A big difference in shopping local vs. online is their underlying tendency to monopolize. Monopolies exist both online, in infrastructure, and in in-person retail markets. When shopping online, the economically and ecologically natural thing to do is centralize shopping: save time, save packaging and transportation, often save money by getting all your online shopping done in one place and even more-so when supplied by one manufacturer/seller. There is a paradoxical dissonance in the feedback loop of online shopping, where what kind of shopping pattern one has is simultaneously the “right” and “wrong” thing to do for environmental, economic, and social good.
What is right and wrong anyway?
Of course, this depends on one’s definition of right, wrong, and ‘good’, but in that regard we can at least identify a reliable guiding star. Paraphrasing Sam Harris:
‘There is some maximum amount of human suffering possible. If we can agree on that, the next step is whether or not there is any condition better than the absolute worst, most suffering-filled condition possible. We can plainly see there are some conditions with more or less suffering; in a most blunt way, consider holding your hand on a hot stove top and seeing if you can find a way to a condition with less suffering – you would automatically. With that understanding, we can see a landscape of conditions where there exists a topography of suffering or wellness. This is the moral landscape, where actions lead us through this uncertain, pertinent space of mounds and valleys, minima and maxima of the amount of suffering for one and all.’ – Paraphrasing Sam Harris’ central concept about morality from the Moral Landscape book and Waking Up podcasts.
What is more likely to lead us to a preferable place in the moral landscape?
With that concept in mind, navigating the ‘moral landscape’ from the starting point of shopping for something, what is right and wrong anyway? Online shopping in particular: to shop around from multiple smaller venders, perhaps those offering the most environmentally friendly wares and/or cheapest; or the shop from fewer sellers, preferring the often most convenient shopping experience and likely least amount of overall embodied energy directly used in packaging and transportation? Which option is most environmentally friendly? What is more likely to lead us to a preferable place in the moral landscape?
Inspired by a conundrum while shopping for electronics and electrical engineering & repair supplies and tools. Where/how do you do your shopping (e.g. for electronics, which are thoroughly nowadays)?