For Richer or for Poorer: How Much is “Enough”?

I am wearing a sweater.  It was made in Italy, from some of the fuzziest sheepies on the planet.  New it cost more than $100; I know because it had the original tags on it when I bought it, never worn.  I got it for $3 at a thrift store, because it was irresistibly tasty to the ubiquitous keratin loving Tineidae moths — like some of my other woolens, it has a few holes.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t soft and warm.  Last night my friend Elana got a cute little Smartwool top for $6 that would have cost $60 across the parking lot at Neptune’s: another 90% discount courtesy of the insect world.  This is a repeatable exercise.  How do these things lose virtually all of their monetary value, while retaining so much of their sweatery goodness?  The answer I think, is that we have imbued many material things with powers beyond their physical existence.  A merino sweater is not just a way to stay warm and dry while riding your bike uphill.  It is also a way to signal to the other hairless apes that you are of a certain class, or even ideological bent.  Our things have become a means of communication, a way of transmitting information.  These are some very expensive bits and bytes.

I realize that this isn’t news.  We’ve been doing this kind of thing with shells and feathers for almost as long as we’ve been human.  I only bring it up because recently, I’ve found that the information these artifacts transmit to me has been turned on its head.  Having a thing only implies wealth if you have to pay for the thing ahead of time.  In a debt based economy, having a thing means you have promised your future labors to the Rumpelstiltskin thing-brokers far away in their tall sky scrapers.  Today, to have a thing more often implies a kind of indentured servitude.  A poverty of time and flexibility.  And what other kind of poverty is there, really?  What other kind of wealth besides the freedom to choose how you spend your few remaining days on Earth?

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Does this look Freegan to you?

Why are labels so attractive?  One word shortcuts for frugal thinkers.  Am I a freegan?  What would that mean exactly?  Who curates the definitions of our cultural -isms?

Do we look like freegans?

Reading through the Wikipedia article on Freeganism (which is as close to a cultural consensus on anything as I think we get these days), it seems like I’m close.  Except that I’m not fundamentally opposed to eating meat (it’s the environmental degradation, antibiotics resistance, health detriments, and massive resource consumption involved in meat production that get to me… but a little free meat from the dumpster?  Tasty!).  I also have a soft spot for shiny new laptops and other information technologies, and I believe in the greed based toolkit of money, markets, and open competition as a way to foster innovation.  But I also love composting, and creative re-use, and free non-materialist forms of entertainment and recreation like reading, and writing, and cooking from scratch, and I believe that unmitigated greed, and thus so-called laissez-faire (or perhaps in many cases more accurately crony) capitalism, left unchecked, are in the end destructive forces.  Greed and self-interest are kind of like dynamite: the right amount in the right place is a wonderful tool.  Too much, or even small amounts in bad places, and you’ve got a mess.  So how do I respond to an e-mail like this:

Continue reading Does this look Freegan to you?