The Naked DebatePosted by solitaire in blog May 17, 2013
Have you read my new paper The Naked Environmentalist?
All about sex, status, values and the power of social media to replace capitalism. Plus more sex.
You can download the pdf
Or read as an e-book
The reviews have started on Twitter and Amazon. It’s a little bit controversial I’m told.
leave a comment
May 19, 2013
Thanks for the new version, Soli, and well done. In case it is of any interest to others, I am repeating here my initial set of comments, to see if they spark any debate. Am still mulling it all over and you have provided an amazing amount of food for thought.
1) Is it all about sex? Desire also relates to power and status and imitation, the desire to be like someone else or become them, ie take their place in some hierarchy of prestige and access. You could argue it all reduces to sex, but I wonder. Rene Girard the great French cultural anthropologist has a theory of desire based on imitation (mimetic desire) – beyond desire to meet basic needs, there is imitative desire based on models (third parties). Past the first rung of the Maslow ladder, we are constantly checking what everyone else is up to and copying them. A lot of this is to do with sex, but most of it is about fitting in, defending what we have, and grabbing something from someone. Girard turns this into an epic social theory and uses it to found his vision of religion as sacrificial violence that prevents wider violence in society based on the uncontrolled spiralling of competitive desires. (His analysis lends grim weight to your fears about the regressive effects of any return to a society based on scarcities of basic goods.)
2) Postwar capitalism is the first mass civilisation to escape scarcities of basic goods and to enable large-scale consumption of what were once luxury / elite goods. And what that means is that we can escape the cycles of violence and scapegoating predicted in Girard’s theory of social origins. Mass production and affluence in the West and in many places beyond means that most of us can almost all meet basic needs and then indulge in mimetic desire-fulfilment – advertising is about little else. But how do we then distinguish ourselves? The answer is through income differentials, the evolution of taste, group identities, fashion and snobberies, and continual innovation in goods and services. But what that has meant – beyond keeping violent struggle at a low level for over half a century in the West – is that there is increasing competition for inherently restricted positional goods (status goods) – as analysed by Fred Hirsch in Social Limits to Growth (1976), an important book to consider in your argument. What you are suggesting is that we can transfer all this activity to the virtual world, a tempting idea. That could continue to defuse violence based on scarcity and rivalry, and also reduce environmental loads, on the face of it. But…
3) Assuming we had a virtual Second Life of amazing richness and resolution, why would it sate us? After a virtual day of consuming ethereal goods and services, especially sexual ones, why would we not want the real things even more once we unplugged ourselves from the Matrix?
4) What would stop enormous rebound effects, as we all consumed very energy-intensive virtual lifestyles and then resumed the work of desire in the material world?
5) Is not the key issue the need to promote what I call Disposable Income Capture and Storage (DICS), to prevent rebound and backfire effects and to lock up spending capacity in ways that benefit sustainability and bust the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction? My colleague Prof. Roland Clift at Surrey tells our SD students that he recommends discretionary consumption if possible at a level such that we remove our capacity to keep consuming – eg buying a very expensive classic long-life suit or dress; buying expensive artwork for home and garden, etc. The goods bought provide long-lasting satisfactions and status, but also are so dear that you can’t keep doing it. Potentially carbon-intensive disposable income is thus locked up. The policy pointer here is towards VAT or some other instrument that favours long-life products and ‘servicisation’.
6) You can take DICS further: locking up disposable cash in long-term Green bonds etc etc.
7) You are right about Jesus, Gandhi and Buddha. They have in common what Girard recommends as the cure for competitive mimetic desire: in this case, the model you copy is someone who has renounced the competitive game of copying.You imitate their lack of desire for goods and services and their intense desire instead for relationship, conversation, companionship, contemplation, prayer and visiting people needing care. Note that this set of values abolishes the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction in favour of a three-way nexus between self, others and God. The drawback is that this model is so very demanding: you have to change so much. But even doing a little of what is recommended by the great religions would add up to a lot of good for SD. So seeing if we can get the religious – some 80% of the world population and thus totally unignorable – to live up a bit more to the ideals of their founding leaders, would be a major step towards a revaluation of desire. This is an area in which I have done a fair bit of work and am continuing to think and do advocacy.
8) You are right that capitalism is both magnificent and a Ponzi scheme. I have as little idea as the next woman or man about how to rescue capitalism from itself this time around. But I suspect the answer is the creation via the Web of Capitalism Plan B, a parallel set of infrastructures for banking, insurance, comms and advertising that are all designed with SD in mind, and to which ever more businesses can migrate. Ironically, even though it would be ideal for social enterprises and mutuals and SMEs, it needs to be set up by companies so vast and mighty that they can afford to face down the establishment and abandon the existing systems of finance and media etc – so the role of Unilever and like-minded big businesses is crucial. Capitalism Plan B could be a home for the kinds of virtual desire systems you have in mind.