Resolutions and commitments

 University of Washington Drumheller Fountain (photo: Assembled Hazardly)

Over the new year, I read a really interesting opinion piece by Ruth Chang in the New York Times on resolutions and why most people see their motivation taper off after a month. Resolutions are different from commitments in that resolutions are temporarily motivational while commitments involve long-term obligations. After reading the article, I decided to commit myself to being someone that I know I can be without having to compromise certain ideals or inherent traits (like being lazy).

I decided to commit myself to:
1. Working out three times a week instead of resolving to lose x amount of pound
2. Spending more time reading a book instead of resolving to spend less time on the internet
3. Being a less pessimistic person, even if this environmental ethics class I'm taking right now is making me so depressed I want to slit my wrists
4. Visiting Instagram and some really unimportant sites only on Sunday

An introspective search made me realize that I could indeed be that person; it wouldn't change me terribly, it would take some hard work, but I could possibly do it. None of my commitments would make me a great person or even a good person but it would be a massive improvement.

Long time readers of the blog will know that Assembled Hazardly has always just been a place where I allow my inner pretentiousness and haphazard train of thought to spill forth, often times in a barrage of word vomit. I think I tend to overshare, which never bodes well in the blogging world. Slate recently wrote about 'The Year of Outrage' where it seems like everyone gets upset about everything these days regardless how things actually started or what the context was or if there really is any truth to the matter. It seems people cherry-pick facts, start a shit storm without thinking about the corresponding consequences and then just fade out - nothing actually happens, no actual justice is done, but it makes one feel good to shame another person or fly off the handle about something just because they can.

The Andrew Goldman story on Slate really struck a chord with me because like this Gawker article points out (albeit poorly), you can be an asshole without being a sexist - no doubt Goldman was an idiot, but he wasn't being sexist in the way that was misconstrued. The funny thing is that most people don't seem to even know the definition of the word they are using except that it's a great sound bite to lob at an opponent. If you call someone a Chinese and they're Chinese American, you're  a racist. If you're slightly jittery and skittish, you have bipolar. If you call a woman crazy, you're a sexist.  If you're President Obama, you're simultaneously a fascist and a socialist. All of which makes no sense.

I'm only pointing this out because as I sat through the aforementioned ethics class yesterday, I thought about what my own personal definition of being ethical, just and fair meant. When I say I want to shop ethically, what does it really mean? Sure, I want respect and living wages for factory workers even if that meant I had to pay more. In an ideal world, socialism would work but this world isn't ideal and thrives on capitalism and greed, so if my demand for workers rights forces companies to raise prices, I don't lose out - poorer people do. This whole green-washing thing seems to serve only one purpose, which is to make richer, liberal consumers feel better about themselves while shaming companies that make a huge profit, all in the name of helping the poor.

People get outraged when things like the Rana Plaza collapse happens or when they read stories about environmental exploitation and animal welfare. They tweet endlessly, call for change on some level because it makes them feel like they're doing something immediate but it all dissipates the next moment another sensationalist story comes along. Being outraged about it and wanting to do the "right" thing like boycotting factories and buying subsistence-farmed goods doesn't make the problem go away. The outrage is misplaced, because it fails to take into account that the entire economic and social justice system is flawed. It's also easier to be outraged than to actively seek a pragmatic, level-headed solution because outrage (as opposed to rage) is temporary emotion that provides an ephemeral sense of urgency. This excellent article by Nicki Cole summarizes my premise more succinctly.

Looking at my own consumption habits over the last year or two have led me to questions about the driver for my habits. I think they are two fold - one is because they give me a sense of being in control about the larger social and environmental impacts and two is because I like humblebragging and my sense of worth is tied very closely to my consumption habits (hence commitment #4 above). I buy a lot of eco-friendly products, I compost and recycle and I grow my a lot of my own vegetables all because they assuage my fears about the environment. I buy sustainably-farmed meat and organic vegetables because they make me feel better about eating an animal and not putting pollutants into the earth.  I buy "ethically-sourced" clothing, handmade artisan jewelry, natural beauty products and try to limit shopping at fast-fashion chains because I feel good thinking that my money is going directly into the pockets of workers and not corporations. Not that any of these things really matter in the grand scheme of things - it's a step in the right direction, but it still is consumerism after all.

I've come to the realization that this is flawed thinking, the world can't be saved by green consumerism (sorry, we've kind of boxed ourselves in) and any single kind of consumption - the very act of human existence - contributes to environmental and social injustice. The presence of the human race displaces justice for every other species on earth. The very fact that the latest IPCC report, put out by one of the most conservative climate panels in the world, is taking geoengineering into account is simultaneously frightening and depressing. Short of suffering from a complete existential meltdown and going bonkers (don't worry, I often sound more pessimistic that I really am hence New Year's commitment #3) the only thing I can think about doing on my end is to be diligent at influencing policies with my work and degree and actively seek to REALLY reduce consumption on every front - which I've admittedly done a horrifyingly bad job on.

So my fifth and final commitment for this year is to finish/wear what I own before purchasing something new. I can't tell myself to buy less because it's so arbitrary and it hasn't work thus far but I can (and should) commit to wearing out something to shreds or to finish a bottle of eye cream or to eat all my cereal or to drink all the vodka (note to self :-)) before making a new purchase which would hopefully cut down on my rate of consumption drastically without me having to resolve to anything temporary.

Final note: I know some of you have stumble here from GOMI, where I am known by The Road Less Jenna (I'm revealing my username as atonement for my snarkery) and am an occasional participant in the That Wife, Product Reviews and Gluten Free Girl threads. There is also a Minimalist Blogger thread that criticizes this blog, constructively but sometimes in fairly unsubstantiated ways, for having double standards. I encourage you to read through ALL the posts on this blog that have detailed my transition from an enthusiastic prep to a sweatpants-wearing, beer-bellied dogmother and to call me out in the comments which is opened to everyone and will never be censored unless it contains more than three swear words or involves embarrassing parts of the anatomy. I like learning from my mistakes and being more critical about my thought process and this blog facilitates open discussion. I don't moderate comments, and when I have to, I don't do it willingly but it's a feature on Blogger that all comments older than 3 weeks have to be held in queue for spam.