This article was originally posted on medium by Chakameh Shafii
During a recent visit to an art collection here in Berlin, I saw a work by Yngve Holen which was the headlight and rear lights of a Mercedes Benz installed on a blank wall. The curator explained that the artist was highlighting our segregation of a society based on the car we drive. Take a second to think about that, how would you feel about the driver of a car based on the choice they made when buying their vehicle; hybrid, electric, or gas. Would you associate someone driving a brand new Tesla to being more “woke” than a person driving a 2005 VW?
In the not so far history of communities around the globe, the rich displayed their wealth, and somewhat justified it, by giving back to the religious leaders of their community. In addition to using their money to increase their influence in the community, they gave as a way to clear their conscience. Regardless of how their money was made, by giving to the Church, Mosque or Temple, they dampened their guilt.
A while ago, a Muslim would clear his conscious by performing Tawba, a follower of Judaism would seek penance through the process of Teshuva, and a follower of the Catholic church would pursue exoneration through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The person, whatever their religion, would come out the other side feeling a sense of freedom and holier-than-thou that only comes when we feel light from the burden of guilt.
The spiritual dump of sins that was once done in the presence of a religious confidant is now reshaped to freedom from sins by buying the better product. Whether that’s the more environmentally friendly washing soap, the organic vegetables, or the electric car that promises to save us from global warming.
The queue to the confessional has transformed into the cashier line at a conscious fashion store. Baskets full of eco-friendly dresses, a hemp T-shirt, and bamboo underwear.
Depending on our choice of the news outlet, we read about the impact of our overconsumption on the environment weekly. Did we always need so many pairs of jeans? What was it like when we just had one pair of trainers? Would things have fallen apart if we didn’t buy those decorative fake plants for our living room?
Let’s consider the ever growing wellbeing market. I know that the correct definition of self-care is in no way the same as buying happiness online through things, but maybe that fake plant in the living room that brought nature into someone’s living room was really important to their wellbeing. Now, instead of buying my fourth pair of yoga pants, I can opt for the eco-friendly option which makes me feel less guilty.
I can write another article on self-care and how it has very little to do with buying things and a lot more to do with questioning things but I will leave that for another time. What I will highlight here is that somehow, even the most conscious of us fall for the trap of “I need to buy this, but I’ll buy the more expensive and more eco-friendly option so that it’s good for me, and for the environment.”
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” — Mark Twain
Have we allowed the Church of Capitalism to replace the Church of God in our subconscious mind? Instead of having God and religion tell us about our “good” and “bad” deed we rely on the likes of our followers. It seems like when I post images of my avocado and quinoa salad I get a more positive response than when I post a picture of a pulled beef sandwich. No one asks where the avocado came from and how come I have access to it all 4 seasons, all they care about is that based on the latest advertising they’re being fed, this looks like the better choice. Some in my community seem certain that the only way to save mother earth is by becoming vegan, sometimes to the point that people are afraid of posting pictures of meat from the fear of being judged.
Being judged. That must seem familiar to those who have spent weekends attending religious schools learning about sins and redemption. Now, kids will learn about judgement through eating meat or using their iPad in front of the parents of “woke” families.
I’ll leave you to look up the costs of eating organic and buying only eco-friendly laundry detergent, most of us have compared the price of the bio-apples to the regular apples at the supermarket. Yes, I did say supermarket and not the farmer’s market. How many cities in the world, do we think, have farmer’s markets?
I’m not trying to make any specific point here. I’m one of those “woke” consumers myself. Going to the farmers market and buying products that have fewer chemicals, I even compost and separate my garbage into 5 different categories. But I live in Berlin. Doing these things only takes a bit more time and energy as not doing them. I’m aware that many of the people reading this won’t have a separate dark-glass and light-glass recycling bin in their apartment.
Money, a sign of power and sometimes a sign of generosity, can be used to buy a clear conscience. The money that once went to the church or the community is now going to Tesla and Wholefoods. I’ll leave you to contemplate the parallels there. Gods, prophets, Bezos, Musk.
If you liked this article or better yet didn’t agree with anything I’ve said, comment and let me know. Clap so I know you’ve made it to the end and didn’t give up after the fake living room plants.