The Cool Versus, and Mixed with, the Good

I saw a friend online critiqueing "the bourgeois" the other day and started thinking and writing about it and decided to post here about it. His point was basically that "bourgeois" people in "America" nowadays don't so much conspicuously show their economic place by what they own, but by what they experience and believe.

i think it's an interesting proposition to make, that the US (I try not
to say American when I mean citizens of the United States, since many
south and central americans are Americans too) bourgeoisie try to signal
their class or class aspiration with experiences rather than material
possessions or views.  I have no argument with this on its face - of course only those with
some economic breathing room (bourgeois basically means middle class, no?) have the freedom to take ideological
stances with their lifestyles (or even to have "lifestyles") and
consumer habits - this also is the essence of the hipster, Freud's
"narcissism of small differences." If you're just struggling to feed and
clothe your family there's not much opportunity to decide which bands
are cool or which meat product has the lowest carbon footprint.  But once you have that extra cash, you have some choices you can make, and possibly some thoughts about how decisions on your purchases might mean for your identity.

However - when people like my friend critique this kind of thing, i often sense a current of disapproval of the bourgeoisie or middle class hipsters (which is, i admit, me too, right?), even when they claim they're not hating on the bourgeoisie.  I
think one should be careful to distinguish between the rather selfish
and vain "small differences" that some of the bourgeoisie pursue and perform
(like vacations to Costa Rica, Sonic Youth boxed sets, mesh trucker hats
and fancy fixed gear bicycles), which i agree are worthy of some
censure, and choices for how to live that are at least partially
motivated by a desire/need to live ethically and in line with a value
system.  For instance, Fair Trade coffee, which my friend cited - true, if
someone consumes it simply because it seems "cool", go ahead and make
fun of that person. But some folks are truly doing things because they
think they're the right thing to do.  They may be wrong, or they may be
overstating how much difference it might make, but it comes often from a
real need or goal that I think should be respected. 

Many times we're talking about things that are on a spectrum of
pure narcissism/self-gratification on one end, and altruism on the other.  Surely nobody NEEDS to
drink coffee at all and if we were all total saints we would kick that
habit immediately, right? but it's complicated, even that simple choice, because what would happen
to all the peasants around the world who eke out a living growing
coffee, if that happened? They could switch to growing opium or coca. Or theoretically they could and should go back to subsistence food farming and drop out of the global capitalist game altogether instead of growing cash crops. But we all know there are a variety of economic and social forces that are making that difficult. So if you quit drinking coffee, you might also think about working to give developing-world farmers some other way to make an honest living, if you really care.

The point is, there is a complex interplay, of ethics and the pursuit of
our own needs/desires, in almost everything we do, once we rise up above
the first couple levels of Maslow's Hierarchy.  Without that kind of
distinction, the logical endpoint would be:  everyone who starts earning
any discretionary income at all should continue to live just like they
used to when they did not, and donate all that extra money to those who
don't yet have enough.  Surely in a sort of utopian dream that's a nice
thought, but it's not very realistic or practical to advocate as
something you could successfully implement, and it could lead, at least
from where the world is now, to serious problems (for instance, if
everyone just ate the cheapest food available, there would be severe
health consequences).

 (administrative note:  this blog is seriously besieged with comment spam, and so i mostly don't and can't keep up with comments. Sorry.  but you can reply to me via email or g+ or fb or whatever, if you desire to engage about this.)