Monday, 27 April 2015

The Extreme Importance of Clive James

I've never met Clive James
but I'm aware that he's very sick

I read his book
Cultural Amnesia
a few years ago
and it sits comfortably and permanently
in the satchel I shall be taking to
my desert island

It is an extraordinary achievement, 
simultaneously literary 
political
personal
erudite
challenging
beautiful and
uplifting

He asks:
what is your duty, as a citizen of this world?

I thought at the time I read it
that it was a valedictory text;
and, though he may have had that intent,
he continues years later
to fulfil his duties
magnificently

When my father was dying
and just a few days before he died
I had the privilege of a conversation with him
in which we confronted the awful horror
of imminent non-being.
Perhaps more than anything else
he wanted to know:
Have I done well?
Have I lived a good life?

I've never met Clive James
but I want to tell him
and hope he knows:
Yes.  In full measure.


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Election Sonnet 2015


One vote, one rhyme

Mere weeks now before we'll at last have been polled,
invited from all of the options extolled
to choose with our crosses the people who’ll hold
[the] positions of power (they won’t ‘break the mould’).

They’ll whistle to scare us to stay in the fold
with views of the world that have long since grown cold:
[where] we’ll only be safe if the streets are patrolled
and [the] wealthy or poor (take your pick) are controlled

with [the] money that comes from the young, or the old,
and [the] proceeds from assets refinanced or sold
to anyone bearing a bucket of gold
(the handcuffs intended to shackle the bold).

Imagine if, somehow, by voting we told
the whole bloody lot – you’re no longer involved.


Friday, 27 February 2015

Just Say (I don't) Know

(A slightly longer post than either usual or intended, but hopefully worth the few additional minutes)


It’s always a little uncomfortable when the chair announces ‘And now it’s time for some questions from the audience’.  If you are thinking of asking a question, the discomfort embraces doubt (“Is my question sufficiently insightful that both the panel and the audience will be impressed? Or am I about to make an ass of myself?"), anxiety (“Have I put my hand up with the right mix of enthusiastic interest and disinterested aplomb? Or have I just made an ass of myself?”) and tension (“Should I aim to ask the first question? The last question? How can I ensure I don’t make an ass of myself?”).

Not asking a question is even worse.  Will the question come instead from one of those green ink weirdoes, whose painful contribution puts the panel in the position of having to utter some content-free nonsense so as to avoid pointing out the inanity of the question whilst still saying something so as not to appear rude?  Or from one of those pontificators, keen not so much on the idea of a question but instead on the opinion  that they've been gestating for months, intended to indicate that it is they, rather than the panellists, who should have been given the opportunity to address us today?

Or will it be a question that makes you wish bitterly you had asked your question, because they are so obviously an ingénue, and you would definitely have come across as the insightful inquisitor the evening so desperately needed, and now you feel like an ass for staying quiet; or will it be a question that makes you feel like a clumsy ignoramus, and whilst you are briefly relieved that you did not in fact reveal yourself as an ass, the more enduring sensation is the painful ache associated with the discovery that yes, in fact, you are an ass.

Fortunately, the wonderful Sir Richard Lambert cut through all such considerations a couple of weeks before Christmas when, at the Aldersgate Group’s launch of An Economy that Works, he suggested that prospects for the report achieving serious political traction in the coming months were highly limited because we were, let’s face it, in for a spirit-sapping, beyond-satirical election period of “total nuttiness”.

We laughed, of course.  But it’s not funny.  We should be choking: the mismatch between the challenges we face and the politics we have with which to meet them is simply breath-taking.

Curiously – or, perhaps not – a remark from one of the panellists just a few moments earlier may give us some clue as to what we are to make and do about this.  (For, surely, someone somewhere has to do something.)  Nigel Stansfield, Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer for Interface Inc (the sustainable carpet people, founded by Ray Andersen, author of the important 'Mid Course Correction') had been explaining, with an engaging and impressive mix of wit and passion (“We don’t call them ‘human resources’, we call them ‘people’”) that businesses are facing a crisis of trust: and this crisis is acting as a powerful block on progress towards greater sustainability.  Customers [I call them people], he explained, have so little confidence in business that they are unwilling to engage in the kind of long term relationships that are essential if the shift from products to services, or from linear to circular production, or from owning to leasing, is actually to take place.

