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LQD: Shopping vs Happiness

by DeAnander Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 03:50:38 PM EST

I continue to contest the imho overly simplistic assertion that per capita consumption is a reliable indicator of Freedom and Happiness (TM).  I'm gonna put this strongly and provocatively:  so long as we hew to this myth authored by marketeers and loan sharks, we are doomed as a civilisation and maybe as a species (not to mention all the innocent species we are taking with us).

[...] there is a madness at the heart of this economic model with its terrible environmental costs. It's best illustrated by a graph used by the US psychologist Tim Kasser at a Whitehall seminar last week. One line, representing personal income, has soared over the past 40 years; the other line marks those who describe themselves as "very happy", and has remained the same. The gap between the two yawns ever wider. All this consumption is not necessary to our happiness.

Kasser's graph has both hopeful and disturbing implications. On the hopeful side, this is good news: a low-consumption economy wouldn't mean misery. But what's disturbing is how we continue to shop when it doesn't make us happier. He argues that our hyperconsumerism is a response to insecurity, a maladaptive type of coping mechanism. Over the past few decades, the sources of insecurity have multiplied: in addition to the manipulation long practised by advertising, there are new sources of insecurity in highly competitive market economies, ranging from identity (who am I and where do I belong?) to basics (who will look after me in my old age?). This relationship between materialism and insecurity helps explain why countries as diverse as the US and China are deeply materialistic; they are places of endemic insecurity.


The brilliance of this economic system built on insecurity is that it is self-reinforcing. The more insecure you are, the more materialistic; the more materialistic, the more insecure. As Kasser has shown, materialistic values (which are on the increase among teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic) make you more anxious, more vulnerable to depression and less cooperative. Studies show that people know what the real sources of lasting human fulfilment are - good relationships, self-acceptance, community feeling - but they face a formidable alliance of political and economic interests that have a vested interest in distracting them from that insight to ensure they work longer hours and spend more money.

The task of turning this around is enormous, and the transition to a low-consumption economy has to be carefully managed to ensure a soft landing. The greatest dilemma is that the shift could produce a damaging feedback loop - this is Kasser's anxiety. Lower consumption could lead to economic instability and increased insecurity; plus climate change makes people insecure. The response might be to reinforce our current frantic hyperconsumerism: an attitude of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die"; or a lunge after as much as possible to insulate yourself against the impacts of climate change.

But equally possible is a win-win scenario; a low-consumption economy oriented towards facilitating the real sources of human fulfilment. Most of us dimly recognise that huge lifestyle changes are necessary, but we're waiting for someone else to initiate the process. It's a question of "I will if you will" - the title of a thoughtful report last year from the government's Sustainable Development Commission.

Hearteningly, we know it can be done - our parents and grandparents managed it in the second world war. This useful analogy, explored by Andrew Simms in his book Ecological Debt, demonstrates the critical role of government. In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved - not by relying on the good intentions of individuals (and their ability to act on that coffee-stained pamphlet), but by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax. This will be the stuff of 21st-century politics - something that, right now, all the main political parties are much too scared to admit.

I notice the sturdy recurrence of the "back to living in caves" meme which has been discussed earlier:

[...] the alternative of lower consumption is something no politician is prepared to consider. In one policy discussion on the subject, Treasury officials responded with contempt, and referred to it as tantamount to "going back to living in caves". We have a political system built on economic growth as measured by gross domestic product, and that is driven by ever-rising consumer spending. Economic growth is needed to service public debt and pay for the welfare state.

Ironic that the welfare state is so inadequate that people are still exposed to a level of insecurity that fuels manic spending.

Is it enough to have halved family meat consumption, have foregone flights for several sun-starved years and arranged a life in which habits of cycling to work and walking to school are routine? No, it's just scratching at the surface. If the developed world is to implement the 80% cuts in carbon emissions the UN demands as part of the talks beginning in Bali today, the lives of our children will have to be dramatically different from everything we are currently bringing them up to expect.

In 2006, each person in the UK produced 9.6 tonnes of C02, and that needs to come down to less than three tonnes by 2050. That is the non-negotiable on which there is widespread consensus among environmental scientists and economists. The much more controversial issue is whether that means consuming less or just consuming differently. In other words, does sustainability require an entire recasting of the good life, or can we continue on our way, our aspirations to comfortable homes, nice cars and fancy holidays unchecked, delivered by green techno-wizardry?

Government environmental policy is entirely built around the latter. But the problem is that there is no evidence that techno-wizardry can deliver the cuts in carbon emissions needed. In the past increased energy efficiency has only driven up aspirations: "If my fridge is more energy efficient and thus cheaper to run, perhaps I'll now buy that air conditioning unit for these new hot summers." Technological innovation is an important part of the solution, but it won't be enough. Wizardry it is rightly nicknamed: there is an irrational faith at the heart of government thinking.

Obviously I quote this article because it's what I have been saying for 20 years and it is nice to see what once were "crazy ideas" appear in the good ol' Guardian -- though for most readers in the way-off-the-right-side-of-the-dial US and other hyperconsumerist nations, of course, the G is by definition a risible collection of crazy ideas from dead-ender leftists pathetically defying the overwhelming, triumphant commonsense and success of freemarket capitalism.

Still.  Someone had to say it.

I quoted almost the whole goldurned article, but here is the full text in the right order anyway...

