Is 'Conscious Capitalism' an Oxymoron? (Video)

There's no doubt that the last decade or so has seen the rise of what we might term 'conscious capitalism'. Consumers have increasingly put a premium on paying more for goods and services that have a philanthropic bent -- look at the Fair Trade coffee of Starbucks, the organic produce at Whole Foods, or the donation of shoes through Tom's. Few would argue that this has been a positive development. But there's at least one man who's doing exactly that: the philosopher Slavoj Zizek. In this animated feature, he argues that 'conscious capitalism' is really just making us feel better about maintaining what is at its core an unjust and unsustainable system:

He makes a compelling point. Over at GOOD, Andrew Price notes that "Zizek would prefer you to buy Fair Trade coffee as long as you recognize it isn't the ultimate solution to the injustices suffered by coffee growers." I think that's absolutely right: Zizek would prefer we all buy Fair Trade coffee or, say, shop at giant retailers who promote sustainability. Conscious capitalism is indeed preferable to the non-conscious variety, despite the 'element of hypocrisy' therein.

Beyond that, Zizek is saying that conscious capitalism actually serves as a diversion that allows us to continue to believe that the general system is morally sound -- or better yet, improving. If kids are getting free shoes, or a handful of coffee growers in Africa are making a living wage, then we can feel OK about the capitalist system in general, and little will fundamentally change between the haves and the have-nots (yes, Zizek is a Marxist). To Zizek, it seems that this isn't acceptable -- he believes that capitalism will continue to facilitate the global inequality that we have today, despite the small advances made towards its more sympathetic brand.

So the question becomes: Do you think is capitalism capable of eventually yielding an equal, sustainable society?

Tags: Consumerism | Economics | United States

Best of TreeHugger