Marie Kondo and the Anthropocene

The Netflix craze of the year is the comforting appearance of Marie Kondo bringing her domestic Zen presence to Western homes.  De-cluttering as crisis-management, a sort of pious lifestyle comfort-viewing for the existentially distressed. 

It’s the world being sorted by folding towels properly.

But there’s a deeper current at play, and that’s the crisis of accumulation. Even Marx knew this: “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! …Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake”. [1] This is the essence of capital.

Of course you can’t “de-clutter” a system that is based entirely on persuading you to buy things you don’t need, just as a beach clean-up  from an economy spewing out single-use products is doomed to only the most self-denying branches of cheery lifestyle media.

We live in a world balanced by two contradictory imperatives: to constantly throw away and discard, and simultaneously to relentlessly accumulate and hoard possessions.

We are taught these behaviours and have to navigate through a world of semiotics and a bombardment of advertising

Kondo

Kondo’s craze is like the reality of western life spilling out of the garage, seeping out of the hoarder’s dysfunctional bedroom and crashing through the kitchen door. As a metaphor for the recent IPCC report it hits the mark.

Cycles of endless production and endless consumption are the be-all-and-end-all of the capitalist economy. Last year brought the revelation to the mainstream mind that this is entirely un-survivable, that free-market economics are a threat to life on Earth.

In the face of a crisis like climate change, which clearly demands collective action and strong regulation, our ecology has come into direct conflict with our assumed wisdom about the world. We need to cut our emissions so deeply that it threatens the whole growth model of free-market capitalism.

Less

Economists – not just ecologists –  are now talking about moving beyond the idea of growth.

We know chasing endless growth doesn’t deliver well-being or economic stability and is leading to widening and disfiguring inequality.

We know that endless growth is causing such resource-depletion and biodiversity loss as to cause an imminent threat to our ecosystems.

The threats and warnings are everywhere and have been for decades, hidden from view by: our lack of immediate exposure; our inability to process or conceive of such things; our complicity in the system and benefits of such economics; and by vested interests pumping propaganda into our world.

But now it’s getting hotter and the relentless build-up of evidence is overwhelming.

“Researchers at MIT warn that if climate change remains unchecked, over half a billion people will, from 2070 onwards, experience humid heat waves that will kill even healthy people in the shade within 6 hours.” [2]

It’s clear we need to have a strategic economy, focusing on parts we want to expand or extract. But this is impossible if we don’t own or control our own resources.

And this is difficult for many for us as a society who are psychologically immersed in and wedded to the idea of growth and accumulation.

Our children grow, plants grow, to get more is good, to get more and more is better, without end.

But children stop growing and plants grow and die in a cycle of life.

Insubordination

Our fetishisation of growth has to stop.

Some excellent words from the catchily titled:  Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Their report on how to reverse biodiversity collapse states simply:

“A key constituent of sustainable pathways is steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth…”

“…That implies incorporating the reduction of inequalities into development pathways, reducing overconsumption and waste and addressing environmental impacts such as externalities of economic activities, from the local to the global scales…”

“…Such an evolution would also entail a shift beyond standard economic indicators such as gross domestic product to include those able to capture more holistic, long-term views of economics and quality of life.”

Of course such a challenge seems impossible and the idea that we should do less, produce less, consume less and avert our eyes from the relentless task of consumption is so alien to what we have been groomed to understand.

But it is not impossible.

But to succeed we must move beyond not just lifestyle-environmentalism but the silos of social movements. To succeed we must not just embrace degrowth but we must find the revolutionary politics which “sparks joy”.

Degrowth is refusing to be subordinated.

Refusing to engage in consumerism is an act of insubordination.

As John Holloway said in a recent talk in Edinburgh:  

“The failure of capitalism is likely to become more and more evident. It will be crucial to show that this is not a failure of the capitalists to manage the economy, but the failure of capital to subordinate us adequately to ensure its own reproduction, that we are the crisis of capital. Our lack of subordination not only secures a multiplicity of small successes, but shakes the system and pushes beyond it.”


[1] https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch24.htm

[2] http://climateguide.nl/2019/03/09/non-survivable-humid-heat-for-over-500-million-people/

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