Poll
Do you believe the Amurkan Way of Shopping can continue?
. Sure, all we need is cheap clean electricity from 2500 new nuke plants built in 5 years 0%
. Sure, the hydrogen economy is just around the corner 0%
. Sure, we'll just kill everyone in the S Hemi to get some breathing room 5%
. Nope, but only some minor adjustments and aggressive efficiency measures are needed to preserve something very comparable 11%
. Nope, but I wouldn't mourn it; I'm already living a low-consumption life and waiting for the rest of the inmates to catch up 38%
. No, and I'm really depressed because the only alternative is Living in Caves and Eating Bugs 0%
. Nope, but what replaces it will be so cool and exciting that I'm looking forward to the paradigm shift 38%
. Why are we even asking this question? We have enough coal to keep the party hopping for another 400 yeats! 5%

Votes: 18
Results | Other Polls
Display:
maybe you are all reading crooks and liars, if not here a LLQC (Lazy, Lazy Quote Comment)

While most Americans were planning for the annual ritual of overconsumption known as Thanksgiving, the good folks at the Heritage Foundation, America's leading architects of conservative thought for at least three decades, were doing their part to add to the holiday cheer. According to a November 13 Heritage article, well-off revelers could stuff their faces unhampered by guilt about the less fortunate, because there are no longer any hungry people in the United States.

You have to hand it to Heritage for always being first out of the gate to exploit the latest event or finding to advance its aims-this is the same think tank that issued a comprehensive strategy, two weeks after Katrina hit shore, for using the hurricane as an excuse to slash federal social programs. This time, its thinkers found inspiration in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual report on Household Food Security in the United States, which is as close as the federal government comes to providing statistics on hunger among the nation's poor. The latest report states that 11 percent of Americans were "food insecure" for some part of 2006, and 4 percent-11.1 million people-experienced "very low food security."[..]

But the Heritage folks are looking beyond semantic tweaks: Far from having too little to eat, they argue, poor people are eating too much. By the time the USDA report went public, Heritage had readied its own salvo, titled "Hunger Hysteria: Examining Food Security and Obesity in America." In recent years, the U.S. media and public have become increasingly obsessed with the "obesity epidemic." And what better way to attack the idea of deprivation among the poor than to note that they are getting fatter? Rightly or not, people still associate obesity with the sins of gluttony and sloth, which jives nicely with the concept that welfare recipients are lazy people who would rather feed at the public trough than get an honest job.

or maybe you read it at the original - at mother Jones?

and where is the link to happiness, you are wondering? ah it is in Nicole's comment.

Must. Resist. Impulse. To. Bang. Head. Against. Keyboard. I've been doing some reading on scientific study of happiness (i.e., how psychology and brain physiology determines our emotional reactions) and I truly believe that the empathy portion of the brain stem must be damaged or missing on conservatives. That's the only way that I can see how they can ignore the facts in front of them to come up with such a condescending and hateful hypothesis like that.

But it appears that the Heritage Foundation feels they are entitled to their own facts, much like the unintentionally hilarious Conservapedia. According to this BloggingHeads segment, Heritage is planning on starting their own version of Crooks&Liars, documenting examples of "liberal" media bias and when conservatives are shown in an unfairly bad light.

see all lazy - and slap on the wrist - stay here to discuss my laziness and go over there to discuss her article. (-:

by PeWi on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:13:30 PM EST
PeWi quoting:
I truly believe that the empathy portion of the brain stem must be damaged or missing on conservatives.

Conservatives don't do empathy.

Conservatives don't do cause and effect.

Conservatives lack a stable and adult sense of morality.

While we had a (very quiet) go at autistic savants last week, I'll propose - again - that this kind of conservatism should be considered a form of mental illness, every bit as real as other popular syndromes like ADHD.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:32:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While I would love to consider conservatism as a form of mental illness, this however leads straight to my other favorite quote:

No surprise: reductionism seems to be the point of science. But if there is a neurobiological [spelling  changed by PeWi] basis for religion (Dawkins is a biologist), then there must also be a neurobiological basis for atheism:

After donning a helmet wired with electromagnets, some 
subjects reported experiences they described as mystical, or at least
misty. When Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, put on the
hood, it only made him a little dizzy. Persinger was quick to note that
Dawkins had scored way below average on a psychological
questionnaire measuring temporal lobe sensitivity--hints of a
neurobiological correlate for atheism.

As Thomas Adams points out (for whom I must also credit the Slate link):

Johnson's last line here is brilliant. After all, if theism is simply a
product of neurochemistry, then so is atheism - something that the
"explainers of religion" all too often forget. Perhaps, in the end, the
neurotheologians will show that it is atheism, not theism, which is
caused by a mental defect (this would be the logical conclusion, of
course, since the vast majority of the world's current and past
inhabitants have been theists)
. If so, will Slate.com then treat us to
articles that attempt to explain the "atheism meme" and the "agnostic
delusion"? (emphasis supplied)

That parenthetical is, of course, exactly right. But whether or not Slate, or anyone else, ever attempts to explain the "atheism meme" or the "agnostic delusion" is really neither here nor there, because in the last analysis this entire discussion is not a discussion but is, as Bunting points out, the same old song, and it is only about power. Power, however, serves no one, and makes sure always that its own ends are served.

