Creating a Culture of Sustainability within a Culture of Consumption
A few months ago I wrote about Carrie Keplinger’s post which stated that the answer to consumerism isn’t minimalism, it’s art. This post has come to my mind again in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. As I write this, many are still without power and heat, a hardship made only worse by the second nor’easter that blew our way again just as recovery efforts were getting off the ground. Lives and homes have been damaged and lost alongside many small businesses and cultural spaces in the region, affecting lives and livelihoods for thousands.
Mayor Bloomberg was lambasted for his initial decision to let the New York City Marathon resume (which he then reneged on) because it would divert much-needed city resources from the victims of the storm. Though the marathon was postponed instead of canceled, and many of the runners seized on the opportunity to volunteer with relief efforts while in New York, the issue was contentious in part due to arguments surrounding the benefits of the economic boost the event could bring to the city.
While I think postponing the event was the right thing to do, the economic impact of the storm still looms large, a reality all the more somber considering the recession we have all been facing for the past few years. So many people were already struggling to get by as un (and-under)-employment increased while the costs of living remained steady or even increased within the same time span.
And while droves of volunteers have stepped up and donations are pouring in for Sandy relief efforts, trends show that within a few weeks after a crisis, they tend to peter off or come to a complete standstill as news coverage of the event declines and people return to their normal routines. While immediate help is beneficial and necessary, much of the work to rebuild communities occurs further down the road after the sensational stories have subsided, eschewing the issue of sustainability and long-term development for communities.
One of the many thoughts that went into the creation of Culture Grinder was cultivating a space where the creation and evaluation of contemporary culture can open up ongoing (and ideally lasting) conversations where individuals evaluate their own personal cultural impact (however small it may initially seem) alongside others and envision new ways of creating and engaging with culture that is both conscious of and sensitive to the economic and social realities that privilege some at the cost of others. Attempting to escape the confines of elitism, we are attempting to provide alternate visions of living that are ethical, sustainable and profitable to those who are generally sidelined in the larger cultural narrative.
The artists that whose work we highlight in our Grinder of the Month feature, the entrepreneurs we will begin to interview in our upcoming series and the events we promote are all talented but under-represented entities. This is a small, but important, step to help them, and those like them, receive more recognition for their work. And while we feel this is necessary, we are also aware that it isn’t sufficient.
Much like the volunteering efforts for Sandy, the starting point can not be the end point and we need to find new ways to keep the momentum going past the phase of initial excitement. We believe that the factors contributing to the current state of affairs transcend the standard left vs. right dichotomy as much as they transcend national borders. We encourage political awareness and engagement but also recognize that the difference in economic ideology and practice between the two primary political parties in the United States isn’t that great to begin with and that the overall economy is only slightly affected by whose party holds the highest office.
Slate recently reported on the findings of studies that claim the economy will almost definitely steadily improve, albeit moderately, over the next few years regardless of who had won the election on Tuesday. This leaves open the question of how we’re measuring economic growth and decline. The studies referred to note that a steady, small increase in jobs is forthcoming and the most significant role that this will play is an increase in spending by regular people after a long period of penny pinching. Though a complex system, at its core, the health of our modern economy seems to depend most on a free flow of exchange between consumers and businesses. Which leads us to some of the most pertinent questions whose answer can affect us all more than any cast ballot normally will: How are we spending our money? What are we spending our money on? Where are we spending it? And, why?
Our purchasing power may be the largest and most frequent source of cultural power we have access to as individuals and communities. And if we are as tired of the existing order as we have rightfully claimed to be in the past few years (a frustration whose voice became louder and more desperate as the election and Sandy passed us by), then we need to start reflecting on our own consumer choices and have discussions about better ways to spend. Every time we open our wallets, we are making a choice of lasting consequence that affects the quality of our environments, bodies and communities while shaping the cultural paradigm.
With this in mind, we are going to begin posting more content and features discussing the ways in which we can make more informed choices about what we are purchasing and how we are living. Some of our features will highlight the work of small businesses (especially over the upcoming holiday season); Others will contain information from entrepreneurs from various backgrounds on how they got started and how they’ve succeeded with their work: And some will reflect on the big and small ways anyone can start making positive changes.
We hope to begin a dialogue with our readers rather than generate polemics for them. We reject ideologies that fail to recognize that some are in a much more comfortable position to make certain choices than others and want to have honest discussions regarding the different options, or lack of, that are available to each of us. To this end, we invite you to contact us about issues you’d like to see addressed, businesses you’d like to see featured and even guest posts on relevant topics.
In the meantime, we hope this finds you safe and well and ask you to stay tuned as we get more of this going off the ground.
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