4. Conscious consumerism in a capitalist hellscape

June 13, 2024

Episode Description

How do you become an intentional consumer and practice voting with your dollars? In this episode we’ll cover the myth of ethical consumption and how to use the power of your dollars while living within a capitalist hellscape. We will also talk about how factors such as a strong sense of justice, mental health challenges, and finances impact your ability to be a conscious consumer.

Thanks for listening to Dopamine Dollars! If you enjoyed the episode, I’d love it if you could leave a review 💚

What You’ll Learn

  • the problem with the idea of ethical consumption
  • how a strong sense of justice can show up for neurodivergent folks
  • how to practice being an intentional consumer
  • ways to use your money as a form of protest

Important Links

Donate to Lina & Lubna’s Go Fund Me HERE.

Check out the BDS movement HERE.

Episode Resources

Music: Summer – Bensound. License code: TEMUVSQRYTGCYZH3. Support by RFM – NCM: https://bit.ly/37ILNlu


The goal here is not to make you feel like you’re not doing enough, or that you’ve been making the wrong decisions, but rather to get you thinking about how to be more intentional.

Hi friends, and welcome back to Dopamine dollars, the podcast where we dive into the emotions, science, and real life impact of managing your money and your life when you’re neurodivergent. I’m your queer AuDHD host, Ellyce Fulmore, and today we are talking about the power of your dollars.

This episode is going to be a bit different than the previous episodes I’ve released. However, this is not out of the norm in terms of the episodes that I’m going to release on this podcast. I mentioned in the trailer and in the very first episode that we are going to cover political issues. We are going to talk about current events, we are going to talk about all different sorts of things that intersect with money and identity and neurodivergence, and today is kind of your first taste of that.

Recently I’ve been having a lot of conversations in my DM’s around the idea of ethical consumption. I think that witnessing the things that the government in both the US and Canada are doing and the laws being passed, the genocides happening around the world, and how our tax dollars are going toward things that may go against our values and that we don’t have control over, is making people more conscious about where their money is going.

I’ve had people asking me about where to bank and how to invest their money, generally just having commentary around things that I’m doing or I’m not doing, and essentially questioning how to know who to support, ultimately deciding what companies to support and which to boycott. How to spend your money and where to keep your money are all deeply personal decisions. Your dollars have power and it’s up to you to decide how to use that power. In this episode, we are going to talk about the idea of ethical consumption, sense of justice boycotting, and help you make financial choices that involve these things with confidence.

Capitalism is defined as an economic and political system in which the prices, production and distribution of goods are controlled by private owners, with the primary goal being profit. That last bit is the important part to remember. The primary goal of capitalism will always be profit, which means greed will inevitably be wrapped up in the system. This greed is why all our favorite brands eventually end up trading quite quality for quantity, always looking for the fastest and cheapest way to operate. Some examples that immediately come to mind.

The first one is Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons used to make their food in house. Like the donuts would be cooked in house, the sandwiches, whatever. All the bread was made in house and it was made fresh on the day. And having a Tim Hortons donut, oh my gosh, if you got there in the morning and you got a fresh donut, it was so freaking good. And now we get frozen doughnuts that are shipped in across the country, that are smaller, that are not fresh, that don’t taste nearly as good and are more expensive. Now that’s capitalism, baby.

Another recent example that has been in the news is WestJet, which if you haven’t seen the news on this, I am flabbergasted by this and very disappointed in this decision. But essentially, WestJet just renamed their basic fare option to be ultra basic. If you’ve booked flights with WestJet or basically any airline now, when you go to book a flight, it’ll give you like these options of tiers. And basically, if you pick a higher tier, you pay more. But then typically you might get like a free checked bag or you get a free seat selection. Wild how that’s something you even have to pay for now. But I digress. Things like that.

And WestJet had like the, I think it was like econo fare or something. I don’t even remember what they used to call it. Maybe it was just called basic, basic fare. You still get a carry on, a personal item. I think you did have to pay for seat selection, but there was no cancellation, no refunds. So it’s like a riskier option, but it was always the cheapest.