Whether or not you believe that these steps represent ‘progress towards sustainability’, his proposition for how to tackle the problem was – to me at least – astonishing.

We have to start telling the truth” he said.  Businesses have to be open about what they’re doing, where they’re headed, why they do things the way they do, and so forth; and, slowly, people will start to trust them.

And this certainly feels right, and is consistent with what I've heard before from that most persuasive and expert voice on the matter of trust, Professor Richard Sennett.  Actually, he is a little more precise, pointing out (if memory serves) that you cannot directly increase how much people trust you; rather, you must attend to your trustworthiness, and then it’s up to them.  ‘Telling the truth’ is a very helpful component of trustworthiness – but mysterious phenomena like ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ and ‘consistency’ are also in the mix.

That said, let’s just reflect for a moment on the fact that a senior executive of a major corporation in front of a live audience of 200 or so admitted that businesses have been lying.  Systematically. Always.

Quite a thing to say, methinks.

It’s easy to respond to this by saying something like ‘Well, of course, we all know that already, the only interesting thing here is that someone said it in public’.  And something similar could be said of politicians: we already thought they were a bunch of disreputable dissemblers, interested in nothing but their own careers and the acquisition of power for power’s sake, so events like the expenses scandal or 'cash for access' did no more than confirm our beliefs.

But in both cases I think this is to dismiss the possibility that something really has changed, that the present really is different from the past – that there really is a crisis - and thereby to run the risk of failing to act in order to prevent a really very ugly future indeed. And even if that’s not quite right, or even plain wrong, what harm could there be if we were to tackle the culture of distrust head-on through a regime of ‘radical open-ness’?

To answer that question, I found myself back in 2062:

“Walled/open – a great deal of London’s economic life currently happens behind walls.  Corporate decision making is opaque: wealthy citizens immunise themselves from their ‘neighbours’ by living in gated communities; political processes are dominated by lobbyists and careerists conversing in inaccessible settings.  A London of 2062 in which these barriers persist would probably function as a city, but it could not possibly be described as sustainable.  A sustainable London would be one in which inclusion and participation was ordinary, in which openness and transparency were normal.  In this more open London, social injustices, environmental harms and wealth inequalities would be more apparent to all, increasing both the demand for change, and the political will to act.  Improved outcomes would emerge organically from the change in the underlying logic of social interaction and would not need to be ‘engineered’ through interventions from ‘the top’”

Which is by way of saying that the prevailing orthodoxy of ‘behind closed doors’ serves the interests of those who are currently wealthy and/or powerful; and it is they that would experience harm as a result of radical open-ness.  We should therefore expect them to resist any proposed or imminent increase in obligatory open-ness ex ante; and to develop swerve and avoidance tactics ex post. And oh! Look! It’s already happening:


  • ICT companies, whose products and services have done so much in recent years to facilitate the exposure of the previously hidden workings of corporations, and who seemed so keen to promote ‘open-ness’, turn out to be in the forefront of opaque financial management and tax avoidance.
  • Media organisations – whose willingness to use the utterances of politicians in a highly selective manner is such a key feature of the unwillingness of politicians to speak openly – purport to be platforms for open public debate, yet act instead to foster a culture of shrill extremism that serves  to deter engagement and thereby preserve their own privileged position of control.
  • Government agencies and employees so terrified of the actual consequences of the wonderful Freedom of Information Act (consequences that might include, for example, the embarrassment that might come from publishing government-commissioned research that finds fault in government policy) that an entire culture of cloudy edit, foggy launches and unwritten guidance has come into being.

