Citizen Action Monitor

How do we help people to move beyond the “iron cage of consumerism?”

Consumerism has gutted our sense of common purpose, lost are opportunities for citizens to share a common life.

No 2149 Posted by fw, January 20, 2018

To access all other synopses from Prosperity without Growth, click on the Tab titled “Prosperity without Growth” — Links to All Posts in the top left margin of the Home page.

In his closing paragraph of Section 2, Chapter 11, Tim Jackson broaches the inevitable “how” question: how to escape from “the iron cage of consumerism.”

“But how should this happen? Is it a political task? Or is it an individual task? Is personal choice even relevant to our escape…?”

He opens Section 3 with a “rather strange answer to this crucial question … both yes and no.” The “yes” part is that clearly, “some people are sometimes already doing some of it” — prospering outside consumerism; consuming less, living better; having more fun with less stuff. The “no” part is that individual actions will never in themselves be sufficient to create widespread social change.”

In Section 3 he shares his thoughts on how to help citizens recover a sense of common citizenship, a sense of a shared life, thus enabling them “to think meaningfully of one another as citizens in a shared venture.

Tim Jackson is a British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey.

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Beyond the ‘iron cage’, a synopsis, from Chapter 11, “A Lasting Prosperity” of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2016-17

In his closing paragraph of Section 2, Chapter 11, Tim Jackson broaches the inevitable “how” question: how to escape from “the iron cage of consumerism.”

“But how should this happen? Is it a political task? Or is it an individual task? Is personal choice even relevant to our escape…?”

He opens Section 3 with a “rather strange answer to this crucial question … both yes and no.”

The “yes” part is that clearly, “some people are sometimes already doing some of it” — prospering outside consumerism; consuming less, living better; having more fun with less stuff.

The “no” part is that individual actions will never in themselves be sufficient to create widespread social change.”

What about exhortation, asks Jackson? Will that help? Prodding people to willingly constrain deeply ingrained consumer habits is, says Jackson, “morally problematic.” As well, he adds, “it’s tantamount to asking them to give up certain social and psychological freedoms.

A more promising, approach, suggests Jackson, “is the construction of credible alternatives” – in essence, “a new vision of social participation. … a revitalization of the notion of public goods.

It sounds grand, but it needn’t be”, claims Jackson. Envision “green space, parks, recreation centres, sports facilities, libraries, museums, public transportation, local markets, retreats and ‘quiet centres’, festivals.

“The aim must be to provide real capabilities for people to flourish in less materialistic ways. It means investing and reinvesting in those capabilities: physically, financially, emotionally.”

Jackson turns to Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel who argues convincingly for “civic goods that markets do not honour and money can’t buy.

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life.

A sense of common endeavour is one of the casualties of consumerism, leaving ourselves deprived of common meaning and purpose. Cultivating a sense of common citizenship, a sense of a shared life, enables citizens “to think meaningfully of one another as citizens in a shared venture.

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