So now they’ve named this ultra basic and they haven’t actually lowered their prices at all. But now they’ve made it so the lowest tier, you don’t even get a carry on bag unless it’s a transatlantic flight. So you have to pay for a carry on bag and the prices, like I said, haven’t lowered. And this isn’t a budget airline, this is WestJet. I think WestJet has been going downhill for a long time. But I used to really like WestJet. They were my favorite airline because I felt like they had these perks and they treat their customers well.

But this is another example of like, the bottom line is always profit. Nobody wants to feel like they’re on a budget airline while they’re paying WestJet prices, you know what I mean?

Because of this, capitalist systems always end up exploiting and causing harm to something, whether that’s exploiting workers, the environment, or the customers themselves. In more recent years, the idea of ethical consumption has gained a lot of traction. Ethical consumption is the practice of making purchasing decisions that consider the social, economic and environmental impact of the product or service you are purchasing.

On the surface, this seems like a positive thing, right? It’s encouraging consumers to think about their spending and opt to make a more ethical decision that will theoretically cause less harm. But the issue with the concept of ethical consumption is that it shifts the blame to the consumers. Essentially, we are now being told that we are the ones responsible for causing harm by supporting companies like Shein.

The idea of ethical consumption provides an illusion to consumers and makes them feel that they are somehow more morally good or that they are participating in a better version of capitalism. It creates a sort of moral hierarchy where people are shamed for making certain decisions, where others are praised for their decisions. Not only is this a moral hierarchy, it also becomes a classist one as well. Because often the more quote unquote ethical or sustainable products or companies also tend to be significantly more expensive.

So it typically ends up where those who are lower income are continually shamed for their buying decisions and are handed the blame for a system that they are just trying to survive under, like we all are. We focus a lot of our energy on policing individual choices instead of pointing the finger at the large corporations and the corrupt system to begin with.

Any consumption within a capitalist system will never be ethical. There’s always some sort of harm being done because of the nature of a system that relies on private ownership and profit. Here are some of the reasons why I believe there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.

Any product or service produced in a capitalist system will involve some level of exploitation. Even if there may be varying degrees to which this occurs, it will still occur.

Any sort of consumption within a capitalist system is either directly or indirectly upholding the system itself and therefore is inherently unethical. And even if you manage to achieve some level of ethical consumption. That would likely mean that you are buying from smaller companies who started with the idea of being ethical. And maybe began with the idea of like, profit isn’t our main concern. But like I said earlier, they will either eventually shift to practices that favor more profit and lose what we loved about these companies in the first place, or they will go out of business because they can’t compete with the larger companies.

So what’s ended up happening is that we’ve turned a systemic issue into an individual one which perpetuates shame and guilt. And I talk about this a lot in terms of money, because I feel like this is what has happened with finances as well. There’s so many issues with the financial systems that exist and our social systems and our government and all of these things. But instead we’ve shifted the blame to individuals and said, if you’re having financial challenges, that’s your fault. You made a mistake, you aren’t doing a good job. And the same thing is happening here. We’re saying, oh, it’s your fault that the planet is dying because you’re buying from these horrible companies.

“The ethical product serves this dual purpose of alleviating the wealthy of their guilt, while also shifting blame to the middle and working class who can’t afford it, because if they’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem, right? The philosopher Slavoj Zizek mockingly calls this consumer activism. He criticizes it for reframing problems of inequity and inequality as a problem created by consumers that can only be solved by consumers, both of which are demonstrably wrong because the consumer isn’t the cause of exploitation or unsustainable practices of the corporation. The whole system of capitalist production is the problem.”

An additional challenge that many neurodivergent people face is justice sensitivity. An article on very well mind defines justice sensitivity as an individual’s sense of fairness, equity, and inclusion, as well as their need to address and correct injustices. End quote.

Now everyone has a sense of justice, just to varying degrees. But neurodivergent folks often experience higher levels of justice sensitivity. This is typically an ADHD and autistic trait. Those that do experience a more intense type of justice sensitivity also tend to stay focused on the injustice they are tackling for a longer period of time with more commitment than people who are neurotypical, which can often lead to burnout.

Some symptoms of justice sensitivity are frequent anger and resentment about victimization, indignation about injustice done to others, strong drive to restore justice, perceiving injustice where others do not, hopelessness about large scale issues facing the world, feelings of worthlessness when unfairly treated, rumination about inequity and injustice, and intense guilt or shame about causing or contributing to injustice.

