Saving the world shouldn’t feel good
Much to my own surprise, I’m not paying extra for organic food products to avoid funding dead zones on the sea floor caused by agricultural fertilizer run-off from non-organic aka “conventional” farms. I’m not buying organic food to abstain from supporting industrialized farming in leaking excess pesticides into our ground water, each year leading to polluted bore holes being shut down and new ones having to be dug farther and farther away. And although scientists say buying organically certified food is the most effective single thing to do to combat climate change and hitherto hidden impacts of conventional agriculture are being exposed as research progress then no, I’m not investing my hard earned money to help combat climate change either.
I’m not even eating organic food for my own health. I don’t really care about the pesticide leftovers in the industrialized produce or appreciate the tight restrictions on additives in organics. Considerations for the animal welfare going into the sausage I snack while typing these words? Really – who would believe in that? Living in a city I’m probably scared of pigs.
Then why am I spending money on certified organic products that some other people chose to save?
Social science knows better
Don’t worry: philosophers and sociologists have the answer! One such is Ulla Holm, Danish sociologist, who took offense with a particularly pathos ridden product description on a frozen rooster. Disturbingly, it had been handled with love, not just care, by three farmers. The rooster was no longer a just a rooster, she realized. It was a ticket to the ideal society. The conspiracy unfolded itself: The well educated and well paid elite is waging a neo-class war on the poor and dumb. Authenticity is ammunition. And in fact, even the trend of local gourmet food as spearheaded by Noma, the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant, isn’t driven by friendly neighbors and aversion to “food miles”. According to Ulla, it’s not just nationalist by it’s insistence of local ingredients, it’s fascism because of its exclusivity.
Ulla isn’t alone. She’s published in national Danish newspapers and draw cheers as well as boohs. Many second her opinion and surely some advertising writers must be smiling devilish to themselves as they turn up the emotionally tuned product buzz for yet another mass produced item. Wow! I’m paying over-price for product labels to forsake modernity. Occasionally topping it off with local vegetables to feel like an Übermensch. Or perhaps Ulla and the modernism extremists missed something? Could it be crucial parts of reality? Stuff they don’t teach at sociology and philosophy faculties.
Dear apparently not over-educated sociologists and philosophers who are exposing the authenticity cult: Why am I spending my weekend mornings writing obscure articles about global sustainability? Why do I pretend to care if Ban Ki-Moon can provide electricity for all? Can you help me out here? I’m looking forward to your answer.
Authenticity hoaxers have a point
Allegedly, the mother of all “authenticity hoax debunking” and inspiration for Ulla Holm and the similarly inclined is Canadian philosopher Andrew Potter, author of The Authenticity Hoax and maintainer of a blog of the same name. At least according to a brief crawl of his blog, his criticism is much more mild-mannered than that of the likes of Ulla. I don’t see Andrew calling me an organic nazi or anything like that. I see him linking to others testing if McDonalds burgers are so special in not rotting, expose blatantly over-advertised products, crack ironic jokes at the paleo diet extremists and such reasonable notes in this an that.
“…if Starbucks can call its breakfast sandwich “artisanal [...] then maybe artisanal is just a synonym for mass-produced…”
Breaking news: A lot of the rhetoric in advertisement is actually ridiculous. Greenwashing exists. And some consumers of organic foods are taking it a bit too far when they wince at non-organic products as if it was decomposed garbage.
I think calling brands out on excess pathos loaded product descriptions, greenwashing and, yes, marketing of vapor authenticity is important. Because not wiping out ocean life, not polluting our drinking water, not causing irreversible and catastrophic climate change, not poisoning generations of people by what we eat and breathe are actual challenges in the real world that require very concrete actions to be met. None of them are hoaxes.
Which brings us back to the topic of Rio+20. This June 2012 summit which most of the world look forward to in hopes and cautious optimism is described by the leading conspiracy theory media in USA in less than flattering words:
“[Rio+20 will] consider a breathtaking array of carbon taxes, transfers of trillions of dollars from wealthy countries to poor ones, and new spending programs [...] make dramatic and enormously expensive changes in the way that the world does nearly everything [...] socialist-style worker, trade and citizens’ organizations [role] in creating a sweeping international social reorganization, all closely monitored by regulators and governments to maintain environmental “sustainability” and “human equity.”
In other words: to the US right wing, Rio+20 is more than just a Communist attack on their Capitalist world hegemony, it has an agenda of – gasp! – “human equity”. As it is often the case with conspiracy theory websites, the patchwork of biassed information weaves a rather leaky cloth. How does Fox News imagine the rest of the world has become brain washed by Ban Ki-Moon? Perhaps next week their analysis will provide the answer: by the lure of authenticity.