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Friday, August 03, 2007

aesthetic of self denial: environmentalism/anti-consumerism

Why is environmentalism so not fun? Because, at some level, it preaches a message of self denial. Drive less, consume less, change the way you live. In this way, environmentalism and the larger "anti-consumerist" movement represent a modern, non religious variant of the aesthetic of self denial in the West.

I think the weakness of this whole version of the aesthetic of self denial is that it fully enclosed by capitalism. It is, in fact, a critique of the natural and probable results of industrial revolution and as such only retains it power so long as those excesses are present.

Any extension of these idea to the time before the industrial revolution is ridiculous, so that limits the power of the idea as well. But, on the other hand, it's lifestyle is more relevant to the problems of today then sitting in a cave in the Sinai Desert and not eating all day. So it has that going for it.


al said...

I think environmentalism is less about self-denial than it is about correcting a fundamental flaw in economics. If I'm a timber company then all I am incentivized to do is to keep cutting down trees because my quarterly reports are based solely on how many of those trees I can cut and sell. In that calculus though there's no accounting for the lost value of fewer trees in the forest (erosion problems being a chief problem resulting from deforestation). It's the same with every industry: Our economic and business models are flawed in that they do not account for a reduction of natural resources.

And I agree that this is principally a result of the construction of the industrial economy. With the ability to now import goods on a very massive scale while exporting deforestation and depletion of other resources, we now need to adjust our ideas of how we value companies and what a true "profit" is. We're already seeing the beginning of this with emissions trading . What we need though is the environmental version of Sarbanes-Oxley.

Self-denial will never work because too many of us feel too entitled. By fine-tuning the mechanics of capitalism we can make free-markets work for us to improve environmental conditions instead of wholesale exploiting them.

Reelmandy said...

Very interesting. This kinda explains why I have such a problem with activists. Just activists in general, regardless of their cause. So annoying.

Anonymous said...

al's on point.
mandy baffles me with her ignorance.

Reelmandy said...

you baffle me with your anonymity

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