It’s important to mention that justice sensitivity can show up very differently from person to person, and not everyone with ADHD or autism will experience these high levels of justice sensitivity. What someone feels is unjust can also greatly vary. I think it’s easy to hear justice sensitivity and think, oh, these are like our social justice warriors who are out protesting and starting petitions for big human rights issues. But that’s not always the case. Someone like Elon Musk, for example, has a very strong sense of justice, that, in my opinion, is a toxic idea of justice.

Now, I want to share some quotes from Reddit that I found that were specifically talking about this idea of justice sensitivity and kind of how people experienced it.

quote “When I witness something I perceive as bad or wrong, there’s a decent chance that will lead to mentally spiraling, ranting and potentially having a meltdown. I feel a need to correct it. But in most cases, I am logically aware that there is little I can do to actually improve anything. The sense of helplessness that comes from that feels heartbreaking to me.”

End quote.

quote “I feel I do have a strong sense of justice, but I don’t really think it makes me better than most people. If anything, it makes my life difficult because I can’t let go. In some situations, I have to suffer internally. It would be easier to be unbothered, but it’s not a switch.”

End quote.

Having a strong sense of justice can be a great thing because it creates some really committed allies who are willing to educate themselves and refuse to give up until justice is achieved. But it can also be harmful to us. It can take over your life. And your day to day is consumed with thinking about, learning about, and trying to solve or change this injustice.

For me personally, when Covid first started, I was checking the number of cases and deaths, like ten times a day. I was unable to stop looking at the news and doom scrolling, and it was horrible for my mental health. I spent my days crying, feeling helpless and angry. I often get that way with any sort of big social justice issue, and I really have to be careful. Like, since the pandemic started and especially this past year has been very difficult. And I can easily spend my whole day, week and month thinking about nothing besides the issue that I’m hyper focused on.

On one hand, this is a superpower, and this is a good thing. This is a positive thing, because if we take the genocide happening in Palestine, for example, like those people, they need allies. They need us to keep talking about it. And we have the luxury of, you know, turning off the tv, turning off the news and blocking this stuff out. You know, that’s not ultimately what I want to do. I don’t want to just pretend that these things aren’t happening. But at the same time, if I let this completely take over my life, then I will burn out so quickly that I can’t continue to support and show up for the things I care about.

I think it’s important to be educated and not hide from the information. But I also don’t need to read every single news article or consume every video about it, because that’s not helpful for anyone. I know you’re probably thinking, well, what’s the point then? Why even try to make more ethical decisions if everything’s harmful either way?

Well, we may live in a capitalist hellscape, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. Instead, I’d like to introduce the idea of conscious consumption. Conscious consumption does away with the focus on what is ethical, and instead stresses the importance of understanding your own personal values and sense of justice and deciding what you feel is morally right.

However, when I say this, I want to make a disclaimer that there is a difference between making decisions that only affect you and making decisions that can harm others. I don’t believe in the whole agree to disagree argument when it comes to human rights issues. Many of the decisions you already make are probably rooted in what you feel is right.

Maybe you already compost and recycle in your home, or volunteer in your community, or choose not to eat meat. Instead of not shopping at Shein because you fear being labeled as a bad person, maybe you don’t shop there because of your own personal views on mass production. But if that’s the case, then you also want to uphold that decision across the board. And many other brands engage in mass production, even though they don’t have the bad rap that Shein does.

Ideally, you are following your own moral framework in all areas of your life, and not just your buying decisions. Doing so will, in my opinion, produce a much more aligned and sustainable guide on how you live your life.

Of course, it’s important to mention here that being a conscious consumer is a privilege and a luxury. Not everyone can afford to be picky with how they use their money, and we shouldn’t expect them to. If you do have the privilege of choice when it comes to your money, then you have more power to make the decisions you feel strongly about. The goal is that you are making informed decisions that align with your values as much as possible while working within your own constraints, whether that’s money or otherwise. I think there is some responsibility on us, especially those of us with more buying power, to do what we think is right, even if it’s not going to magically change the system.

