Degrowth & Solidarity

I am planning to attend my first fully digital conference: Degrowth Vienna 2020.  Check it out, it’s free and no long plane ride required!

I’ve been circling around the degrowth concept for some time, ever since being introduced to some of the  leading thinkers on degrowth, most notably  the essential Jason Hickel, by the even-more-essential Chris Smaje and his blog Small Farm Future.    Although I’m  100% on board for getting past the growth paradigm, I have been a bit leery of the implied negativity in the concept of degrowth, when what we need, most desperately, is a positive direction.  I’ve been leery of getting caught up in tearing down the old obsessions, rather than finding a new way to live.  But it is necessary to challenge the old dogma and the concept of degrowth  does call the growth orthodoxy out.  Explicitly.  Manifesto nailed to the door.  Change of paradigm. 

I think it’s time to commit, or least dive deep.  What has helped to convert me is an open letter  posted on Twitter (our current version of the cathedral door)  elucidating five principles of a degrowth approach to rebuilding from the coronavirus breakdown.  The first principle is: Put life at the center of our economy.   That is the positive trajectory that is needed in this moment of danger and possibility, of death and change. And life, not just at the center of our economic systems, but in every little thing we do.  Life at the center.   Perhaps most crucially at the center of our economic systems, but not just there.  At the center, as well, of our arts and our pleasures, of our values and our aspirations.

  Here are the five principles of degrowth per the open letter :

    1. Put life at the center of our economic systems.
    2. Radically reevaluate how much and what work is necessary for a good life for all.
    3. Organize society around the provision of essential goods and services.
    4. Democratize society
    5. Base political and economic systems on the principle of solidarity  

There is a lot to love in those principles.  The sad thing to me is that I have almost no cultural experience of “the principle of solitary.”  American culture has become so thoroughly individualistic and hierarchical that solidarity seems very distant, something dreamt about or heard at third hand.  We have so little vocabulary for working collectively that we are unable to speak, unable to imagine solidarity with each other.  There is only the scrabbling of special interests, of winner-take-all competition, of rat-race politics and business. For that we have words, models, and theories.  In the arts and sciences of solidarity we are beginners with much ground to make up.  Can we learn to believe in each other again?  As never before? Can we, at this late hour, learn to speak solidarity?