"No Ethical Consumption" is a Scapegoat: Against Collectivism, Towards Anarchy
A lot of collectivists will parrot the slogan "there's no ethical consumption" to pooh-pooh anarchists that strive to make life choices that aid harm-reduction in their communities and their natural environment.
Vegan diets, bicycling, dumpster diving, upcycling, guerilla gardening, permaculture, squatting, illegalism, food forestry, communes, self-sufficiency, and all the other "lifestylist" pursuits "individualist" anarchists undertake to minimise their harm on the environment and its inhabitants are looked down on and mocked by a lot of anarcho-communists, syndicalists and other industrialist-anarchists. These red-focused anarchists are well-versed in workerist rhetoric, and see all lifestyle choices as "a distraction" from the global proletarian revolution they see as their singular goal.
You'll hear them talk down to other anarchists who are discussing ethical ways to curtail their consumption, especially vegans and people that live off-grid. They'll tell them to stop living the way they choose to live because "there's no ethical consumption as long as capitalism exists".
Using "no ethical consumption" to shame people for making the effort to live more conscientiously, and decrying all individual action as "counter-revolutionary" or "liberal" comes from a deeply authoritarian mindset reminiscent of toxic Maoist purges that punished people for dressing differently or having hobbies or doing anything but devote themselves 100% to destructive industrial labour and the glory of "the revolution" (the red state).
The red influence in anarchist discourse is unfortunately dominant in most parts of the world, and collectivist-minded anarchists insist every anarchist devote themselves to the communist pipe dream of a mass uprising to seize the factories from the capitalists and turn them over to the workers. They postulate that democratised factories will be more beneficial to workers because they'll receive a bigger piece of the industrial pie. This is true. But then they also claim it'll "save" the environment because a worker collective won't be greedy and destructive like a capitalist board of directors. This is of course completely unfounded and blatantly ignores the history of collectivised industry and its devastating effects on the environment.
Countless Marxist revolutions in history did so much damage to the environment that entire territories, such as the area surrounding Chernobyl, were rendered uninhabitable to humans. Babies continue to be born with birth defects today, and cancer rates in the regions devastated by socialist industry continue to be sky high. Let's take a brief look at the former USSR's legacy of careless industrial destruction.
The Ural River in Magnitogorsk, Russia is still saturated with toxic boron and chromium levels from the nearby Steel Works. The Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest inland water body in the world was largely replaced by the newly emerged Aralkum Desert after the Soviets drained two rivers for irrigation. The sea is now just 10 percent of its original size. Run-off from oil fields near Baku have rendered all the local water bodies biologically dead.
Changing from a vertical to a horizontal hierarchy will benefit the industrial workers in some material ways, certainly, but the wholesale destruction of our planet will not slow down one bit just by instituting a power-shift from bosses to workers. Industrial production depends on non-stop growth, and when you tie the success of a society to industrial production, you create a recipe for disaster. Workers won't vote to scale down their industry or its environmental impact as their livelihoods depend on their industry's growth.
And they certainly won't care about anyone who isn't also an industrial worker, or preserving their way of life. Indigenous people and anyone living off the land will effectively be seen by workerist-society as an undesirable out-group. Anyone that can't measure up to workerist standards of productivity will be seen as a strain on the industrial grind. An enemy of the workerist revolution. Any counter-revolutionary rebel who dares stand in the way of industrial growth and the spread of industry across land and sea is effectively a liability that needs to be expunged to safeguard the revolution. This is the power of the collective. Comply or be crushed.
So you see, the people parroting "no ethical consumption under capitalism" at you don't actually have any intention of curbing their destructive consumption, even under communism. If anything, they hope to increase their consumption by acquiring more spending power. With communism, they'll be able to consume as much as a middle-management boss does under capitalism because all workers will receive an equal share.
Harm Reduction is Valuable
There's always a more ethical alternative to everything. That's the whole point of anarchy, to analyse our actions and our impact on our environment and limit harm, counter authority as much as possible. Ethics isn't an all or nothing proposition - there are varying degrees of harm.
