Not only TOMS, but also Starbucks and even Lockheed Martin and Wal-Mart have learned that linking their products to charitable causes makes for good business. We no longer buy only what we need, or even what broadcasts our identity. We buy what makes us feel like good people, and what makes us feel like members of a good, global community. The easy way to look at TOMS is to praise their charitable work. The harder, more troubling way to look at TOMS is to acknowledge it as an example of how corporations have assumed work most often associated with self-identified religious organizations: building community, engaging in charity, and cultivating morals.
TOMS is not alone in its willingness to link progressive social action with consumer spending. In fact, it exemplifies a broader corporate embrace of “conscious capitalism.” Coined by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, this business model assumes that “the best way to maximize profits over the long-term” is to orient business toward a “higher purpose.” So Starbucks sells coffee to “Put America Back to Work,” the (RED) campaign raises money to fight AIDS, and—in the best example yet—Sir Richard’s Condom Company sends a condom to Haiti for each one it sells (“doing good never felt better”). Meanwhile, Bank of America logos decorate PRIDE banners and Lockheed Martin brags that it is a “champion of diversity.”
The globalization of neoliberal capitalism, and particularly the popularity of “conscious capitalism” as a practice and a discourse, signals a change in the landscape of U.S. religion and politics. “Neoliberalism” most often refers to a loosely cohering set of economic, social, and political policies that (1) seek to secure human flourishing through the imposition of free markets and (2) locate “freedom” in individual autonomy, expressed through consumer choice. But it is also a mode of belonging, where ritual acts of consumption initiate individuals into a global community of consumer agents. Within neoliberal logics of religious and political action, consumer transactions and corporate expansion are recast as forms of spiritual purification and missionary practice. And within conscious capitalism, the “higher purpose” is a world in which all people have a chance (or obligation) to participate in free markets—understood as a multicultural community of consumers.
For Mycoskie—whose title is “Chief Shoe Giver”—building this multicultural community is a theological mandate. He frames his Christian faith as a component of his personal relationship to the company. At the evangelical Global Leadership Conference, keynote speaker Mycoskie answered a question about whether TOMS represents any “biblical principles”: “TOMS represents a lot of different biblical principles. But the one I go back to again and again is the one in Proverbs. Give your first fruits and your vats will be full. … Because we did that and stayed true to our one-to-one model [even amidst financial strain], we’ve been incredibly blessed. We really did give our first fruits.”
In non-confessional settings, TOMS proffers a humanistic version of this prosperity gospel, recast for a neoliberal age. Losing the Bible quotes, the company emphasizes that the “fruits of faith”—in this case, economic success—abound for those who embody the ideals of authenticity, good intentions, and service. Or, “higher purpose” is profitable. TOMS is successful because it creates opportunities for people to live into their own “purpose” through a simple transaction: buying a pair of shoes.
the knowledge that your immigrant parents have a whole world of knowledge to them, that they know myths and legends that you don’t, that they know pieces of culture that you don’t, that they know a tongue that your tongue will never taste
the knowledge that your parents’ knowledge is incomplete
the knowledge that your immigrant grandparents know even more, that the things your parents know come from your grandparents, who learned from their parents, their grandparents, every piece becoming more and more fragmented as it’s passed down
until there’s you, holding onto a sliver of something magnificent, something too big for you to comprehend, something unbelievably rich and complex
there are lands your feet will never know
there are stories your heart will never hold
there are words, heavy words, fluttering words, words of every color and shape that your tongue will never utter
there is so muchthat you are a part of
and yet, so much that you will never grasp
the weight of that knowledge—that you have left, not of your own volition, but of your circumstances—that you can never go back, that you have lost upon your very birth—is almost unbearable
but what do I even know
I know so little
and what little I know, hurts with its incompleteness
This is so exactly how I feel and why I majored in Southeast Asian Studies and why I considered getting a Masters and/or PhD in it.
i started dancing years ago as part of pcn in college — actually that’s not true, when i was very young, like 4 years old, my mom enrolled me and my little sister in community college dance classes for kids. i wish i had continued, but i stopped and never picked it up again until college when i really wanted to learn hip hop. years later, i’m keeping at it, and though obviously i don’t see myself getting better day by day, i can see how i’ve gotten better through the years. it’s a journey but i love it. it’s one of my few hobbies not directly related to my career and i’ve learned that i love staying in shape and dancing.
In 1993, I returned to Viet Nam for the very first time with you and your father. When the plane landed at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Saigon, everyone on the plane stood up and cheered. Some people were in tears. It probably seems a bit silly to you now. These days, travel is easy. Twenty-four hours and you’re on the other side of the world.
But back then, when we left—when we *fled*—we never thought we’d ever be able to return. Viet Nam was everything we have ever known and loved; it was our childhood, our family, our collective histories and blood. To leave was like having to rip our hearts from our chests. We were leaving a part of ourselves behind.
To this day, nearly forty years later, I can still remember my last day in Saigon. I walked around my neighborhood, looked at the street vendors, the children, the speeding motorcyclists, the way the sunshine hits the trees outside my window. I tried to soak in every single detail that I had previously taken for granted. I wanted to hug the country to my heart because I didn’t know I would be able to return.
There was also a sense of guilt for leaving, at least for me. I should stay and help rebuild with your aunts and uncles, with my neighbors, with the rest of the country. It was my responsibility as a Vietnamese. Why should I get to leave and have freedom and liberty while they had to stay in poverty and hardship? What made me so special? It was nothing but luck. I’ve been through a lot since that day, but nothing will ever compare to the sadness and pain of leaving Viet Nam.
I understand how you feel now, but Viet Nam will always be within your reach. It’s 2014. The world is a different place. And I am just so happy and proud to have a daughter, born and raised in America, who loves Viet Nam with all the heart and soul of a Vietnamese child who’s never left. Perhaps even more because you don’t take it for granted.
something my mother said to me last February as we boarded the plane to fly back to the States (via weetoiletpaperroll)
You guys, a few days ago I got to film with our favorite grandson from THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Also, I booked a commercial. THIS IS AMAZING. also I think I’m going to set up a Twitter with my real name. I just can’t not have one… you know what I mean?