all from Mr Madison

My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek whenever I quote this. Afterall, what IS normal.

by PeWi on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:58:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'Normal' is a social construct. Long-term cultural survivability prospects are a little more objective, and - at this point, if we don't limit the influence of conservatism - all too predictable.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 08:11:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Afterall, what IS normal.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 04:26:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dawkins is simply an evolutionary advancement, not a defect.

heh.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 01:54:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since when is reduction in ability evolutionary development? Hmm.  He might just have reduced his ability to fit in better with his peers - fit in better where he can exploit shortcomings of others that are similar to him....

having said that - while at the same time not believing that I really said it - part of what makes us function as human is the ability to forget - I read this somewhere, but simply cannot recall where that was....

by PeWi on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 07:40:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Since when is reduction in ability evolutionary development?

Since when is it not?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 07:55:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither "evolution" nor "development" imply "progress" in any particular direction.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 10:06:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Especially not when humans are involved.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 08:29:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well, a change in ability is surely a development, irrespective, if this is a reduction or an increase. We can probably agree on that.

now the remaining question is, is a reduction necessarily a limiter, or something than can enable. Again this probably depends.

Please do not forget that my initial comment is snark. I am neither particularly bothered, if there is a genetic, or brain marker, that enables theism - or if there is a not.

In the question of nurture v. nature, I am firmly exactly nowhere.
While it is interesting to ask the question, the assumption that there is a NEED to answer the question at all, is something that I would question.

For me the question of nurture v nature is one of responsibility and acceptance of ones own action.
Now this is not a universal statement, but one that is only valid for me.

by PeWi on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 11:16:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
reduction in ability? What if he lost social skills at the benefit of increased analytical skills?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:16:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dawkins is a gifted writer - his prose style is very, very good - but a mediocre scientist with very little published work.

I don't find his analytical skills very impressive - although I do admire the way he communicates.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 08:28:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And "The God Delusion" is probably the most important (influential, talked-about) book of the year, even if it's not offering the slightest bit of "new" evidence or insight.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:35:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I recommend (again) Paul Campos' provocative book The Obesity Myth which draws the connections between the US obesity hysteria, racism, blaming of the poor, agribiz turning food into corn-based malnutritious fodder, and enormous profits for the diet/spa/gym industry.  We have Paul to thank, I believe, for the very useful phrase "anorexic ideation".

Also Susan Bordo's book Unbearable Weight, which tackles the feminist/gendered issues raised by the anti-fat crusade.

It's interesting how markers of wealth and poverty shift or do not shift over time;  being tanned was once a dead giveaway of one's inferior status as an outdoor labourer, and well-bred gents and ladies cultivated a ghastly pallor to substantiate their wealth and rank.  Now ghastly pallor is the sign of the factory worker or office drone and people pay big bucks and risk skin cancer to get an "instant tan" under UV lamps so that they can look like a sunbathing Person of Leisure.

At one point, as recently as Dickens if not earlier, plumpness was a sign of affluence and health, and hence plump people were described as "jolly," comfortable, and attractive.  Now it is often a sign of malnutrition due to low income that restricts an industrial-worldista to a diet of corn products and other greases and sugars.  However, as pointed out above, for complex reasons (despite social "tells" such as "you can never be too rich or too thin" we hang onto a perception of "fat" as overnourished, greedy, lazy, wealthy, as in "fat cat").  Fat is also, of course, considered Unmanly (bodily softness, eeee-yew!).  So there's all kind of cultural whammy riding on the BS spewed by the poison-pens at Heritage Foundation...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:35:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
sorry, I got lost in my parens.  shoulda been

However, as pointed out above, for complex reasons (despite social "tells" such as "you can never be too rich or too thin") we hang onto a perception of "fat" as overnourished, greedy, lazy, wealthy, as in "fat cat".  

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:36:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At one point, as recently as Dickens if not earlier, plumpness was a sign of affluence and health, and hence plump people were described as "jolly," comfortable, and attractive.  Now it is often a sign of malnutrition due to low income that restricts an industrial-worldista to a diet of corn products and other greases and sugars. However, as pointed out above, for complex reasons (despite social "tells" such as "you can never be too rich or too thin") we hang onto a perception of "fat" as overnourished, greedy, lazy, wealthy, as in "fat cat". Fat is also, of course, considered Unmanly (bodily softness, eeee-yew!).  So there's all kind of cultural whammy riding on the BS spewed by the poison-pens at Heritage Foundation...

Visiting poorer parts of Africa with a group of westerners is revealing. Suddenly the more corpulent members of the group are viewed as richer, having higher status. Fat is wealth, which in men is very manly indeed. Thin is poor, sickly. Sounds kind of feminine.

I write with a group because then you carry your internal status system with you all that more clearly. The clash is enlightening as it illuminates your own prejudices and internalised values.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 08:59:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Suddenly the more corpulent members of the group are viewed as richer, having higher status.

You just have to look at early modern European painting to see the same pattern in action.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 10:13:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]

The Dr Yes Cosmic Therapy Unit

For most of the 90's I was involved in a huge self-financed art project about happiness and creativity. We created a complete fiction of a 100 year old 'multi-global company', Bonk Business Inc.  - one hundred years of history, advertising, machines. innovations etc. We created enough stuff to fill 1000 m2 of exhibition space which then toured Europe and the States.