Neurodivergent folks can also tend to have very black and white thinking, which, when paired with the strong sense of justice we talked about earlier, can make the idea of ethical consumption virtually impossible. It might even impact an individual’s ability to take care of themselves and meet their basic needs, because they cannot exist ethically within capitalism.

But making ethical decisions is also not all or nothing Even though it may feel hopeless knowing that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, I actually feel that this just releases the pressure a bit. In my group program, the Neuro$picy Money Method, one of the phrases we use all the time is all or something. It’s impossible for us to do it all and to be perfectly ethical. But that doesn’t mean that we should just give up and do nothing. Remember, your money has power, and you can vote with your dollars.

I mentioned earlier that we do need to be aware of our decisions that have the power to impact others. And I want to encourage those of you who don’t hold values related to community or collective change to challenge yourself to detach from the individualistic mindset. Because ultimately, we want to create change. And in order to do that, it needs to be a collective effort. Like I said earlier, the idea of ethical consumption is a tactic used to distract us from the real problem by putting the onus on individuals. Even though individually we can’t create that much change, collectively we have way more power. We should still try to be a conscious consumer, but we need to do more than just change our buying decisions.

Okay, so what can we do?

Number one, become a conscious consumer. Decide on the values and issues that are most important to you, and make informed decisions that align with those as much as you can, within whatever constraints you’re working with when it comes to the companies you support or what financial institution you bank at, make those decisions with your personal values in mind.

So maybe you want to support small businesses or companies that are local to you or companies that are LGBTQ friendly or BIPOC owned companies or, you know, things like that. So that’s where you kind of get to decide. Decide what aligns with you, and try to make those conscious spending decisions when you’re able to.

Are there areas where you are able to cut back on your consumption? Because if your aim is to take actions that align with your values and align with the collective good, then we also have to consider how we can reduce our consumerist practices. So it’s not just about being more conscious of who you’re buying from and what their practices are, it’s also about being more conscious of your behavior itself and what your relationship is to consumerism.

And I think when we really understand this idea that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, that also helps with this kind of moral policing that’s going on, because you understand that your decision isn’t necessarily morally better than someone else’s decision.

The example that I always think about is renting versus owning. And many of you that have been in this community for a while will have known about like the recent renting versus owning saga of the videos on TikTok and Instagram that happened. But basically I created a video saying how I didn’t believe the phrase renting is throwing money away, because I don’t think that it’s throwing money away.

But a lot of the comments I got on that video had to do with how unethical it was to rent and to make landlords richer. And why wouldn’t you want to own so that you’re not putting money into these like, horrible, unethical landlords pockets?

And what I found interesting about that is that for some reason, people in their minds have made this decision that owning is more ethical than renting. But if we think about the ethics of owning, well, first off, your involvement, like a bank and a financial institution, which most big financial institutions are unethical. So you know you’re already wrapped up with that, with a mortgage. But then also you’re buying land from the government that never was a government to begin with. Like, all of this land was colonized. That’s a whole other ethical dilemma.

And so again, I think this comes back to the conscious consumer thing is, like, you need to understand why you are making certain decisions. And I think the key thing is making educated and informed decisions. You understand the ethical implications of either decision, and you’re making a decision that supports your values and also hopefully, supports the collective good. But I think taking the time to shame people for their decisions and to say that your decision is better than theirs isn’t necessarily helpful in a lot of instances.

Number two, boycott harmful companies. I think it’s important to understand that your money can be used in other ways beyond just spending. You can withhold money by boycotting companies whose practices you don’t agree with. Organizing a collective boycott can be extremely effective, and we’ve seen this be successful in the past.

One of the companies that I’ve personally been boycotting since November has been Starbucks. And an article published on June 8 on the BBC reported that Starbucks sales had dropped 1.8% compared to year to year sales at the start of 2024. And sales at Starbucks stores have dropped 3%, which is the biggest drop in years outside of the pandemic and great Recession. And their active reward members had a 4% decrease compared to the previous quarter.

The reason why boycotts can be so effective is because if enough people are collectively boycotting a brand, that is going to significantly impact their sales and impact their profit. And remember that the bottom line of capitalism is profit. That is enough of a motivator for them to change their tune, change their behavior, make a change, and whatever it is that you know people are boycotting it for, and we’ve seen that happen successfully in the past.

