Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You Can Never Do Merely One Thing

Garrett Hardin's first rule of ecology emphasizes the extreme complexity of systems. Every act has consequences and implications - both intended and unintended - or even a result completely opposite to that desired. When applying ecological principles, "the idea is not to slavishly imitate nature, but to model a natural ecosystem in all its diversity and interdependence." Pollan describes the 1960s organic movement's understanding of the connectedness of everything, and "sought to establish not just an alternative mode of production (the chemical-free farms), but an alternative system of distribution (the anti-capitalist food co-ops), and even an alternative mode of consumption (the 'countercuisine')." What are equivalent alternative systems for objects? Local artisans, freecycle, craigslist, and ebay?

Consumers' disconnectedness from the extraction, production, distribution, and disposal of goods (great summary at the Story of Stuff) allows the illusion that consumption is an isolated act, instead of a consequential one in a complex system.
A stronger connection to other participants in the system, such as buying produce directly from the farmer at a market, or an object directly from its designer or maker, alters the consumer relationship within the system - revealing, among other things, the political implications of the global industrial vs. the local artisanal modes.

The artisanal competitive strategy is to produce something special rather than a commodity at the lowest cost possible. Although proposed in an agricultural context, Allan Nation theorizes that:
This artisanal model works only so long as it doesn't attempt to imitate the industrial model in any respect. It must not try to replace skilled labor with capital; it must not grow for the sake of growth; it should not strive for uniformity in its products but rather make a virtue of variation and seasonality; it shouldn't invest in capital to reach national markets but rather should focus on local markets, relying on reputation and word of mouth rather than on advertising; and lastly, it should rely as much as possible on free solar energy rather than costly fossil fuels.

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