It was a giant folly. But almost everybody 'got it' - except the conservatives. We have many letters from ordinary people saying that the exhibition made them feel optimistic and happy again because so much effort had gone into something so ridiculous. For us it was a complex joke poking fun at business and the art establishment.

By way of illustration: One of the technologies we 'invented' was Cosmic Therapy. The machine above was also shown (by invitation) at a medical/health trade fair in Helsinki. (we also did this in Sao Paolo). We had a doctor type and a nurse type on a stand who invited people to test the Dr Yes therapy by sitting in it. They were promised that it would make them happier. The 'technology' was explained to them (of course it made no sense). Then our 'patients' would sit in the machine and don the helmet while the 'doctor' adjusted the controls and the 'patient's' friends and onlookers were gathered around smiling and laughing.

Everyone reported after the therapy that they were much happier, and the queue to try it out got longer. They all understood that it was a game - but the happiness was genuine. They were happy to take part in the 'folly'.

Not so a major German medical device manufacturer from a big stand nearby. They wanted to buy the rights. They wanted to make money from this amazing device. We told them it really didn't do anything. They thought we were negotiating. In the end they got very angry.

At the opening of the exhibition at the Finnish Embassy in Washington DC the old bepearled establishment matrons were peeing themselves - they got it. The young invited spinmeisters were wandering aound looking totally bemused. They didn't get it. Confronted by a fiction even more rídiculous than their own, their powers of analysis failed them.

Maybe the fiction in which they live can only be exposed by a greater fiction.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 03:07:38 AM EST
Not so a major German medical device manufacturer from a big stand nearby. They wanted to buy the rights. They wanted to make money from this amazing device. We told them it really didn't do anything. They thought we were negotiating. In the end they got very angry.

Brilliant, Sven, Monty Python at its best...

This must be the anarchism our friend said he was missing......

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 04:47:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there some sort of documentation of this in visual form? If so, I suggest to pair it up with the film Czech Dream for the ET film blog.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 10:15:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wrote (but did not direct) a movie for TV called the 'Cosmic Sucker' (1997) which can be downloaded from Bitorrent, I think: it features the entire Bonk history in a crazy story about an electromagnetic catalclysm in Europe that wipes out all electronics. I won't tell you what caused the cataclysm ;-)

Some people have raved about it, but I was a bit unhappy with some of the acting, including my own small part.

http://www.oneworld.org.yu/cosmice.htm

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:46:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I really can't wait to get a fast connection in the Netherlands!!! This oughta be good.
by Nomad on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 07:49:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I found it quite amusing that the director spoke/speaks hardly a word of English. But he is an old and dear friend, and a whizz at coming in under budget. He also has the same magpie mind as me.

Also that Yle, the state broadcaster, agreed that a Finnish production be made in English and broadcast with subtitles in primetime. I think it was a first.

And you should be warned that after it was shown internationally we got a lot of calls from a Swedish gentleman who told us 'I am naken on my bed, and I am playing with my rocket'. Controlled insanity can push some people over the edge.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 08:22:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Really, Sven. Sometimes your comments just make my brain flip 360 degrees.

I will proceed to watch your creation (and acting)... but now with some caution. :)

by Nomad on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 10:39:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Caution is advised ;-)

enjoy!

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:05:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
priceless...dada lives...

one of my top 5 fave ET comments evvah!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:37:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The story that I originally wrote about Cosmic Therapy explained that NASA had a problem in the early days of space exploration due to the exposure of orbiting astronauts to cosmic particles. Their libidos were pumped up and constant sexual arousal was a major problem in spacesuit design.

Thus the reason that astronauts returning to Earth were unable to walk was not due to the effects of gravity on muscles, but the effect of cosmic particles on a single muscle. Suffering 'The Irish Toothache' for a couple of days in a tight-fitting suit was a problem that only a Bonk scientist, Professor Hans Dröppeldorf, was able to resolve.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:53:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Material consumption and security are two manifestations of strive for certainty, as material goods look more certain than "alternatives": spiritual experiences, friendships. The civilization is playing heavily on certainties ,increasingly stronger. Strive for most certain and highest returns is certainly a feature of capitalism. Faith in certainties only will be part of our undoing, probably.

It might be true that consumption is happiness for some. People are genuinely striving for a large mansions and lavish life, and it is believable that achieving that status can be fulfilling. But I guess, most of the people do not really want to sacrifice much for material welfare, but are forced to believe and seek it. Isn't that just a plain compulsion of few to impose their lifestyle to all others?

by das monde on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 08:05:03 AM EST
The task of turning this around is enormous, and the transition to a low-consumption economy has to be carefully managed to ensure a soft landing. The greatest dilemma is that the shift could produce a damaging feedback loop - this is Kasser's anxiety. Lower consumption could lead to economic instability and increased insecurity;

This is the subject of a comment/question I raised in Geezer's wonderful Stuff diary, a week ago.

Let me try to reword my query in the present context.

  • If consumption constitutes a large part of what is known as GDP;
  • And growth in GDP is considered vital to economic "health" [ie, expansion];
  • And drastically reduced consumption is an urgent requirement with regard to sustainable development, the environment and reduction in North/South economic inequality ...

