Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Eating vs. wearing chemicals.

A thought occurs to me. Many people are concerned about what they eat -- not wanting to eat vegetables pesticides have been used on, not wanting to eat too much sugar or carbs, etc. But very few seem concerned with what they put on their bodies -- by which I mean cosmetics, but also skin lotions and creams, aftershaves, and so on. At least part of this has to be because these products are not absorbed through the skin, or at least are not absorbed at anything like the rate (or, not into the organs) that food is. But I don't think that entirely justifies the distinction. What, really, is in aftershave? Alcohol and some kind of patented scents -- which are nothing over and above laboratory-brewed chemical concoctions. If it's a bad idea to eat it, why's it at least okay to wear it?

8 comments:

undergroundman said...

Good thought, but those people are certainly neophyte treehuggers, and I suspect that most of the people who go so far as to eat organic foods to avoid pesticides also avoid the chemicals.

Most deodorant contains aluminum, a neurotoxin. I use Tom's aluminum-free deodorant. Most shampoo contains, as its primary ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate. I also avoid that and find no difference in efficacy. I avoid polyester where possible (though I haven't really noticed any reactions) and don't wear cologne (although I did buy a cologne with pheremones in it after I found a fake scientific study on the internet).

ADHR said...

At least you're consistent, although I wonder why you're bothering! It seems pretty clear to me that we should be worrying about our air and our water before we should be worrying about clothing or cologne.

undergroundman said...

Wearing organic clothing is something I can do to clean up the water and the air. More pesticides are used on cotton than any other crop from what I've read. Most organic clothing is also certified Fair Trade.

The other changes don't require me to pay any more or have any difference in efficacy -- so really, why not? Free peace of mind. Cologne is a serious waste of money -- I'd rather use my dollars to support people doing different kinds of labor. Same reason I avoid purchasing video games, DVDs, ect. Easier to rent them or go read a book. I'll admit that I do drink way too much alcohol and smoke way too much weed, though -- that's where too much of the money I save goes. It seems like I can either stick to my principles and have a boring life or sacrifice them and have an exciting life.

The little, stupid consumerist habits that people in developed nations have add up.

ADHR said...

Ah, there you go, then. There is a reason. It's not easy to find those sorts of products, though. Sooner or later, it seems, every product that's readily available has some kind of serious negative impact on water, air or land. So, it's either search a lot for something that has less of an impact, or grin and bear it. Without systematic change, what, really, can one do?

Having an interesting life is clearly a good. I wonder, though, if there aren't better ways to create interest in life. Incidentally, isn't book publishing one of the most polluting industries imaginable? The inks and the residue from the paper-making process alone are fairly harsh chemicals.

undergroundman said...

I either go to the library or purchase the books secondhand. I don't like being bogged down with a lot of books (though I am) so I often give the books to Goodwill or the library when I'm done with them. Similarly, I rent DVDs. I even own a few of the real classics - The Godfather, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Scarface, The Man Who Knew Too Little. I wish I owned Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love.

Finding good products and companies isn't that hard these days (sounds like a weak excuse), and once you've found them, you don't have to search any longer. Besides, having intimate knowledge of the products I purchase and the companies I support is pleasurable for me.

ADHR said...

Key, though, is the word "that". It's not that hard -- but it is still somewhat difficult. So, I either swallow some sort of (perhaps mild) cost, or follow everyone else and take the path of least resistance.

I admit that's weak, but it looks like we're both dealing with weak reasons. There doesn't appear to be a strong basis for preferring the more responsible companies to the less. At the end of the day, without systemic change, most people will favour the latter, and the system will continue in its decline.

On a tangential note, there's also the problem that focussing on changing one's spending habits means exercising one's capacities as a consumer rather than as a citizen, which seems a little backwards. Surely the idea should be to try to enact better policies, and then adjust one's economic behaviour accordingly, rather than adjust one's economic behaviour within the context of bad policies.

undergroundman said...

So, I either swallow some sort of (perhaps mild) cost, or follow everyone else and take the path of least resistance.

Huh? Everything worthwhile has a cost. And making irresponsible choices has more costs in the long-run than making responsible choices. If everyone does it, the consequence is environmental degredation, pollution, the subsequent health effects.

At the end of the day, without systemic change, most people will favour the latter, and the system will continue in its decline.

The only systemic change we can hope for at this point is a change in people's attitudes. That's the only change that will have an enormous effect on the world.

On a tangential note, there's also the problem that focussing on changing one's spending habits means exercising one's capacities as a consumer rather than as a citizen, which seems a little backwards.

If you think we have duties as a citizen in a democratic state, then why don't we have duties as consumers in a free market world? We can have a much greater effect on the world by directing our dollars toward appropriate causes than by voting for one man or the next.

