Slower and ...
We are supposed to be well-informed citizens making rational choices, supposed to adopt new technologies and new lifestyles, and supposed to accept the logic of capitalism. How are we, then, to live in an unequal, increasingly unsustainable world where distraction, disruption, and destruction have become the norm? How are we to cope with the acceleration of change?
A Hope of Planetary Recovery
The privatization of the earth is in full swing, while life itself has become the ultimate commodity to exploit. Under the flags of free competition, free markets, and free trade, everything from financial speculation on food prices and the patenting of life forms to the corporatization of health care have been made possible. Money has now become the measure of all things, including political influence. That is why the irrational – the concentration of power in the hands of oligarchs and corporations – is considered to be rational. That is why the lack of equality remains politically irrelevant.
From a socioecological perspective, we are moving in the wrong direction. If we reflect on the possible consequences of ongoing climate change, ocean acidification, land degradation, biodiversity loss, pollution and depletion of freshwater resources, chemical contamination of food webs, mass alienation, mass dispossession, or wars – the ultimate failure of politics has many names – it is easy to conclude that we are being robbed of our future.
We are doubtless in deep trouble, so what are we waiting for? What could be more important for our well-being and survival than clean water, clean air, healthy soil, well-functioning ecosystems, or meaningful social relationships? The questions are left open. The inconvenient truth is that our lives and our common habitat are changing at an alarming rate. Our common future has never been more uncertain. Our perception of ourselves and our environment has never been more manipulated.
A Call for Deceleration
Capitalism – with political and military backing and a vast cultural apparatus – is silently destroying the earth. However, we were not born to be indifferent to suffering or loss of life, and consequently have the opportunity to prevent this from happening. It is time to stop fooling ourselves, time to care about our fellow beings, time to develop technologies and organizational forms that serve our needs, and time to redefine our relationship with nature. It is definitely time to challenge all unequal power relationships, time to say goodbye to all kinds of exploitation, time to learn what we need to know, and time to do what we have to do.
We cannot escape our bodies, nor can we remove the boundaries of our planet, but as reflective human beings we have the capacity to learn and practice the universal language of slowness. The emerging slow paradigm invites us to become ecoliterate, to explore the collective art of slow living, and to take political initiatives aimed at decelerating society toward sustainability.
Whoever we are and wherever we live, we have to start somewhere. The transition to personal, social, and ecological sustainability begins when we begin to care for others, share our lives with others, and participate in dialogues that matter. What is emerging, then, are self-organized groups and communities where sharing of resources, knowledge, and experiences among peers is practiced. This implies a shift away from proprietary technology and unequal exchanges, and makes free and universal access to slow knowledge, learning communities, and open source technologies a crucial starting point for collective deceleration.
From the point of view of future generations, it is clear that we have to adopt a new set of socioecological practices. Hence, slow practices are those that contribute to the long-term well-being of all people. Contrary to capitalist ones, they are strengthening our relationships with people and places, decreasing our social and ecological footprints, and helping us to undermine the power of the ruling elite. Slow practices produce use values for individuals and groups of people, and are embedded within local, regional, and global ecosystems in ways that respect the carrying capacity and resilience of these systems.
Nature here becomes a source of inspiration rather than a source of exploitable resources and a sink for waste. So, instead of running away from our problems or distracting ourselves, we observe and learn from the patterns and processes of nature, reflect on what it means to live at another pace, and change, breath by breath and step by step, our way of doing things. As soon as we begin to breathe slower, move slower, and slow down our daily lives, we begin to save our common future. Ultimately, we slow down in order to survive.
Since capitalism entered its most destructive phase – the last few decades – characterized by accelerating technological change, the intensive use of weapons of mass distraction, and political acceptance of rapidly growing inequality, it has become increasingly important to make the necessary transition to a radically different society.
Yet, if we are to change the course of society, we have to leave behind us the dominant ideology that led us here. As long as we cling to mainstream education systems and mainstream media, prompting us to believe in appearances rather than realities, we will never break free. Conversely, when we begin to think and communicate freely – when there is time and space for critical thinking, open conversations, and alternative interpretations – we will make obsolete the concepts, practices, and institutions underpinning the current political economic system.
Global surveillance, systematic violence, and profit-driven acceleration into the future will not solve our global problems. On the contrary: What we need right now is a relentless political critique of speed, which, among other things, addresses the pace of technological change, the pace of our lives, the speed of creative destruction, the speed of environmental change, and the rate of species extinction. What we have to do is to start a socioecological revolution with the aim to put an end to the hegemony of capitalism.
It is obvious that we need a kind of politics that benefits humanity as a whole. The politics of slowness is a call for transformation at all scales and rests on the following beliefs: Only a society where all people – men as well as women, children as well as adults – are equals can become sustainable. Only a slow and self-reflective society has the potential to anticipate and adapt sustainably to environmental changes. Only an open and inclusive, use value oriented society can make wise use of technology and common resources. Only a resource-efficient, solar-powered society has the potential to preserve biological and cultural diversity. Only a slow and culturally diverse society can adapt to a slow and biologically diverse planet.
It will probably take some time to decelerate a society with so much money and prestige invested in the notion that there is no alternative. Nevertheless, today we are in a position to claim that capitalism is no alternative.