“Not only TOMS, but also Starbucks and even Lockheed Martin and Wal-Mart have learned that linking their products to charitable causes makes for good business. We no longer buy only what we need, or even what broadcasts our identity. We buy what makes us feel like good people, and what makes us feel like members of a good, global community. The easy way to look at TOMS is to praise their charitable work. The harder, more troubling way to look at TOMS is to acknowledge it as an example of how corporations have assumed work most often associated with self-identified religious organizations: building community, engaging in charity, and cultivating morals.
TOMS is not alone in its willingness to link progressive social action with consumer spending. In fact, it exemplifies a broader corporate embrace of “conscious capitalism.” Coined by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, this business model assumes that “the best way to maximize profits over the long-term” is to orient business toward a “higher purpose.” So Starbucks sells coffee to “Put America Back to Work,” the (RED) campaign raises money to fight AIDS, and—in the best example yet—Sir Richard’s Condom Company sends a condom to Haiti for each one it sells (“doing good never felt better”). Meanwhile, Bank of America logos decorate PRIDE banners and Lockheed Martin brags that it is a “champion of diversity.”
The globalization of neoliberal capitalism, and particularly the popularity of “conscious capitalism” as a practice and a discourse, signals a change in the landscape of U.S. religion and politics. “Neoliberalism” most often refers to a loosely cohering set of economic, social, and political policies that (1) seek to secure human flourishing through the imposition of free markets and (2) locate “freedom” in individual autonomy, expressed through consumer choice. But it is also a mode of belonging, where ritual acts of consumption initiate individuals into a global community of consumer agents. Within neoliberal logics of religious and political action, consumer transactions and corporate expansion are recast as forms of spiritual purification and missionary practice. And within conscious capitalism, the “higher purpose” is a world in which all people have a chance (or obligation) to participate in free markets—understood as a multicultural community of consumers.
For Mycoskie—whose title is “Chief Shoe Giver”—building this multicultural community is a theological mandate. He frames his Christian faith as a component of his personal relationship to the company. At the evangelical Global Leadership Conference, keynote speaker Mycoskie answered a question about whether TOMS represents any “biblical principles”: “TOMS represents a lot of different biblical principles. But the one I go back to again and again is the one in Proverbs. Give your first fruits and your vats will be full. … Because we did that and stayed true to our one-to-one model [even amidst financial strain], we’ve been incredibly blessed. We really did give our first fruits.”
In non-confessional settings, TOMS proffers a humanistic version of this prosperity gospel, recast for a neoliberal age. Losing the Bible quotes, the company emphasizes that the “fruits of faith”—in this case, economic success—abound for those who embody the ideals of authenticity, good intentions, and service. Or, “higher purpose” is profitable. TOMS is successful because it creates opportunities for people to live into their own “purpose” through a simple transaction: buying a pair of shoes.”—TOMS Shoes and the Spiritual Politics of Neoliberalism (via lunagemme)
“I’ve learned that when you’re nice to people who envy you, they dislike you even more, which is frightening. I’ve met people who didn’t like me, and I’ve never done anything to them. They scowl at me like they are determined to make me mad, and I just smile back at them. I pray for those people and feel sorry for them, because obviously they are not happy and have low self-esteem.”—
Money is a side effect of specialization. In a specialized society, most of the things you need, you can’t make for yourself. If you want a potato or a pencil or a place to live, you have to get it from someone else.
How do you get the person who grows the potatoes to give you some? By giving him something he wants in return. But you can’t get very far by trading things directly with the people who need them. If you make violins, and none of the local farmers wants one, how will you eat?
The solution societies find, as they get more specialized, is to make the trade into a two-step process. Instead of trading violins directly for potatoes, you trade violins for, say, silver, which you can then trade again for anything else you need. The intermediate stuff— the medium of exchange— can be anything that’s rare and portable. Historically metals have been the most common, but recently we’ve been using a medium of exchange, called the dollar, that doesn’t physically exist. It works as a medium of exchange, however, because its rarity is guaranteed by the U.S. Government.
The advantage of a medium of exchange is that it makes trade work. The disadvantage is that it tends to obscure what trade really means. People think that what a business does is make money. But money is just the intermediate stage— just a shorthand— for whatever people want. What most businesses really do is make wealth. They do something people want.
Stereotyped as “hyper-breeders,” Latinas have been targets of involuntary sterilization campaigns from Puerto Rico to California. Since 1994, with California’s Proposition 187 which sought to prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing public services, we’ve seen bill after bill designed to deny immigrant women the reproductive health care they need to make healthy and safe decisions about pregnancy.
Within the past decade, under administrations that have some of the worst track records on deportation, immigrant parents have been further characterized as “unfit” to care for their children. The Race Forward report, “Shattered Families” documents how common it is for detained parents to lose custody of their children to the foster care system, all due to poorly designed justice systems, and assumptions about how one should parent.
The reproductive and parenting choices of Latinas, and particularly indigenous Latinas, are often attacked as greedy, backwards, or uneducated, their lifestyles considered unhealthy. Here’s what is wrong and unhealthy: the reproduction of nativist, racist beliefs, and stereotypes about the choices that indigenous women and Latinas make about their bodies, pregnancies, and parenting.
“The “Terminator” franchise proposes a future in which humans are fighting against Sky Lab, an Artificial Intelligence. At least that’s what the humans think they are fighting. An alternative way to think about this future, is that there is no Artificial Intelligence. Instead, the elites have separated themselves from the proletariat and have begun a genocidal war against them using killer drones. Which future is more likely? A menacing singularity or a group of resistance fighters being hunted down by drones from an unknown enemy? I imagine that it must feel a lot like the latter in Afghanistan. Polls show that 92% of Afghans have never heard of 9/11. They are presently fighting a war with no history, and no future.”—