Recently Heard on NPR: Competitive Anti-Consumption

Recently Heard on NPR: Competitive Anti-Consumption

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Apr 30, 2010

Yesterday we listened to a short interview with Andrew Potter, author of the book The Authenticity Hoax, and it really peaked our interest. The book (which we haven't read yet) addresses the concept of "competitive anti-consumption" wherein people make a big show of eschewing modern conveniences to show they have a simpler and more "authentic" life. Whether it's a push for local food, getting rid of your car, or installing low-flow toilets, Potter makes the claim that these practices have less to do with saving the environment or pursuing a healthy lifestyle than with achieving a certain self-image, or status.

According to this review in the Wall Street Journal:

Authenticity, Mr. Potter writes, is "a positional good, which is valuable precisely because not everyone can have it." By competing against one another to see who is more authentic, he says, we just become bigger phonies than we were before. The local-food trend illustrates what Mr. Potter calls "conspicuous authenticity," by which the well-heeled embark on a "perpetual coolhunt," whether it is for authentic jeans, pristine vacation spots or mud flooring, part of the "natural building" movement. The overarching goal is less to possess the thing itself than to make a claim to refined taste and moral superiority.

We have to say that we get where he's coming from. What do we expect (or hope) people will think of us when we tell them we don't use a hair dryer, or that we live in a zero-energy house, or that we're taking a vacation to a working farm? If we're honest, we probably hope that it makes an impression, that the person we're talking to thinks better of us and of our willpower and self-sacrifice. There is an allure to being "other," but it can easily turn into judgment and self-righteousness, particularly on blogs where your identity is anonymous.

Read more about the book at Potter's website, and read a transcript of his interview on WNYC here.

What do you think about this?

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