What shall we do, then? Hang in there in the hopes that laissez-faire will laisser faire? And what about fiscal, financial and banking policies: out-of control banking policies, compound interest and "creative" financial instruments that are jeopardizing current and future generations' welfare.

Bizarre as it may seem, we're at a point where we need to demand the means to decrease our own consumption!

How should that demand be expressed and presented?  

by Loefing on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 03:09:06 PM EST
Here you have me stumped.  What is to be done?

If we continue on present hyperconsumerist, liquidationist course the outcomes are predictable and already in train:  scarcity, rationing by fiat, rationing by wealth (and the associated corruption, bullying, privateering, blackmarketing, etc -- just check the shady record of the foreign aid world for the prostitution of hungry women and kids by NGO workers in exchange for food, etc)... not a pretty picture, and it could get worse:  the world as one big refugee camp policed by Halliburton and  surveilled by satellite, patrolled by taser-wielding Kapos too grateful for their three squares and a bed to feel any solidarity with the untermenschen they control.  Orwellian dystopia to the max, ugh.  That's a nasty future and I sure hope we are not heading there.

I think it's too much to ask for a sudden 180 in government/industry (the governo-industrial complex) -- the fin de siecle atmosphere among our elite is not conducive to new ideas, but to hanging on desperately to accumulated wealth and old paradigms, and shooting anyone who threatens the ancien regime.  Change, if it comes, I suspect will have to come from below:  from innumerable acts of secession from the established system, innumerable refuseniks and deserters and innovators, innumerable local systems filling the huge interstices in the oversized and creaking armature of the industrial state.

So maybe that is my answer to your question:  we have to create, ourselves, the means of reducing our demand.  And that, I feel, involves both individual conscience and collective support.

One example:  It is easier not to buy if you can lend and borrow among neighbours.  It is easier not to starve if we share food.  But the unwritten law of capitalism is that No One Must Share:  this law is nowhere enforced more absurdly and vigorously than in the realm of intelprop, but the whole society observes it increasingly:  each person must own a garage full of every possible tool, rather than ask a neighbour or a friend if they can spare a rip saw for a couple of days.  This is great for industrialism:  you can sell the same product to each of 1000 people in the same village, even if each of them only needs to use it once or twice a year.  But it's bankrupting the biosphere and undermining social capital at the same time, since the complex web of obligation and gratitude built by lending and sharing is what keeps communities together.

Rebuilding that web of community and reducing consumption are inseparable activities.  You can never do just one thing:  rebuilding the health of the soil improves the crop, which improves the health of the farmer...


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 04:28:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Note: my final question was somewhat rhetorical.

I agree 100% with what you've written, with the exception that I think you may be underestimating the overall economic picture.

What I was responding to was the question raised by Kasser, re what many of us have already recognized, and thousands more do by the day, as being an imperative for a major wind-down in consumption. This increasing enlightenment is already having considerable effect on Industrialize economies.

Given the economic unknowns of dealing with awakening populations: backing off in relation to debt, conscious and deliberate decrease in consumption, the question our Leaders need to be asking themselves [and us] is how this consumerist wind-down might be accomodated without resulting in economic chaos. This is their job, of course, but it doesn't happen to be their corporate backers' favorite subject ...

It's quite fine and dandy that we should be creating our own, local means of subsistence and nurturing communal support and existence/subsistence, but the fact remains that were the majority of the Western populations to drop out of the consumer main stream without some kind of gradual, coherent adaptation in terms of policy, it's the rest of the world that will suffer cataclysm. We cannot and must not imagine that our actions will be without effect on the rest of the world.

So, I restate my question, again, in new terms. How are we to design the wind-down of the mega-consumer, industrial, colonial 'West' in such a way that the disadvantaged in our own societies, and beyond, do not suffer disproportionately?

Or should it matter to us?

by Loefing on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 06:48:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not sure the winddown would actually hurt the poor. As I see it, it is the poor who paying for the overconsumption of the rich, paying twice by producing it under hazardous conditions and then not be able to afford buying it.

But sure, if the west (tm) stopped buying stuff today, millions of people would loose their jobs. There is a transitional problem.

Then this angle perhaps works:

How do you create a proletariat? By reducing the populations possibility of sustaning itself, by way of removing control over the means of production (enclosure,  regulations on trades favoring big biz, intellectual enclosure).

Then how do you uncreate a proletariat? By it regaining means of production. How? Ok, now it gets tough (and I should get sleeping). Backtracking the above looks like a starting point, but to what state? It is all about not being hindered to use the means of production so that you can produce what you need. A general rule allowing use of idle stuff, perhaps? Idle stuff like houses noone lives in, land that is not used, factories that has been shut down. All intellectual property is a sense idle as an idea can never be used up and can be used simultaneosly by unlimited people. Squatters unite!

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 09:23:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sin Patron, aka 'The Take'

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:31:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How do you create a proletariat? By reducing the populations possibility of sustaning itself, by way of removing control over the means of production (enclosure,  regulations on trades favoring big biz, intellectual enclosure).

