Thursday, July 31, 2008

Consumer Goods or Character Goods

I've blogged a lot about the role of stuff in signifying who we are. The Green Prius vs the Gas Guzzling Tahoe, the recycled fabric Patagonia jacket vs the sweat shop created discount item or the designer couture jacket. What does the copious presence of goods or the abstemious restraint of acquisition say about our lives? In short, when we buy goods are they consumer goods, items that address our internal needs or are they character goods, items that telegraph who we are.

The green shopping movement is strong on righteousness, as brilliantly glorified in the South Park Episode called Smug Alert! and made legendary the "Toyonda Pious". In an odd way, being green is an aggressive act. I completely believe what Joan Didion said that "writing is an aggressive act" is true. My intent though is rarely to convert you to a point of view, but to get people to think about the impact and make your own assessment of the risk and reward for your actions. So the question on the moment, is the use of character as a product attribute an act of exclusivity no different from a luxury good pricing itself out.

For instance, who is more green, the person why buys the latest green piece of clothing that's brand new or the person who buys their clothes from yard sales and thrift stores. Now on average, how are these people judged differently by others?

As we look to live more greenly, we run the danger of self rationalization, absolutism and judgement. Our acts (including what we buy) telegraph our character, but what exactly is the message received and how aggressive is it?


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