Alexander has brought together a collection of articles and essays that critique our current obsessions with growth, oil and technology. Yet, within the critique lies optimism. The essays are bookended by two optimistic quotations. He begins with a quotation from Theodore Roszak that includes this sentence:
“What people must see is that ecologically sane, socially responsible living is good living; that simplicity, thrift, and reciprocity make for an existence that is free.”There follows a dozen essays that cover; a critique of techno-optimism, the economics and politics of degrowth, consumerism, peak oil and the paradox of cheap and expensive oil, voluntary simplicity, ethics and the opportunities that exist within the crises that we face. He then adds another bookend by way of another quotation, this time from Friedrich Nietzsche:
“Those who have a why to live, can bear almost any how.”Alexander’s essays can be read individually, and even out of order. Taken together though, they provide a coherent and connected whole that points to a simple thesis: our growth oriented and oil-based lifestyles and culture are unhealthy for the planet and ourselves.
The way out of the crises is to adopt lifestyles of voluntary simplicity as a precursor towards a restructuring of society and culture. It is as simple as that Alexander would claim. That may be, but he is not blind to the often convoluted and complex arguments of economists, politicians and other proponents of our current world order. So, he tackles them. This makes for some careful reading in parts.
One such challenging chapter is the one in which Alexander takes issue with Joseph Tainter’s assertion that as society seeks to solve it’s problems it must necessarily require greater use of energy and resources, leading to an inevitable social collapse. Alexander will have none of that and very carefully unpicks the arguments to show that voluntary simplicity does not follow Tainter’s trajectory. This is not the place to outline Alexander’s rebuttal. All I will say is, read the chapter. It is worth taking the time and effort to do so.
Alexander’s essays are a thorough look at the combined issues that give rise to climate change, social inequality and the failure to provide well-being and happiness for all.
The book is titled Prosperous Descent which makes a provocative and enticing title. The two words form a rather neat, pithy, abstract of Alexander’s analysis and ideas.
Alexander writes with passion and authority. His passion is evident when he talks about the advantages of voluntary simplicity for individuals. Voluntary simplicity, he says,
“…ultimately gives rise to a happiness, a contentment, and even a freedom significantly greater than that which is ordinarily known in the work-and-spend cycle of consumer culture.”His authority can be seen in his resume,1 but it is his writing that confirms it. His arguments are rigorous. He is unafraid of tackling the hard issues, and does not shy away from taking on the polemics of oil-based, growth-oriented, proponents.
Yes, well worth getting hold of and reading. It can be purchased here.
1. Samuel Alexander lectures a course that forms part of the Masters of Environment degree at the University of Melbourne. He is a co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society. His Ph.D. thesis is titled Property Beyond Growth: Towards a Politics of Voluntary Simplicity.