This is a response to http://liv.dreamwidth.org/459478.html
, but I thought it might go on too long for a comment.
Liv's brother floated the suggestion that making ethical consumer choices is just a way to express your values, it doesn't really help to bring about change.
I interpret this as "this is closer to reality than many people are comfortable admitting" not "this is reality" (else I disagree a LOT). But in fact, I have a response on about four different axes.1. Is it ever worthwhile making small changes that only matter if everyone does them?
Is it worth voting? Is it worth giving to charity even if you can only make a small difference? Is it worth being polite? In the giant iterated prisoner's dilemma that is society, is it worth cooperating?
I say YES, it is.
Anything one person out of 7 billion does is unlikely to make a difference, but out of the allotted "chance of making a difference" you have, you might as well use it! People on Liv's post had several good examples where incremental shifts in popular opinion HAD made a difference in the past.2. Purchasing specifically and market segmentation
There's also a question on purchasing specifically. It's often the case that things are sold as "ethical" are not actually that ethical, even if it's not obvious. Sometimes it's blatant, like saying "buy this and fight breast cancer" but donating only 0.00000000000001% of the purchase price to the charity. Sometimes it's less obvious, like even if all the eggs are actually free range, if you sell 90% of them as "special chicken-murder eggs" and charge more for the rest, probably most people will buy the eggs anyway, but people with more money to spend will buy the more expensive ones.
I think this is common, but not universal -- I think some
purchasing decisions matter, even if it's also easy to be misled and do things that look superficially ethical but actually aren't really. I suspect most people I know think about it a lot and automatically discount a lot of obvious scams, and are implicitly talking about decisions which actually matter.
Whereas I wonder if part of Jacob's point might be that many people don't -- they assume that buying the scam-ethical products makes a difference. And I agree that's probably a common problem, but I feel like I mostly already took it for granted -- I don't want to say that purchasing decisions never
matter, even if many people need to realise that some
I mentioned "special murder eggs" and thought of this comment about goblins being listed as an "evil" race in the DnD monster manual http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0511.html
. And then it occurred to me, if something like Pate Foie Gras is desirable because it's expensive, and expensive because it's complicated, and complicated because it's cruel, then humans
are the race eating things just for the sake of being evil :( (Though I hear ethical Pate Fois Gras is more common now??)3. Performing values
Like the previous point, but whether in buying things or not, I think it might be a common problem that people want to do something good (or be seen to do something good) but aren't that good at choosing things. I think there are apparently ethical things that are mostly for show: charities which make a lot of noise but don't really do any good, or do harm; products advertised as ethical that aren't really any better; folk-tale good-deeds like "unplug charger" which is such a small benefit compared to many other things. I think this is a thing that happens.
But I think this happens with everything. We buy products marked "you're ethical". We buy products marked "you're smart". We buy produces marked "you're healthy". We buy products marked "you're going to be rich". That doesn't mean we're never smart, or healthy, or rich, or good. It just means we're hit-and-miss at it.
As in #2, I think this is a common problem which could be improved on, but most people I know already agree with that. Not that "buying decisions are automatically useless".4. Is supporting ethical things by buying them sensible?
Implicit in all the previous points is that if buying ethical things does little or no good, there's no point in it. And I can easily imagine an argument "why buy from companies who pay a living wage, better to buy as I like and spend time supporting legislation changes" or "why buy from companies with ethical animal-welfare policies, better to eat what you like and donate to animal charities".
And I think there's some truth in that: if you really want to make a difference, I think other things probably give you more leverage. But I also think, being ethical in small ways does add up. And specifically supporting the end goal of "companies which could live in the society you imagine" is necessary at some point in the process of hoped-for societal shift. Paying a fair wage even if you don't have to might be theoretically eclipsed by not doing so and giving the money to people who need it even more. But I think establishing norms of paying fair wages helps establish a framework for how society is supposed to work, whereas breaking that down but giving to charity elsewhere undermines it. I don't have this completely thought out, but I think it's important even if I'm not exactly sure how.