Arguments against embracing sustainable choices often suggest life will be less prosperous. Philosopher Kate Soper argues that the first step toward a sustainable lifestyle is changing the things we appreciate. Modern life has made us frantic and despite technical advances, people work more than ever, particularly in the United States. Soper’s new book, Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism, suggests that consumerism has many downsides that, if recognized, will allow people to rethink how they value free time, work-life balance, and the avalanche of choices that define modern life. We can find new joys in more time, slower travel, and lower levels of anxiety. Soper, who is emerita professor of philosophy at London Metropolitan University, is known worldwide for her analysis of needs and consumption, and she has turned to examine humanity’s relationship with nature in recent years.
Soper’s idea is to embrace an alternative hedonism, a different approach to values than consumerism encourages. Less stuff doesn’t mean one is impoverished because it takes so much work to earn enough to keep up. For example, by the end of the 20th century, Americans were spending twice to support their lifestyles as in 1948. As inequality has increased, people have pursued more to support the illusion they are keeping up with the wealthy, who are held out as examples of success because they can buy more than other people. But consumer success is not the only possible definition of success, Soper argues. After COVID-19, our normal expectations have been disrupted. Low-wage workers have been deemed “essential” while others were allowed to stay at home, safe from contact with the virus. Supplies of food and luxury goods have been interrupted, changing how people spend and save their money.
Can we use the lessons of the last year to begin a transition to a new set of values? Soper suggests that a culture war aimed at the absurd suggestions advertising promotes can help break the spell of more stuff for stuff’s sake. She advocates people making free choices based on scientific information with less emphasis on consumer success. Stories and advertising that express the value of using less, reusing more, and enjoying a slower pace can help to reshape people’s expectations. She discusses the role of government, how to uncouple progress from prosperity, and the challenge of organizing socially and politically to make changes that lead to a sustainable economy. Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism is available now on Amazon.
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