One of the most severe outcomes from the last of these is that, in an era when there is at least a nominal commitment to the use of evidence when developing public policy, the material upon which decision-makers (should) rely – the independent research reports and so forth – has been comprehensively and serially emasculated by the time it reaches them.  How can they possibly know just how angry the people in the focus group were if it simply doesn’t say that in the report?  How can they really know how little of the pilot scheme actually worked if the entire document is focused on the ‘positive outcomes’?  The resistance to radical open-ness is not neutral: it is actively harmful.  The grip, rather than opening, becomes tighter.


So let’s just imagine – since it’s (still, just about) a new year, and an election in the UK is, apparently, imminent - the following scenarios:

Interviewer: So, as the MP for South Somewhereville, can you tell us how many of your constituents will be experiencing lower wages next year as a result of higher immigration from eastern Europe?

MP: I’m afraid not.  The interaction between labour supply, labour demand and wages is very complex, so we’ve commissioned specific academic research to explore this issue.  Until they produce their results, anything I say would be simply a guess, and I’m sure my constituents would prefer me not simply to guess or to trot out the defensive language provided earlier by my Special Advisor.

Or:

Interviewer: So, as shadow minister for transport, how do you respond to the accusation from government that you have no policy on this issue?

MP: The accusation is completely accurate.  This is a complex and delicate matter, and we believe that the right thing to do is think through all its dimensions very carefully.  When we have taken proper time to work out what we think is best, we’ll let everyone know.

Or:

Interviewer: So there you go minister – Ms Smith has suggested that the policy of focusing on the under 25s is not only depriving older people of their share of resources, but is failing to address the underlying cause of the problem! What do you have to say to that?

Minister: Well I have to say that Ms Smith makes a very good point and I’d like to take it away and reflect further on our proposals.

Or (my favourite):

Interviewer: So, minister, does the European Commission’s statement this morning mean that house price inflation will be higher next year, increasing the risk of an early rate rise?

MP: I don’t know.

How often, in any domain of public life, have you heard someone say: I don’t know?

If you were to hear such a response, would you think:

What an ignorant fool! How unprofessional! What an ass! I shall never trust this fool again!

or

How refreshing to hear someone acknowledge that they don’t know something, rather than jabbering on about something different or simply trotting out whatever party HQ had told them to say this morning. What class! I shall pay this person a little more serious attention when next I hear them speak.

It’s as much our fault as theirs.  We seem to demand of our ‘leaders’, those people we put on pedestals or platforms, that they have special insight, special powers. We want them to tell us.  We want them to know. Please, Mr Big Man, you decide: I’ll whinge about it, but I’ll go along with it.  But I definitely don’t want to take any responsibility…

Once, perhaps, that might have been ok.  But not anymore.  The world is too interconnected, too fast, too complex. Mere governments cannot control things.  Neither can the corporations. The problems are wicked, which means the solutions are distributed; which means – which means you, and me, and everyone else has to take some responsibility.  A sustainable future – by which I mean a sane and viable future - is one in which we don’t just share ‘things’; we have to share responsibility, too.

And as anyone who has ever tried sharing responsibility knows, it’s not easy; it depends, probably more than anything else, on trust.  And trust, in turn, depends, probably more than anything else, on honesty and open-ness.

So here it is: a programme of radical open-ness has the potential to rejuvenate our sorely damaged political and economic management systems; such a programme, if implemented, would inherently begin to nurture a more genuinely sustainable society; and such a programme could start with little more than a smattering of politicians taking the risk to utter, as one trustworthy grown up to another – I just don’t know; what do you think?

I don’t know.  What do you think?













Redefine entrepreneurialism and sustainability may flourish...

The online Oxford dictionaries site says that an entrepreneur is

  • a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit

Wikipedia says that entrepreneurship is:

  • the process of starting a business or other organization

The Cambridge online dictionaries site defines entrepreneurialism as:

  • the skills that you need to start your own business

The 'Small Business Pro' site says that the skills you need to run your own business are:

leadership skills
strategic planning skills
marketing skills
sales and customer relations skills
communication skills
people management skills
finance and accounting skills

Neither the Small Business Pro site, nor any other, is prepared to say how much of these skills you might require: and that makes sense, of course.  Each of these 'skills' is not only qualitative, but arranged on a spectrum: people are more or less good at each of them; and there is no template for what combination of skills, at what 'level', comprises effective entrepreneurialism.

