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Purity of essence

By Owen Paine on Tuesday April 24, 2007 11:16 PM

Nothing's too righteous to make a fast buck off of, as that salamander Jon Stewart might observe. The Gray Lady daily


had this waiting beneath a blizzard of blither on boutique activism's au-courant hook, "we're fair traders m'lady." Here's the nasty fish bone:

After graduating from the New School with a degree in literature in 1993, Sander Hicks, 36, the founder of Vox Pop, worked at a Kinko's, where he and his fellow workers experimented with union organizing and even a worker collective. Now, he's proud of his high-quality coffee, but asserts that the fair trade label gives it an additional "karmic kick."
Bypassing the odious vitae bits, let me draw your attention to the road not taken:
... he and his fellow workers experimented with union organizing and even a worker collective.
Experimented? Much like a taste-test, one presumes. Too sour? Not enough high notes, or maybe too much acidity? Disappointing, anyway. On to the next thing -- which was, what? an indie coffee-shop hustle.

Pride -- a clean soul -- a full cash register -- what's not to like?

I doubt strongly that alternative path was on Father Smiff's list of ways we might "stop traffic".

I humbly submit: acclimating your life niche by putting yourself in a humanist bubble so you can morally survive inside the beast -- it's just crap. None of us are souls unencumbered by the system. It's a fatuous delusion to think otherwise.

Want to make fair trade? Battle the system. Don't try to escape. There is no escape: not in your mind, and not even in your stomach.

Comments (9)


Rely on the NY Times for ghoulish misrepresentation and prurient titillation. Hicks didn't just experiment. Among other things, he actively assisted the Wobblies in bringing the union to Vox Pop.

Bill Kaufman:

Owen is off the mark here. First of all, there's a huge difference between a small community business like Vox Pop and the megacorps that make up the "system"--it's precisely to promote the fortunes of the former that we fight the latter (as in defending local business enterprises against the encroachments of Walmart).

Second, Owen's snide comments about Sander Hicks's organizing efforts on the job betray a gross ignorance of Hicks's political history--he is a committed INDEPENDENT left activist, a Green Party activist, who ran for that party's nomination for the Senate race in the 2006 election (but was defeated by Howie Hawkins). Hicks is one of the people out there really working to deconstruct the Democratic Party, the stated goal of this Web site.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with pressing for reforms inside the system short of total revolution. Putting in power-saving lightbulbs or solar panels won't save the planet, but it's better than doing NOTHING. Likewise, individual initiatives on the fair-trade front are better than the usual rapacity and indifference.

Owen's posts--however strenuously overwritten at times (having to read every sentence twice is not the mark of good writing)--are usually on target. This one was badly misinformed and wide of the mark.



i take your criticism
and accept it entirely
on its face and in the face

though snide i'm not
cause snide if it isn't to be a complete farce
----i think ----requires
a sense of self satisfaction
i associate only with successful folks

as to mr hicks and his wobbly /green heroics

i know
only what this nyt article
chooses to show me

perhaps indeed i come off as an enemy
of green living
and nostalgic radical gesturing
i'm not
though i hardly mind be so characterized
and as to
choosing the iww as your vehicle
of "class struggle"....

well it's like entering the las vegas grande prix
in barney oldfields racer

but that's neither here nor there is it ???

i guess the mangled meme here was more on the order of...

" Putting in power-saving lightbulbs or solar panels won't save the planet..."
and further more
to some ---like multi nyt readers -----
it may give
a very false sense of accomplishment

much like voting for lesser evils

the question so posed

"....better than doing NOTHING" ??

perhaps not ..... not
leads to something more
this little bit better
as really something to much less
leads no where
beyond a clean con-science
here and there

strenously over written it is
and will be .....all too true

but to tell you the truth
if you could see the first drafts
you'd commend me for get as far toward smooth clarity as i do


Owen, the clean conscience goods and services do make an enduring difference. The people who produce and consume them are happier, even when they're pricier, and they create small but sustainable niches. It's not all rosy, but it's generally a good thing. A place like Vox Pop has an additional benefit: community, which is sadly lacking for so many.

I wanted to say more in my first comment, but got tongue tied with fury at the NY Times, which routinely and expertly makes good people look silly. Who really cares if hipsters drink coffee at a nice place? They're everywhere. Some are awful. Some are not. The characterizations used by the "lifetsyle" reporters are designed to set people's teeth on edge.


Actually it seems to me that the author of said article stretches the NYT envelope about as far as it can be stretched, alluding to the systemic limitations of feel-good eco-friendly socially-responsible niche-market consumerism.

Given the circles that I know Ms Featherstone travels in I don't find it surprising that she
subtly interrogates green capitalism with a human face.

What I suspect really ticks off Mr Paine is this piece basically confirms the absolute triumph in US social life (perhaps nowhere more so than in the world of "hipster progressives") of media-driven and "lifestyle"-derived identities, including political identities.

May I suggest that if you REALLY want to be thrust into a funk over the hegemony of this phenonmenon, that you come visit the simulacra-world of youth "subcultures" (using the term VERY loosely) here in Japan?


who needs community herr scruggs

bah humbug community
have we not
work houses enough

organize people for their exploitation

leave their rewards
to the many modern solitary addictions

you be right of course
communtiy is always at the brginning
check out
the 18th century" clubs "
par example

from addison to robes-peter
in 80 years of development

look what happened to them eh ???

but if -au contra-
VP is merely
' be there or be square
see and be seen ' ...well ....
then again
what institutions in life
are ever
merely anything
always something

from vox pop ....
proto jacobin club II ????

or club 54 redux
or alice's restaurant
with sustainable green cocaine ???

a well i'm a grouuchy non groovey old cuss

viva dem kool klub sites
if you 're a guyzo
and u can't dance in public
you're prolly
part of a brown shirt sleeper cell


"there's a huge difference between a small community business like Vox Pop and the megacorps that make up the "system""

not only big but qualitative as well....

"it's precisely to promote the fortunes
of the former (vox pop et ilk)
that we fight the latter"

partly ... but the great haunch of the pops are jobbulated
now and will be jobulated
when we reach the great "when "
further up clio's chosen path

("..defending local business enterprises against the encroachments of Walmart "

yes ..but really organizing those wlamart works
is what will make the "when " closer
not the protracted trip there
more "rewarding for the gifted graceful few "

a hipsters progress ???

turn the page sports fan


ps what's wrong with me
i should let this
go bk's point
was both well taken and valid

the father here
is i believe trying
to build a popular front here
solidarity between the broad range of the people
to bust the betraying TNC core of the donkery

bookshop keepers
indy carpenters
candle makers
old world healers
travelling players
rope climbers
poets without tenure
basement inventors
right along with the umble wage smurfs

welcome to our broad camp ground
outside the hustle tent
all u sons and daughters
of the unexploited
but marginalized artisanry
all u
the dubious shakey donQ professionariat

pick out a spot of bare ground out here
join the celebration
of open sky living
but behold we are still
on a cloven planet
even if we escape
basin city
it is coming to collect our bones


There you have it, Owen. It is precisely because we need another Robespierre that we must support places like Vox Pop. Can we really afford not to? The sustainable fair trade cocaine (and I'm stealing that idea) will add extra zest to the proceedings. One of Ms. Xeno's artist friends can no doubt make a lovely guillotine and I will personally buy you a tricorne made from green felt. The basis for community is of course shared glee and blood guilt. We're off to a good start here.

Seriously, though, I do agree that the gifted graceful few alone are not going to get us from here to there. I get your point and gluelicker's too.


much here needs a more serious eye then mine

scruggs i think see the broad interplay here
better then i .....

and i shan't plunge into
the deeper waters

about ...third world ...."smale scale farmers"

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Tuesday April 24, 2007 11:16 PM.

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