We are supposed to accept the logic of capitalism, supposed to embrace new technology and new products, and supposed to be well-informed citizens making rational choices. How are we, then, to live in an unequal, increasingly unsustainable society where distraction, disruption, and destruction have become the norm? How are we to cope with the acceleration of change?
Something has gone wrong. If we consider the consequences of ongoing climate change, ocean acidification, land degradation, freshwater pollution, biodiversity loss, dispossession of people, and destruction of local communities – the ultimate failure of politics, it is easy to conclude that we are being robbed of our future.
The privatization of the earth is in full swing, while life itself has become a commodity to exploit in every possible way. The lack of economic – not to mention ecological – democracy is the rule and not the exception. People and ecosystems are under extreme pressure, so we are in need of recovery and the life-support systems of the earth are in need of recovery. Put differently, if we and coming generations are to survive, we have to find sustainable ways of living with each other and with nature.
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, and meaningful social relationships? The questions are left open. The inconvenient truth is that our lives and our planet are being altered at an alarming rate. Our common habitat has never been more threatened. Our common future has never been more uncertain. Our perception of our environment has never been more manipulated.
A Call for Global Action
Capitalism – with political and military backing and a vast cultural apparatus – is silently destroying the earth. However, we were not born to allow this to happen. We do not necessarily have to waste our lives. There is no reason to live in ignorance. It is time to stop fooling ourselves, time to relearn, time to care about our fellow beings, time to advance the development of technologies and organizations that serve our needs, time to live in harmony with nature.
We cannot escape our bodies, nor can we remove the boundaries of our planet, but as human beings we have the capacity to learn and practice the language of sustainability. 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.
Wherever we live, we have to start somewhere. The transition to social and ecological sustainability begins when we slow down our lives, speak and listen mindfully, and act as if urgent dialogues really mattered. What is emerging, then, are self-organized groups and communities where sharing of knowledge, ideas, and experiences among peers is practiced.
Instead of running away from our problems or distracting ourselves, we observe the processes and patterns of nature, and reflect on what it means to live at a sustainable pace. Acceleration is not the answer to our needs, just as little as war is the answer to limited resources. As soon as we begin to breathe slower, move slower, and slow down our mode of communication, we begin to shape our common future. Ultimately, we slow down in order to survive.
In a capitalist society, we are supposed to learn fast. Restless and rootless, we try to understand the world around us. Bombarded by the message that we have to compete, we tend to ignore the need to reflect on the direction to be taken. Something is obviously wrong when education kills our curiosity, convinces us that learning has everything to do with one's personal career, or prevents us from learning what we need to know in order to create a sustainable society.
We cannot engage in self-deception any longer. If we are to make a radical shift, 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, we will never break free. Conversely, when we begin to think and communicate freely – when there is time and space for open conversations and alternative interpretations, we will make obsolete the concepts and practices underpinning the current political economic system.
There is still hope for our children, but it is definitely time to question, time to say goodbye to fast education and knowledge factories, time to learn what we really need to know. Peer-to-peer communication, slow knowledge, ecological literacy, and freedom from educational oppression are starting points for learning and sharing of experiences in a slow society.
We already know that the financialization of everything is a dead end project. Since capitalism entered its most destructive phase, it has become increasingly important to offer a viable alternative. Slowness in all its creative forms, supported by the diverse movement of slow people around the earth, encourages us to transform the way we live and work.
The current work system, a meritocratic system that favors certain forms of knowledge and certain skills and experiences, has so far failed to meet the needs of all people. Trusted and supported, it will continue to sustain an unequal distribution of power and resources. Unchallenged, it will continue to pit workers against each other in a race to the environmental bottom. In other words, we need a different approach to work – one that breaks with the socially and ecologically devastating wage labor system, and instead serves humanity as a whole.
Slow work is work that contributes to the long-term well-being of all people. Being an integral part of our daily lives and practices, it is meaningful in a down-to-earth sense. Contrary to fast work, it is strengthening our relationships with people and places, decreasing our ecological footprint, and helping us to undermine the power of the ruling elite. Open slow work systems produce use value 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.
What is missing today are habitats and socioecological configurations that provide us with everything we need. What is required today – more than ever – is a relentless political critique of speed, which, more specifically, addresses the rate of extraction of non-renewable resources, the speed with which our environment is changing, the rate of species extinction, the pace of technological change, and the speed of social interactions.
The politics of slowness is an antidote to everything that speeds up our lives and degrades our habitats. It rests on the following beliefs: Only a self-reflective society can anticipate and adapt to crises. Only a resource-efficient, solar-powered society has the option to preserve biological and cultural diversity. Only a society where all people – men and women – are equals can become sustainable. Only a society with a critical view on technology has the option to make wise use of technology. Only a slow society can adapt to a slow planet.
Being a necessary response to a non-egalitarian and non-democratic system synonymous with overwork and overconsumption, unemployment and dispossession, habitat destruction as well as unhealthy living conditions, the politics of slowness is a call for transformation at all scales.
It will definitely take some time to slow down 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.