Then how do you uncreate a proletariat? By it regaining means of production.

by rolling back the Enclosures.

and that gets us back to land reform and agricultural reform, reform of zoning laws, land use, rights in usufruct, preservation of the productive commons.

one of the serious problems with compound interest is that money can multiply in geometric progression whereas biosolar returns are annual and fixed.  one thing this means, as I've been mulling over lately, is that those who control the money can kite ahead of its inevitable devaluation:  they can own, at least today, enough money to buy the whole world several times over, whereas a peasant family must work and scrimp and save for years to accumulate enough surplus to buy an extra acre or two.  

this means that inevitably, the money-owners can buy all the land;  their money will eventually devalue as its theoretical value spirals way out of touch with reality (see earlier posts on the absurdity of compound interest and how it forces either steady inflation or abrupt "resets"), but they can surf the moving wavefront of compounding money and -- essentially -- buy up the world, Enclosing everything and forcing the non-wealthy into a global "dispossessed lumpenproletariat" -- thereby rendering that class incapable of self-sufficiency and abjectly dependent on centrally controlled sources of food, clothing, artifacts etc -- which in turn creates a pool of cheap desperate hungry labour and a captive market for mass produced stuff.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:38:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it all really comes down to "no land, no choice" -- if you don't have access to (I'm not necessarily saying "ownership" of, just access to) productive land, then you don't eat except at the pleasure of someone who does;  under fully Enclosed capitalism -- where the commons has been eradicated and all land is privately owned and defended by the armed force of the State against trespass -- the landless have no choice but to "work for the Man" if they want to eat...

...which was the whole point of the Enclosure movement in the first place:  not only to secure more pasturage for the capitalists' favourite beast of the time (sheep), but to ensure the existence of a dispossessed proletariat who could be forced, through hunger, to work for wages as low as was compatible with keeping them (barely) alive to tend their masters' mills.

only a person or family or tribe with the ability to feed herself by her/their own efforts is in any position to say "no" to the Boss.  the rest of us, whether we care to face the fact squarely or not, are wage slaves:  we eat or don't, we have shelter or don't, at the pleasure of the bosses who control our access to money and hence to food and shelter.  we are not allowed to build shelters of our own (that is called "squatting" and "unpermitted construction" and is punished by demolition and/or imprisonment and/or fines);  and the ag industry is moving with ever more open intent towards making it illegal for anyone to grow their own food w/o paying a money rent for "patented" cultivars.

the money system is totalising:  nothing and no one is allowed to exist outside it...  the days when you could pay your property tax in potatoes are long gone.

every act of charity, every act of barter, every effort of self-support, seems like a small act of resistance in such a system...


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Dec 9th, 2007 at 07:35:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How are we to design the wind-down of the mega-consumer, industrial, colonial 'West' in such a way that the disadvantaged in our own societies, and beyond, do not suffer disproportionately?

Or should it matter to us?

damn right it should matter to us!

personally i'm coming round to thinking only fashion could move the meme fast enough.

we need all the angelina jolie-brad pitts, the david beckhams, etc of this world to saturate the media to make cheap, renewable energy a must-have for everyone.

a CRAZE....

 like hula hoops lol...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:47:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup, advertising and celebrity has to be at the core of the solution.

I'm beginning to lean towards strict constraints on advertising.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 10:39:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
PS: Yes, to sharing and community building. Absolutely. I guess my point is that, while taking care of ourselves and our communities, we not cave in entirely, losing sight of the power we do wield to make changes of a higher order.
by Loefing on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 07:54:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bizarre as it may seem, we're at a point where we need to demand the means to decrease our own consumption!

not so bizarre, merely logical...

tantric buddhism says 'you have to go back up the way you went down...'

for instance i have to ask (and wait aeons for) permission to buy solar panels.

the more people do this the cheaper solar panels (PV) will become and more people will be able to afford them, which will make them cheaper, etc....not to mention more efficient...

the more of us that do it now, the more the pump gets primed..

it would perhaps be more cunning to wait, but i don't think we have the time....

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:43:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved - not by relying on the good intentions of individuals (and their ability to act on that coffee-stained pamphlet), but by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax.

I seem to recall that the early 1940s was a time of extraordinary social mobilisation, men volunteering to be shot at, and the like. I think this gave the propaganda campaign a bit of a boost.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 07:37:38 PM EST
demand reduction in the USUK bloc in WWII was linked with war rhetoric, as in "comply with rationing to defeat the Evil Hun," thus invoking vengeful and hateful feelings and nationalist jingo to justify the voluntary (and involuntary) hardships.  they weren't called Survival Gardens, they were called Victory Gardens.  there was an effort to make people on the home front feel that they too were warriors, they too had a share in the "glory and heroism" of war, they were Doing Their Bit to Defeat Hitler, a personalised enemy.

one could easily imagine selling a renewable energy programme in the US based on anti-Arab racism and war metaphors:  Be a Patriot and Defeat the Evil Sheikhs by Riding Your Bike to Work!  some have already ventured into this memespace (Maher, for one).  but the WWII rhetoric counted on a "victory is within our grasp" model, i.e. we will suffer privations and hardships for N years and then we will win and live happily ever after ("tomorrow, just you wait and see").

but throttling back the industrial destruction machinery to a survivable rate is not a temporary "special period" after which we will all get to live in Jetsons-land or over the rainbow -- it implies a permanent alteration of lifestyle and culture requiring a commitment more similar to religious or political conversion, i.e. declaring allegiance to a cause greater than one's own lifetime.  here is where "for our children" is a useful handle for people trying to get a grip on the seriousness/urgency of the situation --  although the level of selfishness in popular consumer culture today is so extreme that even this may not work any more.

