Dipping into degrowth

I’m a believer in the power of repetition to spread and embed ideas in our culture. Just as repetition is useful for learning new subjects or skills, it’s also useful for making certain ideas familiar to people. An example that’s relevant to this blog is the switch from using “global warming”, to using “climate change” in mainstream public discourse. It was a deliberate policy, pushed by Frank Luntz, because his focus groups thought the latter was less scary than the former. Not only did that effort work, but it also paved the way for climate deniers to say that the change was made by environmentalists because there wasn’t any warming.

There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.

-Frank Luntz

I think this approach is also why it’s now pretty normal to heard the Democratic Party referred to as the “Democrat party”, because someone decided that change made them look worse, and the Republicans look better. Luntz is a horrible person, judged by the harm he has done, but I think his understanding of propaganda is worth learning from.

All of this was to say that I’m aware that I repeat myself on this blog, and to some degree that’s deliberate. That said, this blog isn’t just about spreading a set number of messages I believe should be spread. It’s also an ongoing learning process for me, and for anyone who happens to learn from my work. That means that as much as I do repeat myself, I also try to delve into new topics on a regular basis.

Degrowth is one of those topics that I’ve been meaning to dig into, but I’ve been putting off. At my current level of understanding, it feels a little over-simplified, but like an obvious conclusion. Infinite growth is not possible in a finite world, and so any system that relies on infinite growth is definitionally unsustainable, and so dangerous. As with the constant calls to “organize” or to “build collective power”, my knee-jerk reaction is to ask, “Ok, yes, but how? What can we actually do in our day-to-day lives that counts as ‘organizing’?”

I don’t have the answer, and my guess is that most other people are in the same situation. We mostly haven’t been taught how a post-capitalist society could even exist. The default stance in mainstream “western” politics is that capitalism and liberal democracy are the end goal of humanity, and that they should be how everything is run for the rest of our existence of a species.

This is, apparently, as good as it gets.

It’s not surprising that we weren’t taught to think outside that box – that’s not what our education systems were designed for. So I’m trying to do at least a little to fill that gap, as one human among a multitude working on the same project. I’m going to start learning more about “degrowth” and writing more about it, about the proposals for achieving it, and so on.

For now, here’s a video from Our Changing Climate on the subject:

There are lot of ways a degrowth scenario could play out, the worst of which would be forced upon us by the climate. I remain firm in my belief that we can build a sustainable society that still benefits from advanced technology, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t require big changes to our own lives as we change things at a systemic level. I think that the more pro-active we are about this, the better our chances for a good outcome, and the more room we will have to screw up without disaster.

Going forward, I’m going to be putting more effort into degrowth content, and stuff like that, and I welcome any input and suggestions that you, dear reader, may have.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month (that’s like three pennies a day!) ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to some of the fiction and some other content.


  1. says

    Degrowth is surely an excellent goal – the idea of reducing the size of our bloated economies and negative impact on the world. It does make me think of a few things that are less excellent – eco-fascist ideas of population control through eugenics, and the seeming aim of some animal liberation types to render domestic animals extinct – that idea it’s better to be dead than “enslaved.” Just stuff that pops into my head when I hear the term, consider how it might be interpreted through different points of view.

    One big looming potential crisis for that is the effect of population contraction on the well-being of the elderly. Japan’s been thinking about that for a long time, I think the anime Roujin-Z may have been inspired by that? That anime cautions people to avoid the temptation to shirk responsibility for their care as well, but however that ends up happening, it’s going to need to be incredibly efficient. I’m always struck by the yawning disparity between human social needs and the resources to fulfill them.

    Then again, since we’ve allowed COVID to become endemic, we may have a lot fewer people of advanced age – easing that issue in the shittiest way possible. At least, I can easily see how that would be the case and haven’t heard much to convince me it will not be. The vaccines are less effective for them and they’re more likely to suffer severe cases and this hasn’t changed. Will it ever?

    Degrowthing. Lot of things to consider, and I clearly have zero ability to stay on topic. I follow a squirrel.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    I haven’t seen this discussed many places, but it seems likely that we should see peak human population within the next decade or so. Big families just don’t make as much sense in the modern world, and as soon as women start receiving education, the size of families starts going down. I don’t see any particular inherent reason why a shrinking populace couldn’t be compatible with capitalism, either. It would be quite a transformation indeed if we don’t have people willing to take the crummy jobs, and even if we don’t, we’ll probably make robots to take up the slack.

  3. says

    The system we currently have relies entirely on growth. Without it, things collapse.

    I think the primary reason capitalism is incompatible with a shrinking population (and the less literal versions of “degrowth”, which is what the video was about), is that it’s a system that prioritizes the greed of the rich. It’s not just that it’s designed to funnel wealth upwards – though it is – but also that it’s designed to give the most power to people whose primary goal in life is accumulating as much wealth and power as possible.

    I’m sure my understanding here is incomplete, but it seems to me that the reason growth is necessary for capitalism, is that it’s the only way to make sure the rich keep getting richer, without the poor getting so poor that they lose the ability to work or to buy products. I’m sure revolt is a concern as well, but I don’t think they’re particularly worried about losing power right now.

    With a shrinking population, it could be possible to maintain the basic dynamics of capitalism without causing collapse – a sort of shrinking bubble, rather than a popping one – but that would then make the population decline something that those in power are actively incentivized to continue. I think it would also be used to continue the revival of eugenics as a “solution” to the problems caused by capitalism.

    A shrinking population may be compatible with capitalism, but capitalism remains incompatible with democracy or justice. It will also always be an obstacle to building a society that can have a sustainable, high quality of life.

    If your goal is to maintain the current global economic and political situation, just at a smaller size, then we’re not on the same team.

  4. Robbie D says

    I find it pretty poignant that a blog article on degrowth has an embedded youtube video in it. The video requires orders of magnitude more computing power and internet bandwidth than the article itself needs. I block any embedded videos by default.

  5. says

    I suppose there’s something to that, but simply opting out of society isn’t going to result in systemic change. I find it more useful to use the tools we have to change minds as best we can, and audio/visual media are (a) being used by those who want to prevent change at all costs, and (b) an extremely effective tool for reaching wide audiences.

    We do the best we can with the world we have, and I don’t see much gain in trying to live as though the world was already different.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *