Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 04:41:55 AM EST
"You get what you pay for." "There is no such thing as a free lunch."
Philosophically these little gems of wisdom may have some merit. Economically, I think they may be Capitalist propaganda. Little mind worms that subtly alter our expectations of one another. Then there is really blatant Capitalist propaganda, like saying spending our tax dollars at Wal-Mart will defeat the terrorists.
My President George W. Bush told me that the best thing I could do to defeat the terrorists was to go spend $300 on something. So he dipped into the money I gave him for roads and sent me $300. I believe I spent it on student loans. Ha! I could hear the Al Qaeda plant in the next apartment over cry out in agony as I slowly, systematically, wrote the check. "Uncle!" How do I know he was an Al Qaeda plant? I witnessed his unusual behavior, AT&T gave the gov't. his phone records, he let someone else hold his carryon at the airport, there was a white powdery substance in the box of baking soda in his fridge and he voted for John Kerry. Pretty obvious...
What if I had not spent the 300? What if NO ONE had? This is very hypothetical, since the first thing any thinking person would do with 300 free dollars from the President to fight the evildoers is buy 300 bags of pretzels from Wal-Mart and send them to George as a token of your appreciation. But let's pretend Wal-Mart doesn't exist.
Much to chew on about society and economics — diary rescue by Migeru
I pretend Wal-Mart does not exist. I only see them when I'm visiting my family is the boonies. (Boonies being anywhere that requires going to Wal-Mart for bananas or shoes.) So it is easy to pretend they don't exist. It's why I can't get worked up about it. Because where I live is so boutiqued-out to the max that getting basic things like bananas or shoes is kinda a pain in the ass. Or requires a credit card. Or 300 dollars from George. I'll kick the terrists in the balls with my fabulous new pumps... And this is basically the state of America: those who can only afford to shop at Wal-Mart and have only a Wal-Mart to shop at, or those who can afford boutique shoes and bananas and have only boutiques to shop at. But there are a number of people who can actually only afford to shop at Wal-Mart but refuse to live where they'd be forced to do that, or the less lucky but more disciplined who have to live near one but refuse to patronize it. What are they doing? How do they get stuff?
[editor's note, by Migeru] One paragraph moved below the fold for the Front Page.
One way they do this is They don't pay for it. They don't steal. They just get stuff for free. Any number of ways. Most of which involve an alley. I used to think this was the stuff of college. Like the time some guy left stacks and stacks of hundreds of vinyl records -all good stuff: Beatles, Stones, Joplin, Pink Floyd...- behind our building. It was so great, it was kind of scary. A house meeting was called to discuss the karmic implications of taking all of them. Then we did. The 90's were also when the fad of "dumpster diving" came to the attention of mainstream media. Kids jumping in dumpsters to stick it to the man. I don't think they were really doing it for shoes and bananas, like, say, the homeless. They were doing it because society said it was taboo. And because they were the type of people who don't care if they small bad. And because they were stoned. (I am here referring to a very specific craze, and not the broader concept of just anyone looking in dumpster for stuff.)
Now I'm grown up and ... the alley is still an acceptable place to get stuff. Not bananas. For that I have to go to the store. Fortunately I don't have to go to a store that also sells shoes. Or live at the zoo. But shoes. A friend brought me 2 pair of brand new, unworn New Balance she found in the alley. A shame, because I only run when being chased by something. And to be honest, alley-spawned running shoes are a little creepy.
But all over the place, one person's trash is becoming another's treasure. Here are some things that have shown up on my radar in the past few years:
The Freecycle NetworkTM is made up of 4,109 groups with 3,864,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free.
Logan Square Book Exchange
The exchange is the creation of Ryan Duggan, a Logan Square resident and graphic designer who's a year out of Columbia College. "I kind of got the idea in my sleep," he says. "One day I just woke up and thought, if I took one of those boxes and repainted it, I could fit a lot of books in there. Everyone has books worth reading that they're not going to reread." A free book exchange might get those books into the hands of people who would read them, Duggan thought. As the box says, "You give, you take, everyone reads!"
Soft French accents and yellow subtitles. Another late night movie on the TV. But no, it wasn't one of `those' movies. This was the classic "The Gleaners and I". Gleaning refers to the collecting of items discarded by others. This documentary looks at the debris created by modern society and how what most might consider waste, is in reality of value to someone. Food left behind in fields after a harvest, or following street markets, through to household goods left on the street destined for landfill. Gleaners, Scavengers, Dumpster Divers: the human vultures, the carrion of our cities. And like their brethren of the savannah, what might seem like ugly, dirty work is actually an essential service. Cleaning up the places where we live. And that stuff sure does have value!
Freeganism was born out of environmental justice and anti-globalization movements dating to the 1980s. The concept was inspired in part by groups like "Food Not Bombs," an international organization that feeds the homeless with surplus food that's often donated by businesses.
Freegans are often college-educated people from middle-class families.
Adam Weissman, whose New York group Freegan.info has been around for about four years, lives with his father, a pediatrician, and mother, a teacher. The 29-year-old is unemployed by choice, taking care of his elderly grandparents daily and working odd jobs when he needs to. The rest of his time is spent furthering the freegan cause, he said, which is "about opting out of capitalism in any way that we can."
Freegans troll curbsides for discarded clothes and ratty or broken furniture, which they repair to furnish their homes. They trade goods at flea markets. Some live as squatters in abandoned buildings, or in low-rent apartments on the edges of the city, or with family and friends.