If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend checking out the BDS movement. BDS stands for boycott divestment sanctions. On their website they have clear calls to action and companies to boycott.

Keep in mind that boycotts are a personal decision and not everyone is going to feel the same way. You also need to consider that not everyone is educated on the same things. I think the best thing to do is to be vocal about who you’re boycotting and why, and let people come to their own decisions. Unless there is a window for you to either talk to someone about it or they’ve approached you, then you can have kind of a greater conversation. But otherwise, shaming people for their decisions doesn’t always have the intended outcome.

Three donate your money. I encourage anyone with the money to do so to implement some sort of regular donation practice to causes you care about. This could be a monthly amount you donate, or you could create a sinking fund that you contribute to throughout the year and make one big donation on your birthday or something. Whatever works for you. I think if you’re able to, this can even be $5 a month.

It doesn’t have to be a lot, but this is a great example of a small action that can have huge change. If a hundred people are donating $5 to a certain cause every month, like that is going to add up over time, that can have a significant impact. We are currently raising money for a family in Palestine who is trying to escape the genocide and we have a long ways to go still to reach our goal. So if you are interested in donating to this family, the link is going to be in show notes.

Four use your resources. Consider how you can use the resources you have to support the causes you care about. If you don’t have the resource of money, maybe you have the resource of time which you can spend volunteering or protesting. Or perhaps you have some social capital, meaning you have a following on social media and you can use that to share and boost important content.

There are lots of actions you can take that don’t involve your finances at all, such as signing petitions, speaking up about injustice, educating yourself and others, and sharing resources with all of these suggestions, you also have to consider what’s best for your mental health. Being neurodivergent or chronically ill or disabled or all of the above can influence the amount of options we even have access to.

For example, I would love to completely boycott Amazon, but unfortunately it’s not a feasible option for me at this time. I definitely try my best to limit the amount of purchases, the types of purchases that I am making on Amazon and I will opt to buy a certain product from somewhere else if it’s an option. But the thing with me using Amazon is that because I’m neurodivergent and my partner is neurodivergent, there are just a lot of times where we end up in a pickle where we need something, we forgot about it. We left to the last minute and Amazon is the only website that will get something to us quick enough.

In general, this is something that I want to work on and improve on and get systems set up for so that I don’t get into the situation where I need to even order off Amazon. But right now that’s where I’m at That’s where my capacity is at.

I have another example from my girlfriend who cares a lot about sustainability and was almost completely zero waste for a period of time in her life. She felt really good about making the conscious decision to shop at zero waste stores and minimize the waste she created, but it came with a price to her mental health. My girlfriend is also AuDHD, and living zero waste can add a lot of extra steps to tasks that are usually simple. She found that she was putting so much extra effort into ensuring she was making sustainable choices that she had no energy to do anything else. I mean, when you’re struggling to even do laundry, it’s not fun to have to go out and collect soap nuts to create your own detergent.

And yes, she literally did that. She literally was like pulling over on the side of the road because she saw the tree that had the soap nuts and was picking up soap nuts off the ground and like literally creating her own laundry detergent, which is amazing, but not always something that you might have the capacity for. She’s at a point now where she’s found a good balance and we try to be zero waste where we can and we do things like make our own cleaner still, but we’ve started buying laundry detergent and shopping at regular grocery stores because that’s just what we need to do for our own mental health.

It’s important to remember that your mental health outweighs your intentional spending. Sometimes the decisions that align with our values don’t actually support us in the best way. So do the things you can and release the expectation to do more.

The goal here is not to make you feel like you’re not doing enough or that you’ve been making the wrong decisions, but rather to get you thinking about how to be more intentional. Using your money to fight against social injustice is a powerful form of protest, and every small decision has an impact. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You need to take care of yourself so that you can continue to show up and do this work.

Focus on the issues that are most important to you and protect your time and energy. Give yourself grace if you fall short of the expectations you set for yourself, and remember that it’s all or something.

All right, friends, that is it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening to Dopamine Dollars and remember, you’re not bad with money, you’re just doing your best within a capitalist hellscape.