Are you an artist? Or is your creativity in fact destructive? Illustration: Ana Botezatu
I am in danger of becoming one of Tim Jackson’s biggest fans. I saw him at a talk at LSE last week, prostate and have read his articles everywhere in the Ecologist, sildenafil The Guardian, Adbusters and even The Times. Tim Jackson is a lecturer in Sustainable Development in the University of Surrey, on the Economics Steering Group of the Government’s Sustainable Development Commission, associate of the New Economics Foundation, and author of new book Prosperity Without Growth, which he was discussing at this talk. Before I start though, I’ll just let you in on the fact that you can listen to the entire talk as a podcast, so I won’t just regurgitate what he said, hopefully.
Until recently it has been blasphemy, no less, to challenge the view that the economy growing and growing and growing may in fact not actually make us better off and solve all our problems. Please note that all our governments and financial systems, no matter how left or right wing, are founded on the idea that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) must grow every year. Or else. If GDP does not grow, countries are in trouble and politicians panic. If another country’s GDP grows by a percentage more than the UK’s, the UK Treasury cries. But what does this actually mean for us? What does this sacred, beloved GDP growth actually give us?
Are we chasing the consumerist illusion of an ideal life, while the landfill builds up under our feet? Illustration: Ana Botezatu
Tim Jackson is one of the people finding a language to question the assumption that GDP must continue to grow forever. Refreshingly, it is a language suitable for use by a recession-hit population and an environmentally confused government, which does not necessarily resort to proclamations of anti-capitalism that a lot of people would find scary. Indeed, it focuses purely on the growth aspect of the economy, which has been common to both capitalist and communist economies regardless of how they claim to distribute the subsequent wealth. Moreover, despite what the lecture’s chair, Dr. Richard Perkins, described as ‘provocative’ views, Tim Jackson is talking in LSE, wearing a suit, and advises the government….not someone sitting on the floor in an autonomous social centre, preaching to the converted then (no offence by the way, I am definitely a fan of these situations!). So perhaps there’s a chance policy makers might actually listen to him…the rammed enormous lecture hall of LSE frequenters certainly seemed to.
Back during my Erasmus days in France, I used to go to meetings of a group called Decroissance (de-growth), in Montpellier. They believed that the assumption that we need never-ending economic growth to be happy, is socially and politically sanctioned borderline madness, basically. That the strange, and severely unquestioned worship of growth in GDP was actually preventing us from seeing what we might really need as a society, such as better basic services, physical and psychological health, environmental protection and greater civil participation (and hence truer democracy). All of which can be achieved with what we already have. I’ve just checked their website, and they seem to have gone a long way since the slightly garish monthly newspaper they used to publish back in my Erasmus days.
“How can a continually expanding sub-system exist within the finite limits of the planet?” It was a simple, standard question that Tim Jackson started with. While our focus (read borderline perverse obsession) lately has been uniquely on ‘carbon emissions’, one of our biggest environmental and therefore social problems is in fact our over-use of natural resources. A tiny percentage of us on this planet are biting massive irreplaceable chunks out of the only hand that feeds the entire planet, i.e. the planet itself (Tim showed us a diagram which demonstrates how we have alread gone beyond the safe operating space for humanity). While some people choose to point the finger at population growth, the issue at stake is in fact our rate of unsustainable over-consumption. Cutting population growth so that we can carry on producing more and more stuff that only some of us can consume, instead of questioning how much crap we produce and consume in the first place, is missing the point, surely.
Is materialism getting in the way of the meaningful relationships that have enabled our survival? Illustration: Ana Botezatu
Using many simple graphs and pie charts, Tim showed how income per capita raises standard of living and life expectancy only up to a certain point. Therefore, in the countries with the lowest GDP and income per capita, rising levels of income and GDP do make a big difference to life expectancy and quality of life, as they improve infrastructure and health. Beyond these levels, however, life expectancy does not correlate with income per capita at all. So, right from the start, Tim stressed that he was not promoting some kind of blanket-revolution which was suddenly universally applicable to everyone. His focus was on countries that already have a high GDP. The UK and US, for example, overproduce massively. And while our income per capita is much much higher than that of Cuba, Costa Rica or Chile, our life expectancy is lower.
Challenges to the notion of economic growth typically elicit proclamations of humanity either going back into Soviet Communism or becoming cave men once more. Indeed, when questioned at the end by the audience on how policy makers can possibly find intellectual arguments to disagree with his in-depth and logical conclusions, Tim lamented that intellectual responses were, for the moment, severely lacking. Government responses to his report (he is a government adviser remember), have so far included protests of the kind: “How can we make this report go away?” and, “Ah, now I understand all this Sustainable Development, it means going back to the Stone Age!”
Are we filling our lives with useless objects that don’t actually make us happy? Illustration: Ana Botezatu
So Tim highlighted three very important parts of his work. One, we have to recognise the benefits that growth has brought, as well as the drawbacks and limitations. Two, some countries may indeed continue to require economic growth for some time. Three, both capitalist and communist economies have, in the last decades, focused on economic growth. Four, we should start allowing ourselves to at least consider that growth may not be the answer to everything. Current recession and unemployment is a consequence of this economic system, not a result of not enough GDP growth (it has been growing rather exponentially for ages and doesn’t seem to have done the trick). So whether you agree with Tim or not, I think he’s right in saying “fix the economics, they’re already broken.”
Consider also most governments’ responses to climate change and environmental problems. We need more technology. More technology will, supposedly, make us more efficient. But the rate at which we produce more technology, in order to keep up economic growth, actually cancels out any improvements in efficiency. We are still using more coal, gas and oil, polluting more and emitting more CO2 because we are producing way too much of this supposedly ever more efficient technology. That is because the goal has not really been greater efficiency; it has been greater growth, coated with a brand spanking new varnish of eco/sustainability/green wash.