But wait.  Just how 'business'-specific are these skills?  Imagine specifying the skills required to - say - run a home or household successfully.  Or to raise a child, or children, successfully.  Or to look after a large garden.

And if you find yourself looking through the list of skills you need 'to run your own business' and thinking "Well, I can't see how that skill is relevant to looking after a large garden", then recall or imagine a business entrepreneur of your acquaintance and ask: is there at least one of these areas where the person I am thinking of is singularly crap?

So I wish to re-cast the notion of entrepreneurialism as:

  • the process of deploying finite resources in pursuit of a goal where there is a genuine risk of failure

Which is by way of suggesting that entrepreneurialism is a skill-set universally present in the population, and which, as a result of its compound nature, is distributed in an untidy spectrum from 'low' to 'high'.

And why this might be of any use whatsoever?  Two reasons:

  • it would signal a broader notion of 'reward' or 'return' or 'success' than merely profit
  • it would include and legitimise a much wider set of people within the group upon whose resourcefulness and creativity our collective prosperity depends

If, as I suspect, the concept of 'entrepreneurialism' is a key node in the complex, open system that is our economy (or, to put it another way, it is a particularly important commitment device in the interlocking set of rules determining the operation of capitalism) then a change of this kind has the potential to have far-reaching effects - effects that, I further suspect, would be very much consistent with the notion of sustainability.

So if you've ever thought haughtily about housework, or gardening or parenting - think again.








Three lethal imperfections


Yesterday
in blameless Sheffield
the fading of the great steel heat
cracks cold and sullen hairlines
into endless untold faces;
each eerie frozen scar
an etching from today
into tomorrow


Today
in breathless Paris
the hand-held steel of terror
spits incandescent ignorance
upon tomorrow's half-sketched barbs;
their names as unknown now
as they were
yesterday


Tomorrow
in heartless London
besuited men of money
weave filaments of yesterday into
uncontested writ
ensnaring us that they may
steal again the life we call
today





Monday, 8 December 2014

Once upon a time Part Two: in Limehouse...

...I was invited to speak at the launch event for the London Chapter of CASSE.  It was 2014.

As I stood up to speak, my plan was:




Fortunately Desmond Kilroy, convenor of the London chapter, recorded my utterances (and, indeed, those of the four other speakers) so I was pleased to learn that this alarming scrap of paper was not the only evidence of whatever it was I said.

The full transcript, however, was just as alarming; and it was only after some prudent editorial work that something merely unsettling emerged:


A recovering economist speaks...

I’m convinced that a radically different kind of economy is required. I’m also convinced it is not going to be worked out by economists. 

I think the new economy is going to be created by millions and millions of ordinary people changing how they live their lives; and economics is going to have to catch up. 

My main warning is that I think assuming that policy can deliver this new economy is misguided. 

I want to explain why I think this by talking about washing powder, beer, drugs, rubbish, sandwiches and hairdressers, which all seem to me to be extremely ordinary everyday activities. 

Washing powder – a small number of manufacturers each produce multiple different ‘brands’ to limit the market share that might be available to a new market entrant.  It is elementary corporate behaviour.  At the more complex end, there are all sorts of methods by which corporates pursue their own interests at the expense of others.  No big corporate will seriously consider a transformation of the economic system that would imply their extinction.  

Beer - or, more accurately, prohibition. It didn’t work, and it doesn’t work. The genie of ‘choice’ is out of the box. The idea that a great regulatory transformation, some policy-led series of initiatives will suddenly make us all adopt sustainable lifestyles consistent with this new economic paradigm is nonsense.

