Monday, November 19, 2007

Buy nothing on election day!

Clive Hamilton, author of 'Growth Fetish' On Growth Fetish and Buy Nothing Day

This Saturday, apart from being election day, is Buy Nothing Day (BND). It's on the 23rd in the Americas, but the 24th elsewhere. Anyway, I will participate and encourage you to do so too, or even just think about what you're buying and the resources consumed to produce that product if you really must buy. NOT because I think a world without buying is realistic, but because a day without it IS. And a lifestyle with less buying in general (and even lower salaries) almost certainly IS.

Making change is all about raising consciousness and I see BND as a great way to do that.

And, by the way, try not to buy into any of pomposity and lies that will no doubt be spewed from the mouths of politicians that day either!

A bit over a year ago I was reading a book called Growth Fetish by Aussie mathematician/public thinker, Clive Hamilton. Frankly, the effect it had on me still hasn't worn off! I highly recommend it, but unfortunately it's a hard slog if you're used to lighter reading.

The essential idea is that we, probably internationally, but certainly in Australia, fetishise a economic growth (and other kinds of growth) at the expense of our own wellbeing, not to mention the environment. Hamilton also offers approaches to economic and political practices, both at the state and individual level, to counteract our various growth fetishes and so regain balance, personal wellbeing and the integrity of the environment. (Read the Wikipedia article for a more scholarly summary).

While we probably don't need to read Growth Fetish to understand such well-worn truths as "money can't buy happiness" and "over-consumption doesn't increase satisfaction", it is particularly clearly put by Hamilton, and in a calm, unpretentious and empirical fashion.

The main idea that really stuck with me (but perhaps not the most critical one) was the personal application – that avoiding buying too much stuff is good for our sense of wellbeing. AND that the opposite is true. I'm not sure I am capable of applying the logic of this idea particularly well in day to day life, although I did find that you can learn to recognise the feeling of regret/disappointment on considering exiting a shopping precinct without having bought anything, acknowledge it, and gently push it out of your mind. If you have realised that I am in fact female you may not believe this, but you will believe me when I say I made up for it with expensive impulse purchases on other occasions!

The perfect YouTube accompaniment to this post just popped up on my radar (via Gam)

What about the more broadscale application of Hamilton's ideas? I'm in favour of capitalism – with careful regulation. And I'm in favour, at the individual level, of consumption – at a moderate and fully-conscious level, and according respect to our planet's delicate ecosystem. The problem Hamilton brings up is the totally unrestrained, even unconscious, overconsumption and capitulation to the pressure to earn incomes higher than what we need that fund this overconsumption. Naturally I'm also against the various deleterious effects that the consumption of resources for the production of goods and produce has on the environment too.

The study of marketing has put many dollars and massive human resources into devising ways to manipulate human nature to encourage us not only to spend more money but to earn more so we can spend more. Surprise, surprise, this is not actually good for us. Hamilton's rather radical answer was to put an end to marketing as we know it. I am highly skeptical, but how about this alternative? I like to imagine that an equal amount of brainpower and dollars as is now put into researching human behaviour for marketing purposes could one day be put into understanding human behaviour for the purpose of "transitioning to a post-growth society" as Hamilton would put it. For instance, imagine having a body of knowledge that explains with science rather than proverbs how it is that people gain happiness and contentment from moderation. Actually, a great deal of knowledge could simply be derived from observing tenets of marketing and experimenting with reversing these...

I'm not alone in thinking we are at a critical point in time with regard our natural environment and ecosystem. It seems that unrestrained capitalism (or a belief that economic growth is a necessity) must inevitably lead to over-consumption of natural resources and a majority of unhappy people. So why would we support it?

As usual, I welcome your thoughts.

A post on the upcoming election to come very soon because I see it as very much related. The Liberal party slogan for this election is "Going for growth" – obscene wouldn't you say?

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Anonymous Dima said...

Well, this is probably the classical sociology course i am taking, but you would probably like to read Marx. I think Hamilton borrows his concepts from Marx. Particularly the idea of "commodity fetishism".

November 20, 2007 4:38 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The answer is that this planet needs less people. Less people to consume, less people to pollute, less stress on the planet.

But with more and more people, how do you to allocate this planet's finite resources?

Marketers only make the problem worse. They create an artificial desire for something, which depending on your perspective, gives consumers satisfaction, or is a waste of resources. Is this desire justified??

When was the last time you saw a TV commercial and thought this product will add intrinsic benefit to my life?

I believe chuck palahniuk put it well when he said:

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need... We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact.

November 20, 2007 4:13 pm  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thanks for the book recommendation- I don't read much these days, but it sounds like it's worth a look :)

November 21, 2007 11:37 pm  

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