Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In Practice

Brent's girlfriend needed a pair of sneakers. Remembering Brent's little brand comparison moonlighting gig, she asked him what he recommends.

He told her he liked Keen a lot. They seemed like a company worth supporting.

She'd never heard of them, and her plan was to go to the mall, not to some lentil-fueled, patchouli-scented hippy swap meet, so she asked Brent if he had any thoughts on main stream brands.

He told her Nike seems to have cleaned up its act considerably, and he said to keep an eye on her New Balance options. Check the shoeboxes. Some New Balances are made in the USA, and, generally, shoes made in the USA are less deserving of human rights violation suspicion than shoes made in the developing world.

So off she went. To the mall.

She took a long look at the wall of Nikes, tried a pair of New Balances, but couldn't help her eyes from drifting to one particularly good looking pair of Asics.

She figured she had to at least try them on.

Oh man were they comfortable. Perfect fit. Soft and smooth. On sale. And cute. Hard to resist.

But she remembered what Brent had told her, and she wanted to do the right thing.

So she hesitated. And thought about it. And looked at the Asics. And at the New Balances and Nikes, all homely and uninspiring. And then she looked back at the Asics as she took them off and put them in the box.

And there, on the box, she saw the magic words: made in the USA.

She bought the Asics, took them home, pulled them out, and showed them to Brent. Only New Balance manufactures in the States, you say? Really? You sure? Well what about these? Says it right here...

And as she turned the box over to show him what she'd read, it all suddenly made sense.

This box was made in the USA.


But. She still liked the shoes. And she did get them pretty cheap. And she didn't want to go back to the mall. So, really, how bad could Asics be? Are they really any different from those other companies? Is it really all that important to buy mindfully and democratically and responsibly and purposefully? Would this one pair of shoes really make all that much difference?

So she kept them. And she's happy she did.

And that, right there, is what we're up against. That's the in practice to our glorious in theory. Good looking shoes. Sales. Boxes probably deliberately labeled to mislead. The fact that it's hard not to feel small and helpless and unable to actually make any difference, positive or negative. And, of course, the way we all keep ourselves sane: short memories, the ability to forgive.

It's not gonna be easy. But maybe easy is better in theory than in practice as well.


Anonymous said...

Some might say that "easy" doesn't exist in practice. Easy tends to lead to unforeseen problems down the road (much like the problems we've got now due to millions of "easy" choices like this made over the years by producers and consumers).

It seems that more and more companies are doing their best to act more responsibly (as far as the impact their quest for profit has on the rest of the world). Unfortunately for the most part they're not experiencing the same level of consumer support enjoyed by the big/bad boys, but the fact that they're growing in number is a good sign. With a lot of work (and luck) in the future these guys won't be the exception but the rule.

Jake de Grazia said...

I think the key to making those businesses the rule rather than the exception is to make it worth their financial while to do those responsible things. They need to get rewarded for their good behavior.

I'm convinced that at least part of that reward has to come from educated consumers INTENTIONALLY rewarding them with their business.

There might not be that many people ready to act intentionally right away, but if those people, the intentional people, do their homework and open source it, make it available to the people that are not immediately ready to operate intentionally, then the intentional people lower the barrier to entry to intentionality, and the intentional people population will grow (and maybe, if we really do it right and/or get lucky, snowball).

Uh oh. This is becoming a mouthful.

Anyway, Alex, thanks for the comment. And you're absolutely right to be worried about easiness. Maybe convincing more people that their behavior can be intentional will add a little good difficulty to our lives. Choices. Real choices about which we'll have to think.

Erica Lee said...

that made me laugh. i could see myself doing that. being all proud about what a noble consumer i was and then in my moment of glory see my blunder.

"see! i care! look at my.... boh...."

my friend has vegan shoes. but it's easier for a dude to have ugly shoes...

i just bought a macbook. where the hell was that made? am i still in the "green" if you will. it's too late, i'm not returning it. the guy showed me all these sweet trix and i am SOLD. don't tell wiley, i don't want him all PROUD.

part of my final paper for that class i took where i observed in a high-needs public school was a critique on the "easy" road. the other girls in my class were being punks about going to these "scary" (ok, i'm done with quote marks, "sorry") schools and they were complaining it was going to be too hard, and they thought it scared people away from public education. and i thought i was taking crazy pills b/c did they think their job was supposed to be easy? it was a huge rant. in a paper full of rants. i think i'm gonna send it to you... sorry, this turned into personal email comments.

ps: BEAN??? wtf man! what happened to Tiny?! i protest!

Jake de Grazia said...

That's crazy about your colleagues at the high needs school.

I guess what they say is probably true though. People do get scared. Maybe it's a confidence issue. Or a fear of failing issue. Or a lack of support issue.

I mean there's no way it's ever going to be easy to teach and teach well, especially in poor schools, but maybe there's something we can to make it more attractive to take on the challenge.

More money would be one simple thing. But would that be enough psychologically to get people to embrace the difficulty and battle through it? I feel like there needs to be something else as well. Some kind of human support.

But I don't know. You'd definitely know better. Maybe you explain it all in your paper (which I would love to read, by the way).

As for Beans and Tiny, he has two names. Beans is his official name at the vet's, but more people call him Tiny than Beans.