Monday, January 21, 2008

Monoculture on my Mind

Yesterday I went to the doo dah parade and watched Rev. Billy walk by. He wasn't doing much, but it was still a thrill to see one of my personal heroes in person. Tonight, if I'm not too lazy or it's not too cold, I'll go hear him preach. But you know, our high today is supposed to be 49. The high! Don't I live in California?

Anyway one of Billy's primary targets is monoculture. Even a company like Starbucks draws his wrath (it's in his axis of evil along with Wal-Mart and Disney) because of this. Now I haven't stopped patronizing Starbucks like I have those other two (and many other similar places), largely because I appreciate the fact that despite their omnipresence, they still make a quality product. Most of the independent coffee shops, which provide local color, do not make a cup of coffee (or at least a latte - I don't drink Charbucks' plain coffee) that stands up to Starbucks. As a simultaneous believer in the importance of quality foods, I went with my taste buds on this one and have continued as a sometimes Starbucks customer. But largely this also revolves around my mother's penchant for buying me gift cards.

I do see Billy's point about the monoculture, though. It's the reason why J and I are firmly against buying anything by Graco for our baby. Now of course this puts us in a bind, because Graco is the brand that is affordable. But I can't stand the thought of walking around with their big ol' brand on the front of my stroller that looks like everybody else's stroller. Plus their stuff looks and feels cheap, and most of it is made in China (and we all know their record on worker rights and baby product safety). I haven't even bothered looking into their business practices, partly because I feel like I know what I'll find, and partly because the overriding concern here isn't even about that. It's about instilling a sense of uniqueness in our child from day one, letting her know that she can be different even if it costs a little more, because "different" is often higher-quality and more beautiful (at least in this country, where the majority of people shop by price alone and/or have horrendous taste).

But this puts us in the financial bind. How to keep one's principles and at the same time afford what one needs to abide by them? Not easy. Heh....if every regular reader of this blog sent me $1, though, I could get a nice European stroller with actual metal parts and rubber wheels and a decent design. Hmmmm. Maybe we start the Feminary baby shower campaign? I mean, a dollar's not much to ask, and ya'll do get such pleasure and learn so much from my rantings, right? Would that make me a total heel? It's in the name of beauty, people! I could be a total hog and just post links to my registry, but I think that would be overboard. :)

At the moment we're trolling Ebay for our nice non-Graco baby products and we'll hit the secondhand stores around here - hopefully that will be a good start. We found a Stokke Xplory on Ebay for $365 (that's a thousand-dollar stroller and our absolute favorite). I think we'll manage to work it out. It's just a matter of sticking to our guns and searching with unflagging enthusiasm. I'm counting on that nesting instinct to help with that.

Speaking of monoculture, I just had to throw away a coupon I clipped for a Firestone oil change because I read this disturbing article about their business practices in Africa. Ugh. I swear, the more you let yourself learn the more upsetting the world is. But it's okay - we have a great local mechanic that will (grudgingly) do our oil changes and give us a free car wash to boot. It costs more than twice as much as the Firestone (and yes, I realize if we knew how to do it ourselves that would be best, but we don't and we don't have time either), but at least we're supporting him instead of the big company. So again, principles over finances. Good thing we follow a guy whose principles say not to worry about where your next meal or outfit will come from.

The LA Times opinion page was really great yesterday. It also featured this article about how neuroscience's reliance on reductionism misses much of the point of what really makes our brains what they are (or, as the author beautifully rendered it, "What transforms the water of the brain into the wine of the mind?"). In a way, reductionism is a kind of scientific monoculture, another blind adherence to something popular perhaps because nobody bothers to think outside the box or everybody assumes that popularity = correctness (I realize this is a gross reduction of reductionism, ha ha). But the article is certainly worth reading, if nothing else because it's a piece of lovely writing, and the comparison of the brain to music and art is genius. Music cannot be reduced without being destroyed; neither, says the author, can our mind.

I guess, in the end, a lot of this relates to our holiday today as well (which actually should be celebrated in April for us Christians, but here we have another secular/sacred split - not unlike Christmas being either 12 days after Dec. 25 or 2 months before it). It was a monoculture of sorts that allowed prejudice to continue in this country for so long. The laziness of the individual citizen to challenge the status quo always gets us in trouble. Forty years ago it was the acceptance - even defense - of Jim Crow laws, because people held hatred in their hearts but also because a lot of people just didn't want to change. Now we look back and wonder how we ever could have been entrenched in such lies, but in fact, it was pretty easy to be there.

Especially as I look around me at the baby monoculture and I consider how I will help my daughter fight for her individual voice throughout her life. This even begins before she is born (rewatch the trailer for "The Business of Being Born," below) - will I accept what the medical establishment tells me is the way I should bring her into the world? Or will I stand up for her rights to be born in her time as God created my body to do it? And from there it's labels on strollers and one day jeans and handbags, and we're off and running. I don't want to produce another cultural drone. It's hard to imagine I could, but I'll admit I'm wistful every now and then as I look at some cute thing, whether by Pooh or Dolce & Gabbana. Yeah, it's tough to fight the urge to be like everybody else. It certainly doesn't stop in high school.

But I have a dream...

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