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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Patxi Juaristi Larrinaga > Extracts

Essay (literary and non-literary)

The Need for Acceptable Products | Nabarra aldizkarian argitaratutako artikulua

Without totally abandoning past models of consumption –small retail outlets, safe products, direct contact between the consumer and producer–, we have seen an increase in new places, ways, products and moments for shopping. Within a short space of time we have moved from being homo producer to homo purchaser and, as a result, we spend the most significant proportion of our lives going shopping. And this is not because we need to satisfy our basic needs, but because shopping has turned into a leisure pursuit; the fact is we enjoy grabbing a trolley and wandering among the shelves and display windows packed with goods in shopping centres. In this mass culture society we have been told that leisure and consumption amount to the same thing, and we believe it.

The 21st century is the century of the Basque homo purchaser. The independent consumers, producers and sellers of the past have disappeared, and we have moved into a situation of total dependence on the multinationals. Virtually all the production, planting and selling processes are in the hands of large companies, and they specify absolutely everything that we have to wear, eat or buy during each season of the year.

We are lured towards a dazzling world of consumption through the options of paying by means of loans or in instalments. If we are to attain happiness or fill the gaps we have in different aspects of our lives, we are led to believe that we have to go on buying non-stop. Consumption not only encourages us to go on shopping sprees, it has filled our houses with endless products, tools and gadgets: some are helpful, but quite a few are of no use whatsoever.

Moreover, having spent the euros we may or may not have, we engage in the search for new and better bargains, even though the products we have can still be used. We have built a society on the slogan “use and throw away” and this has exerted a direct influence on our way of life and on the types of society we are creating, apart from being to the detriment of the environment. There are many who say that we have reached an unsustainable level of consumption, and if we continue with this model of development, the coming generations will not have anywhere to live; they will argue that our excessive desire for consumption will eat up all the resources we have.

In view of all this, it would seem to me that the time has come to seek alternatives to this model of development and consumption. As the models of uncontrolled growth and consumption have failed, the time has come to move on to controlled ones.

I know it is difficult to provide magic recipes. In fact, asserting that a different world is possible seems to throw up more questions than answers. What do we have to change? What path should we follow to survive in the future, too? How are we to build a safe society? There is no doubt that these are tricky questions to answer.

If I were to stick my neck out and put forward some proposals, I would say that doubt has to be cast first of all not so much on poor quality food, GM products or consumer fraud, but on the whole political, institutional, scientific and economic culture that began to gather strength at the start of the 19th century. To put it another way, it is the neoliberal theories that are in need of criticism; under the pretext of opening the doors to private initiative and free competition, this theory favours the strengthening of monopolies and oligopolies, putting security above freedom and totally restricting state intervention.

In addition to this, the encouraging of general reflection on our level and ways of consumption would be crucial. Even if one acknowledges that understanding consumption from a single perspective and putting forward solutions is too complex, public debate needs to be promoted on the social philosophy based on the slogan “use and throw away”; in other words, what is needed is debate on the consumption and development model we want in order to ensure that the coming generations, too, can survive.

By putting forward specific proposals, an effective strategy could be to encourage the production of acceptable products and services; in other words, that of safe products and services. I share the view with Ulrich Beck (1998) that if we are to live in the future as well, products and services that do not jeopardise the quality of life for human beings and the future of humankind are indispensable.

I believe that the possible perfect, acceptable product would have the following features: not be genetically modified; its production, transformation and packaging processes would not cause pollution; it would be made without the exploitation of children or workers; it would not have pesticides, sulphates or similar products that could be detrimental to health; its price would be fixed in the country where it is produced; it would be easily recyclable; and the product would provide clear information on its constituent parts and appropriate use.

And to spread the manufacture and use of such products, it would be interesting to create a symbol or brand that would make its effect felt all over the world. This symbol or brand name would be given to the products; in other words, to those which are acceptable. The brand name that would have to be approved all over the world would give added value to the products and make it easier to sell them. Bearing in mind that brand names are very effective in increasing sales and excessive consumption, why not use this capacity to achieve a better model of development?

I feel that such a symbol would be successful, because we do in fact like consuming meaningful symbols. In other words, the products that would bear this symbol would be very useful for expressing what we want or what we might want to be – good, modern, environmentally friendly citizens–, because they would be full of positive values and significance. If such a symbol were successful, producers would have no option but to manufacture safe products.

In short, in order to achieve a different kind of world we have to change the social philosophy and behaviour lying behind excessive consumption. Either that or homo purchaser is doomed.

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