The central critique of my book, Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture, is that modern cultures create an unconsciousness in three domains essential to flourishing and thence to sustainability. Without bringing these three back into individual and collective consciousness, the culture will keep on trucking, producing a lot of road kill on the way to empty promises and the accumulation of more and more meaningless stuff.
All three are forms of caring, separated only to make analysis, discussion, and action more direct. Recognizing they overlap, the three are consciousness (care) for oneself, other humans, and everything else in the world. These three completely constitute the world we exist within. My thesis has been that all three must be addressed in any attempt to bring sustainability to the world. To raise consciousness, it is absolutely necessary to stop and reflect on the where we are right now. That is one role for opinion-makers, such as media commentators and scholars, which is one reason I so often turn to one of these as the basis for my blogs.
David Brooks, whose columns often drift to the right politically, has left his politics behind today and focuses on the state of our society in the United States. In one of the most powerful Brooks’ columns I have read in quite a while, he starts off starkly, “The United States is becoming a broken society.” I would disagree only with the tense. I believe the US is already a broken society. Brooks is reviewing and presenting the work of British commentator Phillip Blond, based on a recent article by Blond. It’s worthwhile to read both Brooks’ and Blond’s articles. While never using the word, care, both rest their cases on the disappearance of care in modern societies.
Arguing that the great libertarian move to establish individual rights without associated obligations, and the more or less simultaneous freeing of the market from constraints have broken down, Blond would have us move to a decentralized, smaller-scale, localized political economy. He would have us: “remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor.” In the context of Britain’s party system, his ideas place him in the conservative camp. His new book is called, “Red Tory.” But he admits that there is a lot of left-leaning content in what he believes is needed. Rebuilding community and association, as he says is central, is merely an institutional way of framing cultural forms built on care.
The Blond article and Brooks treatment show that the old political labels are dysfunctional and mystifying. The broken state of the world is a result of doctrinaire solutions from both sides of the political ledger. The polarized state of legislative politics in the US promises much more of the same. It’s time (much too late) to look at the substance of proposals without the out-of-date labels attached, especially in the US where liberal and conservative lost any real meaning long ago. Brooks and Andrew Sullivan, for another example, call themselves conservatives, but share so many concerns with me and others of the opposite calling, that it is an utter waste of time to stop at the labels before moving to the substance.
The world, at least our world, is broken. The system is dysfunctional and producing more and more unsustainable conditions every day. That same system in fact operates on relationships at the level of individuals and small collectives. Blond’s “conservative” framing would move us towards a system more resilient, more fair, and closer to the notion of sustainability–flourishing for all. There’s really nothing different here from the “liberal” case I make in my book except for some details. The devil is not, however, in the details; he is lurking in the filters that prevent us from facing up to the the sad state of the world and accepting responsibility to make it work.