After you’ve boarded a thousand odd books sometimes one more is just another flight into charted territory to visit family. Due to its resemblance to hundreds of already consumed pages of reading, the book is forgettable. You enjoy it, in the way that you enjoy your mother’s spaghetti. Comfort food.
Other times you awake in the middle of the book astonished; “This is brand new,” you say, startled. You become excited. The ideas are novel, the concepts nearly foreign. It’s like traveling for the first time to another country, like the drive away from the airport into a new city, wide awake and alert for the smallest deviation from the expected. I experienced this with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle, with Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.
So now, with Juliet Schor’s Plenitude.
I have read books about Simplicity before, particularly from a Christian perspective. I have read plenty of articles about how the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. I have read a handful of books about farming and dozens of articles about recycling.
Somehow, Plenitude bundles all of these concepts up into something grander, replete with economic explanations of the United States manic consumerism and graphs to illustrate particular points of the ecological footprint which rivals Bigfoot and all his family at this point.
The premise is simple enough, unlimited continual growth is impossible, ecological and social demise are brought on by constantly changing fashions and increasing need for more brand driven stuff.
And unlike some people who keep you hanging till the end of a lecture of book to reveal the answer, Schor places her four “Fundamentals of Plenitude, ” the solution, in the introduction. They are:
New Allocation of Time – Finding ways to exist outside of “the market” by creating “multiple sources of income and support, as well as new ways of procuring consumption goods. Concretely, what this means is a moderation in hours of work.”
Diversify and Self-Provision- This covers everything from growing your own food, to bartering, or using Craigslist. Whatever causes you to go outside of the “Business of Usual” of picking up goods at the cheapest price regardless of manufacturing practices.
True Materialism – “An environmentally aware approach to consumption.”
Restore Investments in one another and our communities – The premise behind this one is that people are what will “bail you out” when the times are hard, not corporations. So we need to invest in people.
From these fundamentals Schor proceeds to provide statistics and the sources of her information, which she has used as a foundation for her solution. She speaks, like Wendell Berry, of the limits of the earth when we don’t reinvest in things like soil preservation. She also cites some rather fantastic technological innovations going on right now, to remind us simplicity is not regression to Luddism.
In all, the book, though published in 2010, seems a response to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street, the attempts to curb carbon emissions, and the unemployment. It’s oft repeated denigration of “Business As Usual” should help us to think about whether a better economy is just more jobs and more stuff, and more about long term sustainability.
This video, narrated by Juliet Schor, is the book in a nutshell.