Sandwiches – we in this room probably all want sustainable sandwiches.  But ‘big policy’ is concerned to ensure that Londoners get fed.  So whilst the bottom-up, inclusive, sustainable sandwich bar is great as far as it goes, a food strategy for London that doesn’t include Tesco and Sainsbury won’t get very far with a serious policy maker.

Water butts – in Tottenham a few years ago I was doing some research trying to find ‘influential individuals’: not leading opinion makers but ordinary people.  There was a lady who lived in a terraced house, a single parent with three children.  And on the estate where she lived, talking to people to find out who influenced who, they all gave the same name. The lady didn’t think of herself as influential, but she had six months earlier put a new water butt in her garden. And over the course of the six months between her getting that water butt and us walking up on that estate, everyone had installed a water butt. She wasn’t an environmentalist. I don’t think she would have much truck with the phrase “sustainable lifestyles”. And she didn’t have economic power. But she was pretty together: every time you went around there for a cup of tea, her home was tidy, and she got her children to school on time. And she was just on top of her life. She was just like the other people on the estate. There is a technical word for this: it’s called homophily. She was just like them, only a bit better. Every single one of us has got someone or two like that. Just like us; but a bit better. We look up to them. And when they make a choice, that legitimizes it, and influences us.

Hairdressers - About five years ago somebody heard me talk about influential individuals, telling the story about the lady and the water butts in Tottenham, and the listener went away to research this more thoroughly, and she told me in an email that she had decided to research hairdressers as influential individuals. Two groups of hairdressers were used in the study, one group primed to talk about environmental issues with their customers. And it had dramatic impact! So much so that I learned from her a couple of weeks ago that she has secured funding to introduce environmental issues into national hairdressing training.



So a group of influential individuals is likely to be chatting about the environment with their customers.  I am convinced that this is going to have dramatically more impact – on ordinary people thinking about environmental issues and how to develop ‘sustainable lifestyles’ - than some policy that no one will even notice. I’m not saying that we pay no attention to the ‘economic system’; it's just that I’d far rather that we thought about how we help ordinary people, in their millions, to make sustainable choices, than persuade a few policy people who might be trying hard but who are locked in by the kind of vested interests I’ve talked about.



One other lovely thing happened that evening, during the presentation about the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group at Surrey from the wonderful Ian Christie (also available on the CASSE page), when he was kind enough to put up a slide as follows:

David Fell, Brook Lyndhurst, in Guardian Sustainable
Business, 7/3/2013:

• Sustainable consumption consists at present almost
entirely of "supply push" rather than "demand pull". On
the supply side, a combination of regulatory and
legislative obligation, business-to-business peer
pressure and, slowly, a developing cultural norm mean
that a growing number of enterprises are taking
sustainability seriously.

• Turn to the consumer side of the equation, however,
and the story is very different. The number of people
taking sustainability seriously has remained
stubbornly low for the past 20 years.

• Perhaps two or three consumers in every 100 are
actively trying to minimise their environmental
footprint on a consistent, across-the-board basis.
The majority find it too hard, too overwhelming, too
complicated – too much hassle given all the other
things they need to think about.



Sometimes it almost feels as if all this stuff joins up.  Time, methinks, to move from 'tell me' to 'show me'... Roll on 2015.




Once upon a time Part One: in Leeds...

...I contributed to a conference organised by the Centre for the Advancement of Steady State Economy (CASSE) entitled 'Working towards an alternative to economic growth'.  It was 2010.

I ran and spoke at "Workshop 7: Changing Behaviour (the Psychology of Consumerism)"

I prepared a paper in advance; and, after the presentation and the workshop, amended the paper for inclusion as a chapter in the report of proceedings.

Here it is.


Chapter 10: Enough Materialism

“How can a ‘mass behaviour of enoughness’ be brought about?”

David Fell (Workshop Speaker)

Consumer spending typically accounts for about two thirds of economic activity in industrialised economies.  As such, consumer behaviour strongly influences the behaviour of the entire economy.  Under the current system, consumer spending and economic growth are inextricably linked — increasing consumption spurs the economy to get bigger, with all the accompanying side effects.