Just because some solutions aren't 100% pure and wonderful doesn't mean they're not worth doing over much more harmful alternatives.
Here's an example of several levels of harm reduction that can measurably make a difference:
- Eating vegan locally-grown pesticide-free unprocessed food is absolutely more ethical than eating imported processed meat.
Far less carbon is burned to grow / store / transport / process / store again / re-transport the food. Workers involved in "organic" agriculture aren't exposed to the much more dangerous conditions of slaughterhouses / battery farms / pesticides / ships / warehouses. Far less animal suffering and death goes into producing the food. These are real metrics.
There are of course still many downsides to for-profit agriculture including desertification, exploitation of migrant labour, and destruction of native ecosystems to plant monocultures. But it's still much better than the alternative which ensures far greater harm by every metric...
For instance, the container ships that transport imported food and other products are able to bypass any environmental regulations since they operate in international waters. This means they can burn what is essentially tar; releasing untold levels of carbon into the atmosphere. The ship workers will be the first to breathe in these fumes.
- Buying seeds / cuttings / grafts and growing your own food in a community garden, as well as dumpster diving from outside supermarkets is more ethical than buying locally grown food from a for-profit business.
Even less carbon is burned, waste is diverted from landfills, there are no workers to exploit or endanger, there is no animal suffering and death if you use no-till methods, you control everything that goes into the soil (and ultimately your community's bodies) and can thus stave off desertification and actually improve the soil and rebuild the ecosystem.
Downsides: native flora is displaced in favour of domesticated food crops. Land ownership feeds the state. Living in a city means you'll still be consuming a lot of things you can't produce yourself in your limited space. But again, this is a measurable improvement over the previous scenario.
- Moving out of the city to a rural area and living as a subsistence farmer to grow all your own food in a food forest you plant, giving away or trading your surplus. Foraging for food where it's sustainable to do so. Planting trees on every unused piece of land you see.
Erosion and desertification is effectively stopped in its tracks wherever food forests rise. The trees clean the air of carbon. Trees are by far the plants most adept at evapotranspiration, and are integral to the water-cycle all lifeforms depend on. The climate in the area is safeguarded, with increased humidity and rainfall.
Forest gardening rewilds the planet. Primitive peoples made the rainforests as abundant as they are by curating them and spreading the plants they found most beneficial. If enough people planted food forests in an area, the local population could sustain themselves by hunting and foraging the way they did before civilization.
So future generations are given the invaluable gift of autonomy from the industrial system, and the knowledge and incentive to resist industry's violent encroach on their way of life.
Personal action doesn't happen in a vacuum
When someone chooses to not e.g. consume cow products, that directly creates less demand for cow products. So over that person's lifetime, less forest will be bulldozed to graze the cows that they didn't eat. Less cows will be impregnated by robotic dildos. Less veal calves will be snatched from their mothers, put in dark little boxes for a few weeks and then slaughtered so the mother keeps producing milk for the dairy industry.
Some of the people the vegan interacts with will be influenced by their ethical choices and way of life and be inspired to also work to minimise their harm on the ecosystem.
So in this way, an individual action gradually becomes a collective action. People slowly emulate others after being exposed to their lifestyle and ultimately the local culture is changed.
People start planting food forests and others take up their example and pretty soon you have thousands of acres of land that are saved from desertification and become refuges for wildlife.
There are countless places where this is demonstrable, including where I'm from (somewhere in Western Asia). Each family has their own plot of land that they cultivate. The more people choose to use forest farming methods instead of standard sprayed orchards, the more people are influenced to follow their example when seeing how successful this method is.
A single cruise ship emits as much pollution as a million cars. Cruise ships dump 1 billion gallons of sewage into the ocean every year. Knowing these facts, how can any anarchist decide to directly fund the cruise ship industry by saving up money and booking a cruise holiday?
Workerists will tell you with a straight face that capitalism is to blame for the cruise industry's rampant polluting, and "after the revolution", the cruise industry would do no harm because it would be worker-managed.