I dunno.  I am flummoxed.  I think the most promising avenue of social transformation is food and health -- that is about as personal as it gets.  and while there may be (self-interested) downsides to giving up cars, say, there are no downsides to eating really good fresh local food -- it tastes better and it's better for the eater's personal health, as well as being socially altruistic and so on.  it's win-win-win.  in this instance, hedonism seems to align with conscience rather than pulling against it.  

after all, the conflict between industrialism and health -- health of workers, health of communities, health of the public, health of ecosystems, health of the biosphere -- is really the whole point.  industrialism undermines health, even as it delivers more and more elaborate and expensive workarounds, bandaids, and desperate interventions to patch up the damage.  health is a big concern for affluent people in consumerlandia;  it may be here that the mirror can be held up that shows the madness of hyperconsumerism for what it is:  really, really, really bad for our health.  and food is where it gets up close and personal.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 08:15:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quoting my compadre Stan in a recent post at FS (slightly edited):

The existence of a Doomsday Seed Vault run by Agribiz seems a fitting post in conjunction with Wirzba's reflections through what might be rightly described as a Christian agrarian socialist perspective (he wrote the intro for Wendell Berry's booked collection of essays entitled The Art of the Commonplace [...]

Each day I become more convinced by the aggregation of evidence that a food-praxis mode of resistance must be thrown into the middle of the political mix. In the Food and Finance pamphlet we have over at IA, we've attempted to unpack finance as a dominator practice, but the important point is that this domination is exercised over and through food... so this relation of money as a dominator-medium to our most recurrent dependency is there for any of us who want to drop down from the theoretical clouds and put the living human body back into our politics.

From the underground food movements described in Sandor Katz' excellent book (The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved), to the feminist food praxis of Susan Bordo and Penny Van Esterik, to the issues related to climate change that have now captured the attention (if not the clarity) of the general American public... this is an issue that goes both broad and deep. And it is deeply, disruptively political, whether you are challenging a homeowners association on the right to grow a vegetable garden to asking elected officials why they ocntinue to subsidize Archer-Daniels-Midland, Monsanto, and Cargill.



The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:29:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What language is that?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 10:31:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
English, last I looked :-)  if you want to contest one or more points raised, go right ahead;  surely ET readers are not easily scared by polysyllables, even unfamiliar ones :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 07:05:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
About the vault --

This is a project started and sustained by the government of Norway. I doubt that short-sighted profit-maximizers in agribusiness are looking at post-doomsday profits from their contributions. The views in the article you cite are out of line. The goddamn vault is built for to last for generations, to survive a nuclear war and the melting of Antarctica. That isn't about corporations hording seeds for themselves. It have something to do with people who feel a little bit as I do. The purpose of the project hits me in the gut with a feeling that is deep and hard to describe, but somehow central to who I am.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 06:27:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The purpose of the project hits me in the gut with a feeling that is deep and hard to describe

me too.  but not, I think, the same feeling.

to know that those who are busiest burning down the house are investing in a fireproof safe does not make me feel anything other than... hmmm... a kind of futile, smouldering rage.  Monsanto has made it their business and deliverate policy to pollute the genomes of cultivars worldwide, and they have the insufferable chutzpah to claim a do-gooder prize for investing in a last-ditch seed vault... no, somehow it just makes me want to heat up some tar and pluck a few chickens.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 07:08:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Engdahl does not seem to have his facts straight.

The Arctic Doomsday Seed Vault

I hate to be the one to spoil a good rumor, and just when it was just taking off....but, there are several factual errors in the report that started this thread. Let me just cite the one that has gained the most traction on this board: Monsanto is NOT involved in funding the Seed Vault, directly or indirectly. Not a penny. The Vault is being built by Norway and paid for by the government, 100%. The operating costs will be paid by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and Norway, 100%. (at a MUCH lower cost than reported in some media) How do I know all of this? I am the Executive Director of the Trust. We receive NO funding from Monsanto, neither does the Norwegian government! Monsanto has had no involvement in the planning, implementation or funding of the facility. None.

Since you should not trust everyone who claims to be the Executive Director of the Trust, there homepage is a good place to start.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust

The Global Crop Diversity Trust was founded by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Bioversity International, acting on behalf of the foremost international research organizations in this field (CGIAR). The Trust is currently jointly hosted in Rome by FAO and Bioversity International.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust

Australia (AusAID)
Brazil (EMBRAPA)
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/UN Foundation
Canada (CIDA)
CGIAR Centres
Colombia (Ministry of Agriculture)
DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred
Egypt (Ministry of Agriculture)
Ethiopia
Gatsby Charitable Foundation
Germany
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Grains Research and Development Corporation
India (Ministry of Agriculture)
International Seed Federation
Ireland (Irish Aid)
Italy (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
New Zealand (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry)
Norway (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Rockefeller Foundation
Sweden (Sida)
Switzerland (SDC)
Syngenta AG
Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture
Systemwide Genetic Resources Programme
United Kingdom
United Nations Foundation
United States of America (USAID)
World Bank - CGIAR

Please download this document on funds pledged and raised to date

The pdf shows that the only corporate money making it into the top ten are the Gates foundation. Otherwise it is governments, Sweden and Norway being the largest donors.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Dec 7th, 2007 at 10:19:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If Monsanto and Syngenta have nothing to do with it then the creepiness factor diminishes enormously.  Bill Gates is kinda creepy, but even the Dark Lord of Bad Code is not in the same league with those two.