The character of consumer spending has evolved since the mid-18th century.  Contemporary “consumerism” — a social norm that gives pre-eminence to “consuming” rather than “doing,” “being” or “producing” — emerged in the 1960s and is widely seen as a dominant driver of behaviour by individuals, corporations and governments.

Since Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” in the late 19th century consumerism has been the subject of continuous critique by economists and social scientists. The negative consequences of consumerism, as outlined by David Fell in his [work on] the 'economics of enough' can be summarised as follows:
  • It is a behavioural paradigm (“more”) that is fundamentally inconsistent with the finite quantity of material resources on the planet;
  •  It is a behavioural norm comprising an unsustainable “hedonic treadmill”.  No matter how fast individuals run toward happiness and fulfilment, they are always one step away, a setup that may contribute to widespread mental ill-health;
  •  It co-creates and reinforces systemic inequality both within and between nations and communities.

Given the negative consequences of consumerism, the challenge is to create an alternative model of consumption in which the vast majority of citizens are routinely choosing “enough” rather than “more”.  Hence, “enough” would become an inherent feature of a new value set that would drive positive changes, such as reduced resource consumption, improved psychological well-being, and greater equality.  Such a revolutionary change in values — and it is a revolution rather than a series of incremental adjustments to the prevailing orthodoxy — is unlikely to happen quickly or easily, given the forces lined up against it and the anxieties that will inevitably arise about such a transformation.

In summary, the challenge is to seek ways to instigate a shift to a “mass behaviour of enoughness.”

Proposal


It is no simple task to bring about a “mass behaviour of enoughness.”  To understand the proposals that follow, it is worth analysing the context of this behavioural shift.

The revolutionary change in values envisaged would be enacted within an economic system which is complex, open and dynamic — a system in which the objectives of institutions and groups are not fixed but are, in large part, emergent properties.  Social norms can be conceptualised as the emergent properties of social groups, and they are enormously powerful determinants of behaviour.  The contemporary social norm of consumerism is one (powerful) set of emergent properties that dictates significant behaviours for many individuals in industrialised economies.

Not all behaviours, however, are subject to this social norm.  Older people, for example, often spend less of their income on “things” and more on “experiences,” which tend to have a lower material impact.  In addition, increasing numbers of people, either as individuals or as groups, choose to live “downshifted” lifestyles or choose to live “off-grid.”

This context (consisting both of norms that emerge from social groups and of pockets of people already possessing a value set consistent with the desired model of consumption) contains the starting point for bringing about a “mass behaviour of enoughness.”  The main proposal offered by David Fell in the Workshop on Changing Behaviour is for a rapid diffusion of new values through the manifold networks that comprise contemporary society.  Such an exercise would be system-wide and would entail multiple points of influence, many of which would be beyond the remit of government.  Some mechanisms which would help make this proposal a reality include:

·         Influential individuals:  Influential individuals occupy pivotal positions in social networks and are key figures in the processes by which new social norms emerge and diffuse through those networks.  Such individuals need to be recruited as agents of change.

·         Community activism:  Organisations with objectives that challenge or contradict consumerism need to be supported and encouraged, both to expand their membership and to transmit their values and insights to the wider community.

·         Promotion of alternative hedonism:  Innovative media outlets can promote the benefits of non-materialistic lifestyles to specific target groups in a proactive manner.

·         Enabling new forms of institutions:  A particular role for the state lies in creating the enabling infrastructure in which new forms of corporate and civic entities can emerge.  Examples include organisations that manage assets for the purpose of delivering long-term well-being to asset owners, rather than delivering short-term financial returns to managers (e.g. land use planning, innovative taxation arrangements, and new classes of legal vehicles).

·         Overcoming resistance:  Resistance to the scale and type of change implied is sure to come from large corporations and the state.  Mechanisms to overcome that resistance (e.g. consumer boycotts, support for new forms of enterprise, organised media campaigns, political lobbying, etc.) needs to be developed and enacted.


