Standard disclaimer: This is a bit of August armchair sociology, converting personal demons in a generalized and generational lament. Bauman would be proud of me! Freud, too. Just to be clear, I’m normally quite cautious with the postmodern sociology but in the following context it does make sense. I am not claiming that “postmodernity did this to us”, I’m thinking more along the lines of “these are the postmodern responses to the same old problems”.
I’ve felt guilty since entering adolescence: of my use of resources, of my privilege. This is not a feminist issues of “they are trying to shrink me”, this is “I am trying to shrink my guilt and my carbon footprint”. Win-win! And I’m clearly not the only one: KonMari’s “throw it all out” is selling like crazy, the internets are teeming with tiny homes, capsule wardrobes, out-of-backpack adventures, digital nomadism…
I’ve promised myself to never use the idiotic notion of “millenials”, although I do remember that year when shops were selling “2000” candles and t-shirts. I shall move towards a generalized “we” instead. In this case it means generation Y and also a certain socio-demographic. However, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, replace every “we are” with “Luīze is”, that should do the trick.
We are attracted to (1) minimalism in numbers, (2) minimalism in aesthetics, and have (3) ethical (and global) sensibilities in line with Ahimsa. While it’s all beautiful and good for the environment (unless you are one of those people tossing out all plastic / fast fashion and replacing it with stainless steel / sustainable garments; using up and not replacing is the thing, obviously), they are an itch to scratch to a budding sociologist. Where does it all come from? And the smugness! And righteousness!
These are the ad-hoc explanations I can come up with (following the best Weberian traditions, yes, it’s definitely multi-causal and more complex, but let’s just relax and spitball):
A) We are too well-off. To put it crudely, Russians have an expression loosely translated as “going mad because of abundance” (literally: “going mad because of fat” – “С жиру бесится”). Or, to be more refined, we have post-material values. In line with the infamous, unscientific, and intuitively true work of Maslow, these are sensibilities that arise from all practical needs being covered. And then we reshuffle the priorities! While few might have the discipline to follow the steps of George Monbiot, travel and festivals, and vanguard tacos might be ascribed more subjective worth (as *experiences*) than the biggest TV set and a mortgage.
Old problem counterfactual: Marie Antoinette playing farm and how believable we find that she could’ve suggested that the starving eat brioche.
B) Our life is unpredictable, and, contrary, to the XX ideal, we don’t expect it to be otherwise. Even if living and writing code from Bali is not your dream, there’s also no certainty of living in this house, in this city, in this country for a reasonable amount of time. So acquiring numerous heavy possessions is not practical.
Old problem counterfactual: not having anything and the plague is coming. Possessions are meaningless, unless you can buy your way into the Decameron mansion, and we all are going to end up in a mass grave anyway.
C) We can’t handle chaos, hence try to establish a little patch of order in our won backyard. We cannot control economy, politics, terrorism… but we can decide to wear 33 garments for next 3 months, and stick to it. At least something! The doom and gloom seems to accelerate, and if the X-ers were already f*ed (see Coupland for proof), we are beyond that… We are craving meaning and clarity, and feeling special, better than the rest (after all, our mothers believed the indigo children bs, so we grew up confident in our uniqueness and unavoidable success).
Old problem counterfactual: family patriarchy under Feudal or Authoritarian system.
D) The knowledge economy has gone postmaterial, so we are (selectively) reducing the material stuff and entering the business of selling intangible skill and hot air. Coaching, consulting, curating, networking… several powerful devices and few other possessions might be all we need. We envy the techno-nomads and virulently share testimonies of living out of a backpack.
And we are our own brand! Such careful cultivation when the fruits of your labor are not material. Only the number of followers and “likes” measure our worth. We seek to project our ideal selves – glowing, smart, compassionate, and creative – into reality instead of killing ourselves and all other creatures.
Old problem counterfactual: the world is still material (knock on wood!), and parsonal branding is not new! Either for curating a successful philosophy (1, 2) or explorer brand (3, 4, 5).
E) The eye has to rest! Contrary to Diana Vreeland’s advice, we might just be tired of all the stimuli. Every day we see a gazillion pictures, read as much snippets of texts, tweets, ads… it’s tiring.
There might be a spiritual-religious spark to it, too: looking for the enlightenment via (selective) renounciation and purity politics (the “clean eating” orthorexia horrors, anyone?), wishing to be on the right side of the history.
Old problem counterfactual: find a cave, become a hermit and wait for the magic to happen! Moving in a semi-secluded cabin and writing a tedious diary is another option.
Is it that bad, doctor (or, better, holistic practitioner)? I prescribe persuasion by quiet example, *not* surround yourself with the like-minded, and better a smug blog than smug sermons at family gatherings.
Dos any of this resonate or is this really just me?