I have experienced hell, and it is an oral surgeon hammering your jaw bone in order to “lift” your sinus cavity and make room for a dental implant. I arrived at my surgery appointment expecting a mildly pleasant laughing gas trip (my last laughing gas experience at the dentist was exceptionally awesome!), but instead received a 30-minute torture session that only worsened once the anaesthesia wore off. I ended up flat out for a week, attempting to dull the pain with documentaries, eBay, Dory Previn records, and reading Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing by Andrew Smart. It takes Tom Hodgkinson’s How to Be Idle / How to Be Free series (both eye-opening, life-changing books for me) into a more academic realm, offering scientific proof that doing nothing does wonders for the brain, and thus does wonders for creativity, happiness, and health. I then watched a documentary called Surviving Progress, which details the economic and climate abyss we currently face, and interviews a range of talking heads who offer their unconventional views on what can be done to reverse these ugly trends. The general consensus seems to be that rather than striving for further economic growth and more production and industry, the solution may lie in the opposite of growth. We need to do less, consume less, and produce less. This is an idea that gets a lot of people all hot n’ bothered, huffing and puffing about the value of hard work and what about the poor?? and how a growing economy is a necessity for survival. There is no question that poor people need more. Valclav Smil, an extremely sensible global energy expert interviewed in the film, says that no one would argue with the fact that everyone should have access to shelter, clean water, food, and education. “Basic human decency compels you to say that poor people need more,” he says. But those of us who have these basics covered, and who spend most of our money on unnecessary luxuries and consume the bulk of the world’s energy—we really need to take a chill pill and learn to live with less. Because really, what good are luxuries or the economy when people can’t leave their apartments in Beijing due to polluted air, when drinking water in West Virginia has been tainted by industrial chemicals, and when the Gulf Coast has been wrecked by oil spills. These are the results of economic growth.
We’ve clearly reached a point where we should all be looking at our individual lifestyles and dreams and ask how they’re affecting the world. We can blame the corporations and de-regulation (and I certainly do!!), but WE are the ones buying the gas and using the electricity and consuming the plastics. Every time we start a new business—even ones as seemingly harmless as a magazine or cosmetics company or record label—we’re just using more of the earth’s resources and adding to the WAY over-saturated marketplace. Do we really need another brand of soap or fashion magazine? We already have far too much of everything, and yet the message is that we need further economic growth (aka, more stuff being made) to keep the economy going, without questioning where this is all leading.
Normally I don’t like posting youtube links (as I reached my youtube-link saturation point years ago), but I’ll make an exception for this clip from Valclav Smil, who in his pragmatic, anti-concrete solutions, pro-life’s messiness message makes quite a persuasive argument for doing less. My favorite bit is when he points out the absurdity of storage spaces to “store the junk that you cannot store in your 5000 square foot home.” We don’t have enough housing in New York City, yet we seem to have plenty of buildings to house people’s extra stuff. it’s ludicrous!
Anyway, I am as guilty as anyone in my addiction to material wealth and in valuing hard work over laziness, and am only just beginning to disenchant myself from the “work more, buy more, produce more” mindset, which is pretty tough living in New York City, lemme tell you!