Jobs in a shareable society: how do we get paid if no one is buying?

Despite my love of shiny shiny things, I am generally in favor of a society focused less on consumption and more on community. Our current levels of consumption as a society are unsustainable and harmful to both workers and the environment; if you want a good in-depth analysis of these problems and some potential solutions, I highly recommend Annie Leonard’s book The Story of Stuff.

But there’s one thing I keep wondering when I think about transitioning to a less stuff-focused society, and reading this post about planning a shareable wedding helped me put my finger on it.

The author’s wedding, which included contributions from creative friends and lots of DIY, sounds wonderful. I especially like the idea of a make-your-own-mojito station, which I’m totally stealing for future use:

Think about all the things you can make instead of buy. Instead of programs, we painted the day’s agenda on a big smooth piece of wood, propped up on an easel. Instead of a full cocktail bar, Michael made a giant pitcherful of sugar-mint-lime mash the day before, and guests enjoyed the make-your-own-mojito station with instructions and ingredients. And instead of store-bought invitations, we designed and formatted our own, and printed them at a local copy business for under a hundred dollars.

I have no problem with the author, or anyone else, planning their weddings or other events this way (although I would caution anyone considering using “friendors” to think about it carefully and be aware of the risks).  But when I see such stories held up as a model for “how we should do things,” it leaves me wondering: if everyone did it that way, what would happen to all the professional photographers, florists, wedding coordinators, artists, designers, craftspeople, and bakers?

More broadly, if we move toward a model of sharing–that is, replacing paid labor with volunteer work done by friends and family–where does that leave people who make things and provide services for a living?

One potential way around this conundrum is the basic national income, which would free people from having to work to survive. Under such a system, people who want to make art could do so without having to find a way to make money from it, and people who want to volunteer for their friends could do so without losing out on much-needed wages. But even then, there are probably many people who would want to do these types of work. After all, being an accessory maker, photographer, event planner, graphic designer, florist, or maker of tiny wedding cake replicas sound like fulfilling and rewarding jobs–exactly the kind we’d want more of in a new economy.

How do we move away from ubiquitous commercialization, from the constant beating drum of buy-buy-buy, without devaluing creative work?

I know this is a rather theoretical question, as we’re nowhere near a large-scale shift away from consumption. But I care about figuring out social and economic models that would work for as many people as possible.

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Reading while fat, part 3: why don’t progressives think critically about fat?

Right now, I’m reading Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, which is a pretty awesome book. Leonard looks at the entire production chain of the stuff we buy, and the many ways that it harms both people and the environment. She ties together seemingly disparate economic and environmental issues, exposes the structuresbehind them, and highlights the work that people are doing around the world to move toward a more sustainable, just, and healthy way of living.

But. There’s always a but, isn’t there?

In describing how things have gotten worse for USians despite continued economic growth, she lists a string of negative things from credit card debt to teen suicide rates. The very first thing she mentioned? Yup, you’ve guessed it. It’s the terrible existence of fat bodies.

“Almost every indicator we can find to measure our progress as a society shows that despite continued economic growth over the past several decades, things have gotten worse for us. In the United States, obesity is at record levels, with fully a third of adults over the age of twenty and nearly 20 percent of children between the ages of six and eleven considered obese.” (Leonard, 150).

It’s one brief mention in a good and important book, and it definitely wouldn’t stop me from recommending it. But I hate, hate, hate how Leonard, like so many other progressives, buys into the conventional wisdom on fatness.

Why do people who think critically about so many things and the connections between them–from climate change to income inequality to environmental racism–fail to think critically about the way society pathologizes fat bodies?

Why do people who question capitalism, consumerism, and the paradigm of endless economic growth fail to realize the connection between the “obesity epidemic” and the $60 billion weight-cycling industry?

On the personal level, it brings out my Rageasaurus (not to mention my giant squid of anger and my feminist Hulk) every time I read that my body is a symptom of everything that’s wrong with society–and it hurts a lot more coming from a fellow progressive than from a right-winger whom I could easily dismiss.

At the same time, it reminds me why fat activism is so important. It reminds me why even just posting pictures of myself online can be a radical act.

It reminds me why I keep doing all of this.

And the ethics of fatshion get even more complicated…

Natalie Perkins—fatshionista, writer, and creator of the iconic fat necklace–has a very interesting piece up on XoJane.

Titled “When activism gave way to advertising: how fat girl blogging ate itself,” it argues…well, exactly what the title says.

Fatshion blogs have largely evolved to be in step with large clothing brands, and I fear that the joining of oppressed and oppressor in brand relationships is not furthering fat activism. I don’t begrudge authors of blogs deriving an income from advertising, but I’m concerned with the increasing hand that brands have in blog content.

My feelings about all of this are complicated, but first of all, I admire Natalie for speaking up. She’s an amazing writer, and it takes guts to criticize a such a popular model of blogging.

When I have many conflicted thoughts about something (as I often do–ever heard the saying that between two Jews, there are three opinions?), I find it helps to number them. So, here goes.

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