Macro-economics aside, Tim Jackson also talked about consumer habits. He mentioned something called ‘Destructive Creativity’, which is potentially what I was trying to get at in my post-LFW piece. Basically, we keep producing more and more crap, more novelty, brighter, shinier, better objects that will improve our lives. But the fact is, they don’t! Advertising is based on playing to our dreams and aspirations and suggesting they will be fulfilled by material objects. Some of them might, but after a certain point these material objects become both a personal and planetary burden. They fill our lives with junk, plunge us further into overdraft and debt, and make us increasingly depressed as we just can’t continue to live up to the ideals promised by the consumer dream machine.
Does advertising of endless new gadgets and beauty products make us strive towards a perfection that doesn’t even exist? Illustration: Ana Botezatu
Most of those ideals, a fulfilled and happy life, are provided by what we know they have always been associated with: better, deeper, more meaningful relationships, a greater feeling of social participation, health, and a beautiful environment, however that may vary according to taste. At the moment we are increasingly consumers rather than citizens (again, that’s what I tried to get across in my sustainable fashion piece), so our social participation is becoming increasingly mediated by materialism. But such a level of materialism is actually physically impossible for the entire world. There simply isn’t enough planet for it to be possible. We therefore have to start finding new ways to participate in society in less materialistic ways, for the sake of our own survival and happiness.
As for the old adage that competition is part of human nature, and that we intrinsically will always want more and more and more, more than other people, Tim suggested that these are just the aspects of human nature which have been incentivised in today’s economy. Many psychological studies show that we have a balance between self and social interest. Indeed, as Tim said, our survival and evolution would have been impossible had we been driven purely by self-interest. What should now be done, for the sake of us all, is to make sure we incentivise the non-selfish aspects of human nature. But, quite frankly, we don’t need studies to tell us that!
There was one question from the audience which I think I’ll finish with: How do you stay positive?
Tim Jackson’s answer: Optimism is an act of will. It’s a better psychological strategy for achieving things.
Food for thought and action indeed, have a listen to the podcast if you can. I’m off to get the book and I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve read it!
Erdem by Rachel de Ste. Croix.
There’s a big buzz around Erdem, hospital especially amongst the highly groomed and black attired fash-pack. As I entered Senate House I couldn’t help noting that I looked somewhat out of place, nurse clashing floral print leggings and gold hi tops peeking out below my sensible black coat, my hair somewhat wilder than the average attendee. Author Talitha Stevenson has just written a new book, Disappear, which describes the lives of hedge fund managers and their wives, many of whom work in “fashion” and I think this may have been where they hang out.
This is a view of my legs at Erdem. Lovely angle eh?
One great thing about fashion week is the opportunity to visit fabulous venues that I would never otherwise get to know. Senate House is an art deco masterpiece, and the Grand Hall offered a dramatic setting for the Erdem show, enhanced by the huge globe lights that shed a bright diffused luminescence.
As I was seated on the upper balcony I was given a brief nod of acknowledgement by Sara from Relative MO PR, a girl who I’ve known as long as I’ve worked in fashion – from way back when we were both humble interns gossiping about our bosses and getting drunk on free cocktails at bad model parties. She’s much younger than me, but she’s since risen up the ranks and I am no longer considered worthy of a proper chat.
A view from the balcony at Erdem.
As she crouched next to some doyenne of fashion I overheard their conversation: she’s getting married, with a ceilidh in the countryside. I felt like saying: “Ah, but will your ceilidh band be as good as mine?!” But I didn’t – because it is the job of a fashion PR to chat to the most important people and I most definitely am not considered important. A fact of which I am very proud – I like to exist on the fringes of fashion, getting excited by only those things I think are worth being excited about and staying away from all the behind-the-scenes machinations. But I won’t pretend it’s not highly irritating when someone I’ve known for a very long time no longer sees fit to talk to me. Such is the world of fashion my friends.
Erdem by Rachel de Ste. Croix.
Sometimes the models at a show are just so ultra skinny you are left wondering how they have the energy to stride down the catwalk, let alone do so in a vivacious manner. Erdem was one such show where I was struck by their absolute thinness, no doubt compounded by the pallid make-up and severe pulled back hairdos. But stride they did, criss-crossing the balcony before making a circuit of the downstairs hall. And I thought, why are all these ladies in black getting so excited about Erdem? It’s a strange fact of fashion that those with the most power, the top buyers and PRs, all look exactly the same – the exact opposite in fact of what fashion implores us to do. Erdem showed delicate geometric prints in muted autumnal tones of mustard yellow, teal and rust. There were high rounded shoulders, shaggy ruffles, lace and high waisted miniskirts to compliment the swinging maxi dresses that swept so wonderfully down the balcony. I swear there was not one tone of black in the whole darn collection.
Erdem. All photography by Amelia Gregory.
As I left I noticed that all the goodie bags had been left behind – a sure sign that this particular audience was too good for free hair products, even if they looked as though they might actually use such things. On my way out I made my first and only sighting of Diana Pernet, who writes A Shaded View on Fashion blog but is best noted for her ever-present foot high hair-do. I then passed Erdem himself doing a meet ‘n’ greet as I turned to go down the staircase, a large queue of sycophants waiting to fawn over the designer. But I wonder, just how many of those in attendance would ever actually wear his clothes, beautiful as they were?
Written by Amelia Gregory on Wednesday March 10th, 2010 2:51 pm
Categories ,A Shaded View on Fashion, ,Diane Pernet, ,Erdem, ,Geometrics, ,London Fashion Week, ,Rachel De Ste. Croix, ,Relative Mo, ,Ruffles, ,Senate House, ,Talitha Stevenson