Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Compact

Pursuing my new mantra of "Live Simple" this morning I stumbled into a story about a group of friends in San Francisco who created The Compact a yearlong agreement to not buy anything new. The idea intrigues me.

Could I do it? I'm tempted to try it. Their agreement began at the start of this year and more than a thousand participants have joined them.

They identify the goals of their Compact as:

1) to go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact;
2) to reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er);
3) to simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

This is far from a nihilistic retreat from materialism. They are not saying buy nothing just don't buy anything new with the exception of food, health and safety items and underwear (thank goodness I think I'm still scarred from my mother insisting I wear my grandfather's boxers after he passed away). For all other material goods that you must have buy used.

I'm going to experiment with using Craigslist, Amazon, classifieds and second-hand stores over then next two months. The hardest things for me to remove will be gifts, technology purchases (Craigslist may save me there), and music (though I don't think mp3s should count since the artist is remunerated for their work and I don't consume anything but bandwidth).

If my trial run works, I'll sign The Compact for 2007.

The result, John Perry the Founding Member of The Compact explained in Sierra, may be not just a reduction in consumption and waste but,
more time and money to spend hiking, taking classes, going to performances, and eating with friends. Life gets richer and more oriented toward experiences.


Michael Boyd said...

I read about this in the Sierra Club magazine last month. Indeed an interesting proposition (it might be desirable to also make an exception for shoes?). On a related side note, I have decided to try to buy suits used. Since I'm vegan and try to avoid purchasing leather and wool but decent looking non-wool suits seem hard to find, I decided (after reading about the idea) that purchasing them used might be a decent compromise.

The music question is interesting indeed - I suppose whether or not mp3s are ok depends on whether one wanted to emphasize not purchasing manufactured items (CDs) or not buying directly from large corporations (Apple/iTunes). I personally prefer CDs since mp3s are a lossy file format - perhaps if network speeds continue to increase one could purchase wav or aif files in the future.

Mike Boyd said...

I've been thinking about this some more. I am curious if you could buy something from an ebay seller, for example, that is "new" (I was thinking about bike parts and that it would be better not to buy used tubes, tires, chains, or chainrings/cassettes, though these could be purchased new outside the realm of traditional retail).

You also mentioned gifts. I've thought of two potential solutions (outside of gifting used items): giving perishables (bottle of scotch, nice chocolate, olive oil etc. - perhaps plants?) or events (dinner, concert tickets, trips, etc.).

Brent said...

I'd think to a degree maintenance items should be excluded. It would be far better to buy a new chainring for a bicycle than get a whole new bike (even if it is used).

Likewise yesterday I need a new sawblade for my circular saw. Necessary maintenance should be encouraged. If you have something nice you should take care of it, that's a basic lesson in stewardship. If you can buy used, great, but the priority should be keeping an existing item functional.

So bike parts, definitely. Now shoes I may be a little biased due to my good fortune this fall. A month ago I got a great pair of $250 leather boots for $30 at REI's sidewalk sale and another pair of lightweight hiking boots for a favor. But I see your point, good shoes are a necessity.

Ok, and I'll bite, what would be your issue with buying wool? I suppose it would depend on how it is obtained, my understanding was the animal lives to get another haircut at least until it stops producing.

Mike Boyd said...

Interesting perspective on maintenance. I've had a lot of bad experiences with what seem to be poorly made items that I purchased a while back when still shopping at large discount stores (mostly kitchen stuff) - knives fall apart, blenders cease to work, etc. I've discovered that one really nice kitchen knife costs the same as an entire cheap set of knives, but is a pleasure to use and will definitely last longer.

So (without trying to sound preachy, one of the characteristics people find bothersome when discussing animal issues) the wool issue (different from leather where it's actually animal skin) is a reaction to factory farming and the inattention to welfare that occurs when animals become commidities. In theory, wool, dairy and egg farming could be done in a humane, respectful way, but that is typically not the case particularly when profit is of primary concern. So it mainly comes down to the "how obtained" issue you mention.

Brent said...

Now you've hit on an entirely different, but related issue which I intend to explore more fully, Quality.

Was the illusion to Phaedrus' knife intentional?

"The wave of crystallization rolled ahead. He was seeing two worlds, simultaneously. On the intellectual side, the square side, he saw now that Quality was a cleavage term. What every intellectual analyst looks for. You take your analytic knife, put the point directly on the term Quality and just tap, not hard, gently, and the whole world splits, cleaves, right in two… hip and square, classic and romantic, technological and humanistic . . . and the split is clean. There's no mess. No slop. No little items that could be one way or the other. Not just a skilled break but a very lucky break. Sometimes the best analysis, working with the most obvious lines of cleavage, can tap and get nothing but a pile of trash. And yet here was Quality; a tiny, almost unnoticeable fault line; a line of illogic in our concept of the universe; and you tapped it, and the whole universe came apart, so neatly it was almost unbelievable. He wished Kant were alive. Kant would have appreciated it. That master diamond cutter. He would see. Hold quality undefined. That was the secret."
- Robert Pirsig

Quality he saw as a cleavage and uniting term. A shared value that perfectly cleaved, and one could argue united, the romantic and intellectual.

My understanding is poor, but I'd like to continue the exploration.

Mike Boyd said...

Interesting quote. I've read a similar arguement regarding music analysis where the authors contended that the act of analysis (which is typically the search for "organic unity," a concept that is really synonymous with "quality") strips or neuters the work in question of its power (similar here in the itellectual/emotional...mind/body divide). This author seems to suggest that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that leaving "quality" ambiguous (but understood?) allows the entity/work/idea in question to remain intact and is the only way in which quality can exist (on a completely different note, I've heard a similar contention made regarding religious faith). Is there a way to reconcile the affective/gut response with measured, intellectual curiosity?

Anonymous said...

Just a quick question... What happens if someone buys you a "new" item for a gift? -KWM