Surely the idea should be to try to enact better policies, and then adjust one's economic behaviour accordingly, rather than adjust one's economic behaviour within the context of bad policies.

All policies can do is either: 1) Give people "free" governmental services, 2) Influence how people use their money or 3) Give people more money. People should still spend that money morally.

An appropriate analogy is voting. As citizens of democracies, we have very little power to effect actual policies unless we run for office. All we can do is vote. When voting you can do research the candidates or you can choose the path of least resistance, by voting for the guy who seems the most likable or somesuch nonsense. What you're arguing is the latter over the former. No structural change is going to change the simple fact that humans need to take responsibility for their actions. Sure, we can implement incentives (maybe) to get them to research, but in the end, we can't force them to do it with any policy. You seem to be saying that people should passively go through life taking the path of least resistance - I don't agree.

You'll notice that I shifted the debate away from purchasing from responsibile companies (which is certainly important -- there is a strong moral and pragmatic argument for purchasing from these companies) to the moral obligations we have for spending our money. I think we should spend our money -much- more intelligently. If people spent even 5% of what they spent on entertainment on charity instead, the world would be a starkly different place.

ADHR said...

Huh? Everything worthwhile has a cost.

That's not the issue. The issue is why should I be one of the ones who bears it? If I bear a cost that others don't, in what sense am I not just being a sucker and allowing them to free-ride?

And making irresponsible choices has more costs in the long-run than making responsible choices. If everyone does it, the consequence is environmental degredation, pollution, the subsequent health effects.

That's exactly my point, though. Unless the change is systemic, what I do is basically irrelevant. Except, of course, that I end up bearing a cost that others don't. So, really, unless everyone (or a significant proportion of everyone) makes the same choices I do, then I'm basically just a sucker.

It looks like a pretty clear prisoner's dilemma to me, with the usual coordination problems. Which is where government has a role to play.

The only systemic change we can hope for at this point is a change in people's attitudes. That's the only change that will have an enormous effect on the world.

Exactly. But what mechanism do we have to change people's attitudes? We obviously can't just wish for it to happen, and leading by example is of questionable efficacy.

If you think we have duties as a citizen in a democratic state, then why don't we have duties as consumers in a free market world? We can have a much greater effect on the world by directing our dollars toward appropriate causes than by voting for one man or the next.

Two points. Voting isn't the only power a citizen has; it's not even the most significant power. And, focusing on how we spend our money allows our powers as citizens to be further eroded in favour of our powers as consumers, which seems like a dangerous trend. Governments ain't perfect, but they're, by design, by responsive to the claims made on them by citizens than corporations and other businesses are to the claims made on them by consumers.

All policies can do is either: 1) Give people "free" governmental services, 2) Influence how people use their money or 3) Give people more money. People should still spend that money morally.

Sure. But only when there's a reasonable chance of it actually making a difference. Else, as said, people who spend their money for "good" causes are just being exploited by everyone else. The effect of policies can be sufficiently strong to direct a significant proportion of the consumers to spend their money more appropriately -- just as the current policies have encouraged consumers to spend their money inappropriately.

An appropriate analogy is voting. As citizens of democracies, we have very little power to effect actual policies unless we run for office. All we can do is vote. When voting you can do research the candidates or you can choose the path of least resistance, by voting for the guy who seems the most likable or somesuch nonsense. What you're arguing is the latter over the former. No structural change is going to change the simple fact that humans need to take responsibility for their actions. Sure, we can implement incentives (maybe) to get them to research, but in the end, we can't force them to do it with any policy. You seem to be saying that people should passively go through life taking the path of least resistance - I don't agree.

No, I'm actually arguing for something that goes beyond either option: I'm arguing that we should all run for office. Everyone who disagrees with the current policy direction should sign the appropriate cards, pay their fees (which are minimal) and run for office. We're not going to beat the big party machines, except possibly at the municipal level (running for school board trustee, for example, is much easier to accomplish than running for the federal parliament), but several hundred or thousand candidates who have opted out of the party system and are instead pursuing their own policy agendas would (unless the parties are run by complete idiots) catch some kind of attention.

The basic point, really, is that me directing my dollars to "good" causes is ineffective, unless everyone (or a goodly proportion of everyone) does it, and inappropriate, because being a consumer should be a secondary role to being a citizen. And the greatest power a citzen has is to stand for and achieve political office.

You'll notice that I shifted the debate away from purchasing from responsibile companies (which is certainly important -- there is a strong moral and pragmatic argument for purchasing from these companies) to the moral obligations we have for spending our money. I think we should spend our money -much- more intelligently. If people spent even 5% of what they spent on entertainment on charity instead, the world would be a starkly different place.

Mebbe. Except that many charities seem to exist to fix the problems in Western countries, where governments have dropped the ball. Except for a few biggies -- Oxfam, Amnesty, the Red Cross -- that have some international interest.