The Church of Stop Shopping
Statement of Belief :: Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir believe that Consumerism is overwhelming our lives. The corporations want us to have experiences only through their products. Our neighborhoods, "commons" places like stoops and parks and streets and libraries, are disappearing into the corporatized world of big boxes and chain stores. But if we "back away from the product" - even a little bit, well then we Put The Odd Back In God! The supermodels fly away and we're left with our original sensuality. So we are singing and preaching for local economies and real - not mediated through products -- experience. We like independent shops where you know the person behind the counter or at least - you like them enough to share a story.We ask that local activists who are defending themselves against supermalls, nuke plants, gentrification -- call us and we'll come and put on our "Fabulous Worship!" Remember children... Love is a Gift Economy! -- The Rev
The Magic Dumpsters
I don't have a link, but this was mentioned years ago in an article in the Chicago Reader and refers to the dumpsters located behind one shopping mall in an nice neighborhood where local residents go to for free stuff from Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other mall-class stuff.
My Recent Moving Experience
We had lots of things we did not want when I was packing to move. We discussed the Salvation Army and Freecycle. Then we chided ourselves for not having our act together enough to do either of those things in time. So we threw everything away. I felt terrible, so wasteful. But poof!, moments after we took things out to the dumpster (alley etiquette dictates that you don't ever put anything not trash in the dumpster but rather on or near it) they were gone! So I can only assume they're being reused. Or there is a black hole in the alley.
There was recently a block-wide yard sale in my neighborhood. Everything they couldn't sell was put in the alleys with a big sign, "Free! Please Take!"
I should emphasize that I am talking about a phenomenon in which people who can afford to go buy running shoes get them from the alley instead. So we're not talking about not exchanging assets that were never in the system to begin with. We're talking about people whose jobs are good enough that the stuff their neighbors throw out is often desirable. Maybe we are also talking about the destitute. But let's say, the whole getting stuff from the alley transcends, in fact, subverts the institution of social class. I'm talking about people willfully doing what society tells them is shameful. Which is the news here. The desperate have been scavenging since the beginning of time.
I'm really excited about this underground trading post phenomenon. It's like Communism, only people are free to opt into or out of it, on a whim. It does not discriminate according to income or wealth. It makes the Earth more inhabitable. We live in an extremely wasteful society, and the Earth is suffocating under the weight of our stuff. So reusing things, it's good. There is also an enlightened mindset that accompanies this phenomenon in which there is no animosity nor expectations between the leavers and the getters. The only thing the leaver wants in return is to get rid of their stuff and the only thing the getter wants is stuff. No money changes hands. No gifts are exchanged. No tit for tat. Sometimes there is bitterness toward the people who get to it first, but since things in the alley are not things you have made any effort to get, nothing is lost if you don't get it. The whole American attitude of "If you want a TV set go get a job and pay for one like I did" is rejected. That is a petty and spiteful and insecure attitude, so it should benefit society when people drop it. The stigma disappears (I think this is because the people getting stuff know they could pay for it if they needed it, so they don't feel inadequate, just lucky.) Also, the stuff is free. There is no buyer's remorse. Or bureaucracy. Or budgeting. Or any of the sleazy feeling of asking for money. I have friends who suggest "sell it" all the time. One even suggested I charge Jerome to stay in my spare bedroom during YKC. LOL. I was like, "Are you going to charge me when I come to NY and stay at your place?!" Who does that? Capitalists. I don't really care about this stuff. I am a kind of Communist. Not in the "no hot water between 9 and 5" way, but in the way that I am not compelled to make a profit off water, let alone be under the impression I have the right to do so.
I have some questions for you.
1. Is this kind of behavior truly damaging to our economy?
Is there a nugget of truth to the assertion that if people stop buying things then the wheels grind to a halt and we all end up with food rations and foreclosures? In order not to appear disingenuous, I should make it clear that I think our economy is an illusion and yet truly inhumane. So I think it should go. But what are the actual implications of opting out of it before it is replaced with another, better, more universal, less DIY system? How do taxes and public investment play into it? Seems like they are the first to suffer. The rich don't care if I get running shoes from the alley. They don't care if I get bananas from the alley. They will still be rich. Probably precisely because a certain number of people get stuff from the alley. An intolerable number of whom have no other choice. But the public schools. Art gets cut when the economy falters. I can't have that on my conscious. If everyone began reusing, sharing, giving away... not shopping. What happens?
2. Can this type of anti-economy or gift-economy be sustained, developed, and even attain mainstream acceptance?
Because of supply and demand and obsolescence, I don't foresee this replacing any official economic system. But does it have the potential to have an impact on it in such a way that the official economic system is forced to adapt to the fact? What would that entail?
And, perhaps the most important question:
3. Is this a sign that we are becoming more progressive (environmentally responsible, consumerally responsible - I know that's not a word-, less judgmental, nicer) ... or that we are becoming more desperate ("just in case" randomly gathering found resources, subconsciously preparing for apocalyptic economic crash which forces us all into scavenging, throwing all dignity out the window)?
This movement simultaneously fills me with hope and fear.
Some things I have gotten from the alley: TV stand table thing. Wine rack. Office chair. Boxes for moving. Running shoes. Weird little wreath made of many many silk roses.
Tip: I never finish a meal, so I always have leftovers. I have them wrapped and leave them in a well-lighted area where someone looking for food can easily find this.
So. Do you know of or are you involved in organizations, initiatives, etc. that promote the free exchange of goods or a scavenger economy that I have not mentioned? Do share.