I read a fantastic criticism of the idea of “conscious consumerism” a couple of weeks ago, and it’s really stuck with me. It centred on the difference between what people say they do and what they actually do; the difference between their “stated preferences” and their “revealed preferences”. When you ask them in surveys, people say “of course I like to buy from brands who pay fair wages and adopt sustainable environmental practices!” But when you look in their shopping baskets and in their cupboards at home, you find they buy all sorts of completely unethical brands and products. The conscious consumer, the argument goes, is a myth that we present to the outside world, a caricature of the sort of person we know we should be but fail to live up to in reality.
I think there’s definitely some merit in that. The projections of ourself that we offer up in a survey are quite different to the messy realities. But I think there’s far more to the picture than just our own ethical failings, and I think there’s one big, fat reason why we don’t consume quite as ethically as we know we should. That’s what this week’s article is about.
This week’s article
What consumers say and what they do are quite different. That’s often used as a stick with which to beat the idea of “conscious consumerism”. Is it that consumers are only pretending to be ethical? Or does money play more of a part?
This week’s three interesting links
Women are less likely to negotiate their salaries, earn less than men, and are underrepresented at the highest levels of business. Narratives that explain these problems often focus on what women can do differently – to “lean in”, to negotiate harder, to stop apologising, to be more assertive, and so on.
Stefanie O’Connell explains how these narratives, problematic in themselves in the way that they blame women for problems they have little control over, can also have unpleasant side effects. Women who adopt these more assertive behaviours, and show their ambition clearly, often face a backlash for doing so:
“A 2020 study linked this backlash directly to ambition: when women were arbitrarily assigned leadership positions, they were less likely to be found unlikeable. It was only when a woman was actively pursuing a leadership position that she encountered penalties. This suggests that more than power, influence or success, women are penalized for the pursuit of those things. This shows up in tangible outcomes, like the denial of job opportunities, raises and promotions – all of which can make building wealth harder.”
Lucy Edwards is a hit on TikTok with her videos explaining her life as a blind person, breezily answering questions from viewers that they might feel awkward asking otherwise. Lots of her videos focus on technology (How does she film herself? How does she read a menu in a restaurant? How does she edit her videos?), and Apple have done a special feature on the apps she uses.
I’ve seen videos of visually impaired people using iPhone accessibility features before and always found them incredible. This is another great example of a side of technology that most people never see, but that is vitally important as more and more of modern life involves being able to use technology. #
A surprisingly engaging – and informative – article on the evolution of the… well, you’ll get the picture.
“One unusually aerated specimen, a type of polyclad flatworm, sports multiple anuses that speckle its backside like feces-spewing freckles. Two others, a pair of sponge parasites called Syllis ramosa and Ramisyllis multicaudata, will twine their body through host tissues like a tapestry of tree roots, with each tip terminating in its own proprietary butthole; they have hundreds, perhaps thousands, in total. (It’s not totally clear why these animals and others spawned an embarrassment of anuses, but in at least some cases, Hejnol thinks it’s a logical outcome of a branched digestive system, which can more easily transport nutrients to a body’s every nook and cranny.)”