I will allow the tar pot to cool down, and the chickens can stop eying me anxiously.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Dec 7th, 2007 at 07:29:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Syngenta is on the list but I doubt that their 1,247 million (including their foundation) out of 140 millions buy them much influence.

Rechecking the list, I realise that I checked the wrong column when comparing the amounts in my last comment. I checked the one with different currency nominations. Rechecking I would change my statement to: The pdf shows that the only corporate money making it into the top nine are the Gates foundation. Otherwise it is governments, Great Britain and Norway being the largest donors after the Gates foundation.

Grains Research & Development Corporation is number ten with 5 millions, Sygenta (including their foundation) eleven and Dupont Pioneer Hi-breed on position twelve. I would place it in despiccable attempts to buy forgiveness for their sins (with money coming from the same sins), but it is not close to control over it.

Their board looks pretty solid too, including
The Global Crop Diversity Trust

Vice-Chair: Wangari Maathai (Kenya)
Professor Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

And they have their board agendas online, which is good for transparency.

So I think they are the real deal. But there are many other good targets for the tar...

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Dec 8th, 2007 at 01:08:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DeAnander:
here is where "for our children" is a useful handle for people trying to get a grip on the seriousness/urgency of the situation --  although the level of selfishness in popular consumer culture today is so extreme that even this may not work any more.

I don't see this working at all. It works for people who already get it, and marginally for people who are a little behind.

To the people who don't get it all, it means nothing. (Conservatives don't do empathy or reality, remember.)

DeAnander:

there are no downsides to eating really good fresh local food -- it tastes better and it's better for the eater's personal health, as well as being socially altruistic and so on.  it's win-win-win.  in this instance, hedonism seems to align with conscience rather than pulling against it.  

This doesn't work either, unfortunately. The food may be good but who wants to do menial cooking work, except as an occasional hobby?

And health is hardly a big draw. Fitness could be, but health - not so much, I think.

DeAnander:

I dunno.  I am flummoxed.

I'm not. I just don't like any of the solutions that are likely to work in practice because none of them are pleasant.

The most promising approach is probably A Movement - international, positive rather than oppositional, popularised by soundbites and repetition, possibly quasi-religious.

The Greens already have this, but they're not socially or politically coherent enough, and they have too much faddy Birkenstock baggage to be taken seriously. (As non-Greens would see it.)

The challenge would be getting governments to play along. Somehow I don't see that happening. And Al Gore's Powerpoint politics aren't enough of a substitute.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 02:58:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The most promising approach is probably A Movement - international, positive rather than oppositional, popularised by soundbites and repetition, possibly quasi-religious.

bingo..ravers planting trees...

semisnark

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 05:21:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems to me that there's a bit of internal inconsistency here. If a low rate of consumerism is ok, or even desired, then why do we need to worry about poor people? Practically everybody in the West has enough to eat, or at least they would if they weren't so involved in the consumerist marketplace, wasting their money on Walmart clothing and cigarettes. There are plenty of soup kitchens and shelters around, so no problems even for those at the very extreme end of the non-consumerist economy.

What level of consumption is the goal? What is the specific scenario? For example, modern medicine requires quite a bit of supporting technological infrastructure, and is built on the idea that we will always be able to escalate the war against disease. If we were to live like Thoreau in 1830, or San Francisco hippies in 1970, we wouldn't need that sort of expensive and non-sustainable medical system. "But think of the humanity!"

by asdf on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 09:48:04 AM EST
   *  Replacing regular stuff with green stuff isn't getting very close to the root of the problem. If for some reason you need to give someone a motorized spice rack, then a motorized spice rack with a more efficient motor is quite clearly better. But it's also quite clearly beside the point.

    * Stuff itself is a problem less because of its environmental toll (though that is quite high) than because it's increasingly meaningless. Think of your friends. Are many of them lacking in stuff? Or is the first question that forms in their minds when a new gift arrives from under the tree: "Where am I going to put this?"

    * But this pleasure gap allows for a concentrated opportunity to begin rethinking our economic life. If stuff isn't valuable anymore, what is? Time, clearly. A gift of time -- a coupon for a back rub, or a trip to the museum, or a dinner prepared someday in the future -- is a gift whose exchange rate is figured in a stronger currency (if you're an economics major, think euros vs. dollars). Or gifts can come embedded with time already spent: a jar of homemade jam, a stack of firewood in the back yard.

    * Gifts can also be reconfigured to remove some of the hyperindividualism that marks our consumer society. Ask yourself what you'd rather receive: another thing, or a homemade card saying that, say, a cow had been purchased in your name and was now providing milk for a Tanzanian family that hadn't had milk before. (Note: this line of reasoning is probably especially strong for those of us who are Christians, and recall that the occasion we're celebrating is the birth of a man who said to give all that we had to the poor.)

    * Since Christmas has long been in the business of baptizing consumption, it's a good place to start eroding consumption's allure. Newfound pleasures from a simpler holiday -- some silence, some companionship -- suddenly start to seem attractive. Maybe that attraction will remain with us even unto February.

footnote

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 04:22:37 PM EST


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