In reality, a truly communist society would necessitate that cruises be free to every worker as a reward for their labor. Which means far more globe-trotting tourists and far more cruise ships in the oceans. Carbon burning and pollution would actually increase.
But let's ignore that for now. We don't live in a revolutionary communist society and we will not see capitalism go away in our lifetime. Global capitalism is more ingrained in society than ever before. Anarcho-communists are such a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of any population. Workerists telling "lifestylists" to stop giving a shit about anything other than "overthrowing" capitalism, something we clearly don't have the numbers to do, is blatantly ridiculous.
Continuing to eat meat / processed foods / buying a new phone, games console, tablet every year / using disposable plastic bags / toilet paper / chlorine cleaning products / building poorly insulated over-sized concrete buildings / not composting your waste / salting the snow / heating a pool / planting a lawn / going on a cruise / etc / etc because "there's no ethical consumption under capitalism" actively stands in the way of positive change and directly promotes inaction / harm.
Individualist "lifestylist" action isn't "liberal" just because you say so
Consumption under capitalism isn't ethical, but that's no excuse for inaction. There's no global revolution coming to change the way we live overnight. History has shown us the impossibility of that notion - with countless "revolutionary" societies repeating all the mistakes of capitalist ones.
But we can have small local revolutionary action in the here and now that can lead the way to sustained change at a wider level. Just ask the Zapatistas and similar anarchist movements around the world. No one is going to tell them to throw in the towel and conform to globalist capitalist / communist industrial civilization because all consumption is somehow equal.
Anyone can make personal ethics-based choices and also organise collective action. I have no idea why so many collectivists see these pursuits as being mutually exclusive. But you'll be sorely disappointed if you thought a global collective revolution was something that was realistically attainable. The world is far too diverse to be moulded into a uniform entity controlled by a 19th century ideology designed to serve European factory workers.
Ignore the sanctimonious blathering of boring ideologues. There's nothing "liberal" about living what you preach. You claim to oppose hierarchy? Then live your life dedicated to minimizing hierarchy wherever you can. Set an example. Face the beast head on and stand your ground until you breathe your last breath. Because what else are you going to do?
Collectivists! Mocking people for caring about minimizing the harm they do and for thinking long and hard about the ethical implications of their actions doesn't make you somehow more radical than them. It just makes you a smug fuck. I don't care how many marches you've waved your shiny red and black flag at. Shut the fuck up already.
Capitalism & Communism Are Cut From the Same Globalized Exploitative Industrial Cloth
The collectivists who see no problem with oppressive constructs like industrial meat consumption will immediately discount anti-authoritarian actions that aren't wholly-focused on abolishing the capitalist class and seizing the means of production.
They see dumpster divers, illegalists, vegans, sustenance farmers, bike punks, squatters, naturists, communers and other "lifestylists" as a "distraction" from their driving singular desire to replace industrial capitalism with industrial communism. They want to remove the bosses from the equation, but keep everything else almost exactly the same: Workers, factories, battery farms, globalisation, ecocide... Even prisons and police in a lot of cases. They want everything industrial society has forced on the world, except this time, they swear it'll be "more egalitarian" with "direct democracy" and an equal share of the industrial pie for every worker.
These red-dyed wannabe-industrialists insist we abandon our hard-fought battles and join them in pushing (waiting) for a more egalitarian industrialism that'll give us a fairer share of the profits gained from waging war on the wilds.
They love to accuse anarchist "lifestylists" (green anarchists especially) of somehow conforming to the system (by struggling against it?) It really makes no logical sense... It feels like doublespeak, since green anarchists like the water defenders in Canada are actively putting their lives on the line to fight the system while communists sit in their comfy armchairs typing up witty retorts to conservatives on Twitter... And occasionally show up at an orderly protest wearing their officially licensed V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask. Protesting is just another cog in the democracy machine. The illusion of choice. It accomplishes far less than an anarchist choosing to live as ethically as possible in their lifetime.
Collectivists will often butt in when others are talking about methods of harm reduction and insist we stop talking about "pointless distractions" and instead focus on achieving their much-hyped global worker-society they promise will come if we just hold hands and march in the streets until everyone sees how awesome we are. Then they'll all join us to overthrow the capitalists, just wait and see!
