Thursday, March 26, 2009

Once Were Consumers

olimme kuluttajia
Originally uploaded by amsterboy
The pamphlet Olimme kuluttajia (We Were Consumers, Tammi) published yesterday by Aleksi Neuvonen and Roope Mokka of Demos Helsinki lays out four scenarios for 2023. The book takes scarce resources and higher price of energy as matters of fact and looks at our future within this context. It quotes on one hand Hannah Arendt in advocating that true freedom is not the freedom to own but the freedom for meaningful and public action and on the other hand scientists that we have reached the climax in the amount of core resources. If we do not change our way of living, in 15 years the climate has warmed up to the extent that certain parts of China and the American East Coast are starting to be unbearable to live in. The book follows the line of thought in the public debate now that the recession could actually be an opportunity to reboot.

The theme spreading across the book is the way we tackle climate change. According to Neuvonen and Mokka, most of us wish that there will be a day when we will be told by The Leader what not to do and until then most of us continue flying and buying in the current accelerating speed - fully aware of its consequences. The reaction is the same as a child who covers his eyes and ears to avoid the bad news. According to the book we need to recognise our role in change for as long as we wait for our elected leaders to make that switch, we are somewhat doomed. Over the last few years politics has actually taken its lessons from consumerism - politics is more a service industry answering people´s wishes than about ethics, ambitions or doing the right and responsible thing. This is very clear in political rhetorics of today. Therefore that SUV will only be banned when the big middle class takes another turn in its consumption. The book is a rare but realistic call for individual responsibility together with others.

The scenarios see control rising as we fight for limited resources. Control is also one of the ways to make people change. Rather than listening to our neighbours through the wall, in 15 years we can follow the ecological footprint of our neighbours from a public record Wastebook. In a world of less, we will surely make sure that our neighbours will not be free riding the system. This has been happening already in some countries in smaller scale for instance by people reporting their neighbours to the authorities when they do not recycle their trash.

The book claims that have moved from Social Democratic I Need Politics to more Centre Liberal I Want Politics. We are seeing the emergence of I Can Politics but the true change happens when we make a shift to We Can. When the media, corporations and governments take a bigger role in showing us the interconnectedness, we move from rights and responsibilities to virtues and pursuing truer happiness through responsible action and more meaningful human relationships. It moves discussion from what I want to what we can do.

This liberation from consumerism and move towards citizenship is quite inspiring and Case Obama is a good example of how it functions as a rhetorical tool. But I end up thinking, after reading the book, what happens when the resources really start running out. What are the arguments for building trust? The book paints a relatively beautiful picture of collective action but I feel it slightly - maybe for the argument´s sake - downplays the conflict and difference of opinion on the tools to make the switch. Politics is about deciding on those alternatives. It is not a question of The Good vs. The Bad but different strategies maybe even towards a shared goal. Does the urgency make our political system more responsible or more vicious What kind of leaders to we get, wish and deserve?

Olimme kuluttajia makes a convincing case that we have no alternative but to change. But I recognise I am already somewhat in the inner circle of this stuff. Reading it makes me reorient my professional focus to enhancing those positive developments and using my writing skills to formulate those attractive arguments to convince ever bigger parts of the population. This requires reaching over the aisle and bringing the engineer, marketeer and politician to the same table to build that map of interconnectedness. And yes, this is terribly exciting.

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