Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Soper and the Alternative Hedonist

The No Impact paper is writing itself faster than I thought it would, in part because I'm just working on it a little every day, in small chunks, so it doesn't feel overwhelming. But it's also partly because it is a topic that I've been working on and thinking about--both at work and in my personal life--for a long time.

Today, I'm reading this, from an British environmental philosopher named Kate Soper. She writes:

A reduction in the working week or daily workloads, together with provision for more secure part-time employment, would singificantly relieve the stress on both nature and ourselves. It would free up time for the arts of living and personal relating that are being sacrificed in the 'work and spend' economy. It would allow everyone to reap the benefits of co-parenting, and open up new ideas about personal well-being and success.

This last bit, the emphasis on personal well-being and success, rather than success determined by the workplace or the bank account, she calls "alternative hedonism." Alternative hedonism is the idea that not only is living more simply, locally, and slowly good for the planet, but it makes for happier people.

Which I think is exactly No Impact Man's message. Which has had quite the impact on me. Alternative hedonism is why I refuse to work too many hours in the week. It's why I build projects with my kids using stuff we find or already have. It's why I've learned to cook, and tried to start a garden this year. It's not because these things, in and of themselves, will save the world, but because they save my world. They feel good. They're pleasurable. And it's a much deeper, more lasting pleasure than that provided by three hours in the mall. And there is no down side (the way there would be to three hours spent in a mall).

Of course, the fulfillment of alternative hedonism, in its best form, also requires collective and/or government action. Soper:

Those wanting to go by bike will need their cycle track provided (and trains that help rather than hinder cycle travel). Those hankering after a different 'work/life balance' will need to be allowed to work less or in more life-enhancing ways.

And so on. The personal and the political meet. And, as someone who thinks about communication strategies, the message of pleasure rather than sacrifice appeals. As a human just trying to live a good, happy life, I like that I can do what feels right, but also be connected with something larger than myself that makes positive change in the world.

I'm oversimplifying Soper's argument (she makes some very interesting statements about the class repercussions here), but I like what she has to say. What do you think?

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