They'll even claim that all discussion about ethics is elitist and classist "liberal posturing" aimed at shaming the worker class. But of course, they'll also claim that class is the only issue we should be concerned with. To hell with feminism, post-colonialism, the environment and all other "distractions" that don't interest white male workers. Workerists are all class reductionists in the end.
Being a vegan or a dumpster diver or a forager or a squatter or a self-sufficient cave-dweller has nothing to do with shaming other people. It's simply the way someone chooses to live their life for a multitude of reasons; a lot of them informed by ethics, but also to pursue the happiness that every human desires.
An individual anarchist's decision to live more ethically is not some kind of narcissistic circlejerk the way collectivists like to present it. All anarchists have different motivations and different ethics. We all live in this world, in this time, and we can't just pretend there's some grand global homogeneous revolution right around the corner that's going to save humanity from the rapidly approaching industrial apocalypse if only we protest hard enough and post more luxury space communism memes to our Facebook profiles.
It's especially perplexing watching collectivists scorn "lifestylists" since none of these purported "communist revolutionaries" have demonstrated any real inclination to face the industrialist disaster that has been wrought on our planet beyond farcical promises of "post-scarcity", "Star Trek replicators" and "space mining".
Even those rare collectivists who bother to give consideration to ecology in their theories continue to glorify civilization and democracy as liberators. So called "social-ecologists" promise that the planet can be saved if we just "make more democracy!" Then we can all participate in (profit from) the industrial system with our voting power, and opt to use "ecological technologies" such as solar and wind energy to power the machines.
Never mind the Chinese sustenance farmers who have carcinogenic industrial waste dumped on their lands everyday from those solar panel factories; they're just not thinking ecologically enough. And the Africans who complain when mountains of worn-out solar panels are piled up in their backyards with the rest of the West's obsolete tech are just impeding ecological progress with their divisive nitpicking! It's almost like they don't want Europeans to have two electric vehicles in every garage? So ridiculous!
When you give a majority group legitimised power over minorities, they always use it to oppress them. All power corrupts. Collectivism breeds hierarchy because the interests of the dominant group e.g. factory workers aren't the same as the interests of minority groups e.g. indigenous herders or queer folk or sex workers.
If you think your average meat-and-potatoes worker is going to suddenly become enlightened and compassionate towards the plight of minorities when you give him the power of direct democracy, you haven't been paying close attention to the world around you. Time and time again, voters have successfully used their vote to deny rights to migrants, sex workers, trans and gay people, and anyone they see as differing from their normative standards.
Fuck the "Collective Good"
Communists expect you to put the needs of the almighty collective above your own needs, but the collective good matters little if your individual needs are ignored by the collective.
All too often, Western communists demanding you obey the "collective good" are simply engaging in red-washed white supremacy where the "collective" just means "white working men", and the "good" just means "profit". Putting the will of the dominant population in society before your own needs and desires is an incredulous proposition. The profits of the white working man should not be of any concern to e.g. a brown unemployed woman.
Collectivism is kind of a ludicrous concept if you really think about it. We can't paint seven-billion people that have wildly different ideas of what life should be as one unified entity because they're not one unified entity. Collectivising them as one group; "the working class" in our minds makes no logical sense and does nothing but fuel the industrial wasteland wrapping itself around the entire globe. Why should all humans be seen as workers, why should each of us be measured by our capacity to produce industrial goods?
People from different places have different needs. Marxism deals with this by separating people into classes and telling us to only concern ourselves with the worker classes and to hell with the peasant classes and the hunter-gatherers and the pastoralist nomads and the "land-owner classes".
This "land-owner" class includes indigenous peoples living off of their ancestral lands and exploiting no one, but again and again socialists have targetted them for genocide for not fitting into their ideological framework. Then the imperialist socialists seize their land and industrialize it so they can profit.
