Friday, May 16, 2014

Mindful consumption


In recent years, a range of voices from science, philosophy, political activism and the arts have begun to suggest exactly that, coalescing into a movement that can ground us ever more mindfully in the material world. The ‘new materialism’, as it was dubbed in a report by the New Economics Foundation in 2012, challenges us to love our possessions not less but more – to cherish them enough to care about where they came from, who made them, what will happen to them in the future.

Environmental campaigners are, in a similar spirit, slowly redefining themselves less by what they’re against (global warming, fossil-fuel extraction, runaway consumerism) than what they’re for: a healthy and balanced relationship with the material world that sustains us in all its delicate, interconnected beauty. But it’s a philosophical, even spiritual position, too. If we could truly cherish the things in our lives, ‘retain the pulse of their making’, as the British ceramicist Edmund de Waal puts it, wouldn’t we be the opposite of consumers?

In its clear-eyed manifesto The New Materialism (2012), the New Economics Foundation explains that creating a society in which things last longer and are endlessly re-used will necessarily entail a major shift to the services that keep things going, thereby creating employment to replace lost manufacturing/retail output. Here, Herman Daly, editor of the journal Ecological Economics, calls for the ‘subtle and complex economics of maintenance, qualitative improvements, sharing, frugality, and adaptation to natural limits. It is an economics of better, not bigger.’

The New Economics Foundation predicts that the new materialism will lead to more emphasis in spending on ‘experiences rather than disposable goods’, which means less shopping and more music, film, live performance, sport and socialising: more lasting satisfaction and less of the transitory hit of ownership. This in turn might lead to a proliferation of festivals, sporting competitions and cultural events celebrating the talents we share and occluding the endless proliferation of retail stuff.