Workshop participants expressed broad agreement that the mechanisms for behavioural change outlined in the proposal provide a solid start, but they also felt that, in some cases, it is necessary to examine more deeply the root causes of the problems raised by consumerism.  As one participant put it, “It is not enough to bring about change at the level of fashion.” 

Four main themes ran through the discussion and characterised potential paths to develop the proposal further: (1) values, (2) motivation, (3) dealing with power, and (4) visualisation of change.  These are explored below:

·         Values:  There is an implied acceptance across most of society that the self-seeking, individualistic values which form the backdrop to consumerism are reasonable and necessary.  Part of this acceptance has been brought about by an evolution from community-based values to individualistic ones.  This trend needs to be reversed.  There was a very strong feeling in the workshop that people could and should take a personal stand.  As one participant said, “We need to set an example by living our values and rejecting unnecessary consumer items — otherwise we lack the moral authority to inspire change.  We need to be aware of the importance of our prophetic voice.”

·         Motivation:  Motivation is key to the process of behavioural change.  People who are happiest are those who have intrinsic motivation and inner contentment.  There needs to be a greater focus on the positive image of the alternative life and a demonstration that a consumer lifestyle is deadening and boring.  Consumerism only appeals to some of the core human motivations (hedonism, status, achievement).  Love, connectedness, friendship, spirituality and creativity are equally powerful sources of motivation, and it is crucial to tap into these.

·         Dealing with power:  There is an urgent need to curtail the power of large corporations and the media, both of which exercise so much control over people’s lives.  It is important not to underestimate this power, which often resorts to subtle and even subliminal methods.  Bankers, advertisers and manufacturers, however, are simply responding to consumer demand (including demand they create themselves).  The shift needs to originate from people’s personal values, and from understanding the “mass infantilisation” programme to which the public is subjected.  Such a shift requires greater awareness of communication methods, persuasion, and psychology.

·         Visualisation of change:  Alternative hedonism is an attractive concept.  People need to be able to visualise what a sustainable lifestyle looks like in concrete terms.  Celebrities can be helpful in providing highly visual role models, but celebrity culture is also part of the problem.  As one participant exclaimed, “We should recognise that we can be the influential individuals.  We don’t have to ‘buy in’ to celebrity!”

It is possible to use existing networks and leading-edge projects to elicit change.  There are opportunities for change within our work places and local communities.  The Transition Towns Movement is an effective approach; it has captured many people’s imaginations and catalysed the formation of new social groups.  If politicians see change happening on a sufficient scale, they will be under pressure to respond.  Potential also exists for initiatives connected with a shorter working week and a citizens’ income to contribute significantly to a different way of thinking about consumption.

In the light of the proposals presented to the workshop, and the subsequent discussion, the following “arenas for action” were highlighted as worthy of further exploration:

·         Taking a strong personal stand, based on non-consumer values and motivations;
·         Community activism based on local initiatives to develop alternatives to mass consumerism, either by buying less, producing locally, or boycotting mass consumer outlets;
·         Putting pressure on local and national government through specific lobbying campaigns;
·         Influencing institutional culture (for example through places of work) to change patterns of consumerism in large and medium sized organisations (with the National Health Service as a prime potential candidate);
·         Influencing professional practice (again within the workplace, especially those with ‘levers’ in society like law firms); and
·         Systematic use of the power of consumer pressure to influence manufacturers and the media.

The main obstacle identified was one of complexity in that big changes in consumer behaviour require massive shifts at a personal level and a societal level.  Hence the questions for ongoing investigation can be categorised into the same themes that spanned the discussion and reflect the need for dealing with this complexity at both a micro and a macro level.


Answering these questions will be a crucial step, but the journey of transitioning from the value of “more” to the value of “enough” can get underway with other steps.  Ample approaches for diffusing ideas through existing social networks are available — we simply have to put one foot in front of the other.