The very idea of the worker class trumping everyone else is a proven recipe for colonialism and genocide. Individuals who avoid consuming and live deliberately; apart from the system aren't exploiting anyone, but throughout history collectivists have caused untold death and suffering trying to shape foreign lands in communism's image. Collectivism is far more dangerous than "lifestylism" to anyone who would fail to fit into the collectivist's ideological dogma.
Constructing a homogeneous group; a worker collective, and telling them they need to kill everyone outside their group so they can seize power and take an equal share of industry's spoils is not something that has ever led to anything good. It gave us the Soviet Kazakh genocide, the Chinese great leap forward genocide, the Soviet Holodomor genocide, etc. And it ultimately gave us collectivist capitalism like we see now in China - the most ecologically destructive form of capitalism there is.
Communism creates as big an in group / out group divide as capitalism. The power just shifts to the producers rather than the owners. And its just as brutal in its treatment of the out-groups. Anyone that doesn't want to be part of the industrial system, like the Kazakh nomadic herders, is basically fucked. You dissent, you die.
Communism views the entire world through a Western industrial worker-serf lens. But the whole world isn't organised like the industrial West.
Indigenous farmers in post-colonized places are treated as pariahs; 'kulaks', and massacred for having 'owned' the ancestral land they sustain themselves with under capitalist definitions. Just because the poor in industrialised capitalist nations don't own the land they work, doesn't mean the poor in other parts of the world where there is no lord-serf system in place are bad.
A garden that you and your family / tribe tend to and depend on to survive is personal property, but communism has always treated it like private property. Like producing your own food is reactionary. The USSR even banned people from planting gardens at home so they'd be forced to depend on the collective for food.
Nomadic herders and roaming hunter-gatherers are likewise criminalised and starved out because there can be no room for people that don't submit to the industrial work system under communism. They're grouped as "individualists" and punished for resisting collectivisation.
Reject Collectivism, Embrace Anarchy
Collectivism, whether it be communist, fascist or capitalist ideologically isn't something that serves my interests as an indigenous subsistence farmer and forager living in these remote mountains. Whatever collective dogma I'm ordered to live my life by would be the death of me and I will loudly reject the idea of a collective society at every opportunity.
I'm an anarchist. Even the idea of a "society" governing my way of life makes me vomit a little. Your needs aren't my needs, I don't want to go where the collective wants to take me. My lifestyle and my ancestors' lifestyles are nothing like yours and we shouldn't be meshed together as a singular entity just because we both work.
Setting up living, breathing alternatives to the industrial system crafts non-coercive relationships between humans, non-humans and our environments better than unionism and other workerist pursuits ever will. Workerism only further ingrains us in the system and makes us dependent on it, and then if we do manage a revolution by some miracle; we just reproduce the capitalist system again because it's all we know. Working examples of anarchy like self-sufficient food forests are far more revolutionary than a union or a march.
The only revolution I'm interested in is one that removes dependences on artificial structures. I want to be liberated from the system, not become the system. The collective isn't my master. The collective is just another state, however nicely you package it.
If you don't take responsibility for the harm you do, no one will. There's no rapture-like revolution coming to wipe out capitalism's sins and absolve you of any guilt for your part in it because "no ethical consumption". There's only this life you're living and your choices absolutely matter. They shape who you are and the impact you make on your environment and culture. If you just keep doing harm and blame your actions on capitalism, you're no different than any CEO dumping toxic waste in a river in China. Harm reduction in your community is something you have direct control over. You can choose to not dump that waste. Or you can dump it and justify it to yourself by saying "it's okay because capitalism did it".
The entire "no ethical consumption" argument is just an excuse to justify inaction and oppression.
It's become increasingly unlikely that we can stop the unravelling global mass extinction event that industry has wrought on the planet, but anarchists have never let impossible odds stand in our way before. We fight because we exist and we exist to fight. Whatever the odds.
We can either choose to take action to resist the violent system starting on an individual and on a local level, or we can live and die waiting for capitalism to magically go away worldwide while participating in it fully and thus furthering its growth and increasing its violence.
"Think Globally, Act Locally" might be a cliche, but it's really the only power we have. If we don't take action in our own neighborhood in every way we can, why even pretend to care about anarchy?