and lack of responsibility.

Let's get a couple of things straight: there are very few certainties (if any), when it comes to natural order of things, science or life in general. So many things through the history of humanity that used to be considered as undeniable, undisputed facts have come to be disproved. Our societies have seen remarkable transformation, so why is it when it comes to our daily lives we seem to be rather accepting of the status quo and believing that it isn't in our power to create real and lasting change? Why is that we are so content with the superficial power of our consumer choices? 

Making decisions on incomplete, often biased studies, when it comes to food and beauty products. Purchasing clothing based on convenience of what is available to us. Being saddled with the full responsibility for the potential health consequences of our nutritional choices, or wanting to appear more attractive through the use of beauty products. Because somehow it is up to us as individuals to understand potential risks of what is in our lotion, or in our food, because we are adults? 

Never mind the fact that large proportions of population leave formal education by the age of sixteen in the rich countries (we are not even talking about what is going on in the so called developing world), and the quality of education varies ridiculously between school to school, country to country. Yet we are responsible for our own wellbeing, and we are told that the things sold to us in the shops are there because we want them. How is that exactly? When given a choice, with explanation of all the consequences and effects that certain ingredients have on our bodies, what mother would choose to give their child food with colourants that could potentially cause their child ADHD? But I mean it is not certain, and in small quantities it is OK right, so lets just roll with it.

Going to an attraction park and not packing a lunch with me (admittedly an oversight), it turns out that my only food options are chips, sandwiches, burgers, pasta, or soup (on a hot summer day), so how exactly do I show my consumer power and preferences for healthy food... oh that is right, I don't, I go to eat elsewhere (where is that exactly when you are in middle of nowhere?). So I get a stupid sandwich, or go hungry. 

How am I supposed to definitively make up my mind on whether or not organic food and beauty is worth it when the supposedly leading scientific minds keep playing tug of war with their findings? Because of course I have time, money, and the presence of mind to subscribe to all the research articles and publications in the fields of environment, nutrition, cosmetic chemistry, and also keep an eye on what goes on in the field of economics, and politics (not of just my own country mind you, but worldwide), read them, and without fail figure out what is the absolute truth. Then I go to the shops and vote with my wallet for the real change in the world. Because I am an all powerful consumer, and if I just keep shopping for fair trade goods, organic produce and natural beauty I am going to change the world. It is up to me and all the other consumers, it is our collective responsibility as walking, talking ATMs to show big business that we are against child labour, food that makes us sick, and beauty products with questionable ingredients. Consumers are ultimately responsible for not only what goes on in the supply chain and the environmental impact of production industries in distant countries, they are also responsible for the effects that cosmetics have on us purely by the simple act of buying one product over another. You have the power to buy or not to buy, with power comes great responsibility.

So now with my new found power, I am drastically changing my shopping habits, yet my budget is still the same. I buy less, a lot less, since instead of 5 dresses I can now only afford 1, and what happens if every single person does the same, what happens then? Well there aren't that many dresses being sold, so either price goes down to encourage people to shop more or all those people who used to make dresses have to find themselves another type of work. And if the price keeps going down, does this mean that those exact things I wanted to avoid by buying a more expensive dress will just happen again? If overnight the whole world goes organic, all non organic farms have to change or go out of business. It is a similar story with beauty. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well that depends on who you ask. Time does not stay still, change happens whether or not we are open to it. While we are free to choose, we can only choose from the selection that is available to us. If you have no access to clean water, you still have to drink to live.  

My buying choices are made with the best information I have at the time, but I am not a mindless consumer of things, I am a person. I had no part in deciding who made a shirt that is hanging in a department store, and it is very unlikely that I will ever find out who made it. I have to put my trust in instutitions and certifying bodies to tell me that a particular item indeed was made under fair conditions, or made with ingredients that it claims to have. I do not have access to all the relevant information, or even the capacity to process it all if it is presented in a particularly confusing way.

While I am great believer in individuality, and yes one person can really create change, they never do it without the support of other like minded people. There is such a thing as too much emphasis on individuals, no one person is responsible for all that is wrong in the world or indeed for fixing it. Yet when we don't have reliable institutions that actually ensure that what is available to us is indeed safe, that the environment doesn't get polluted, and that workers are treated with respect, it falls on the shoulders of individuals to figure what is what. 

So maybe I should see myself as a consumer and embrace this power of shopping after all? At every corner, being met with different opinions presented as facts based on contradicting  information, I will be making choices. Am I vegan? No... Oh that must mean that I do not care about animal cruelty or the environment, and if I do than I am a delusional hypocrite. Do I use only unpreserved organic skincare? No... well that is unfortunate, but I can't be part of the purist green beauty club. And if I happen to be a blogger but do not share every part of what I do, every single beauty product that I have ever used, and some of the ones I missed out on taliking about aren't too clean, if I share green smoothie recipes but do not document the fact that I had a coke once in a blue moon, that means I am just plain inauthenic. Because as everybody knows, having a blog means everyone is not only entitled to know every sinle thing about me but it is frankly my civic duty to overshare in the name of authenticity.

So please clear some room while I get on my high horse, cloak myself in authenticity and point my finger at all the others who fail to navigate this minefield of information, while shopping into oblivion and shaping the world into a better place with the mighty power of my wallet.

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