I spent my last few years working as a numbers/database wonk and the data I sliced and diced mainly had to to with people who accessed mental health services. There was, during that time, a concerted effort to change the term used to refer to people who used M.H. services from client to consumer. The first time I heard that sort of goofy sounding word "consumer"...I thought it was a joke. It wasn't.
There's a bit of history here. I'll do a very brief summary (necessarily incomplete and inadequate). The word patient has some connotations that Carl Rogers (an influential...and quite interesting and insightful) American psychologist objected to and he pushed fairly successfully for referring to the people seen by psychotherapists and psychiatrists as clients instead of patients. Patient carries the connotation of a supplicant seeking assistance from an expert as well as medicalizing the notion of psychotherapy. Dr. Rogers felt that an individual was the expert about their own life and the term patient disregarded that fact and hence he advocated a more neutral term like client...he eventually called his therapeutic approach "client-centered" and later still just called that approach "person-centered".
I lived through the transition of terminology from "patient" to "client" (not complete, by any means) and here I was seeing a push for a terminology change from one which was designed to empower and recognize the individuals expertise about themselves to a term designed to fit the person into some sort of business/marketing model of the world.
Although curiously, when pressed, those advocating for this change really didn't know why they wanted it, just that "client" sounded old-fashioned and consumer sounded, well, business-like or something. One argument for the change was that it "empowered" individuals by making them into "customers".
As far as I can see the change is one from a structure or equality to a hierarchical one...i.e. whomever has the most purchasing power wins. Fifty thousand customers spending ten dollars each is trumped by one customer spending one million dollars. In other words, the idea that all "consumers" are equal is erroneous...but...this notion that the "market" is "empowering" is one of the persistent (and misleading) myths of our times.
That's no kind of "empowerment" I want anything to do with. At the core it encourages...no....demands...greed, i.e. those with the most money exert the most influence. Unless...there is a system in place that ensures that all purchasing power is equal for all "customers". But...it never includes that provision.
What in hell does this have to do with veganism? Well actually, I think maybe a whole whole lot. When the Donald Watson group defined vegan they referred to the exploitation of animals. A vegan human society/culture is going to necessitate much more of a change than is often thought.
The whole idea of "using" must be drastically re-examined...and maybe even done away with. Consumerism/exploitation/business/marketing/advertizing/profit...all those things/concepts/approaches are going to face major revision or maybe virtual elimination in order to achieve a standard of human behavior that doesn't include harming/using others and/or harming/destroying the place where we live. A standard where justice and/or fairness and/or harmlessness is the measure of value...not money or "markets".
I've been struggling with writing this post for several weeks and interestingly I recently ran across some other writing that included some lines that resonated for me:
"...we cannot get even close to what we want as vegans within the present social and economic structure. A wider, more systemic vision of social change is necessary if we are really serious about bringing about the liberation of all animals, and determined to protect the environment."This is from a blog called On Human-Nonhuman relations written by Roger Yates who is a sociologist and a long time (really long time) vegan.
This vegan thing just might mean much much more than it appears if we want to achieve a "life-centered" or "Earthling-centered" human society.