Don’t forget – you heard it here first, folks. It’s the new religion. And it’s copyright, and I registered the domain eco-mentalism.com.
The two of you who have read this blog a) more than once and b) all the way to the bottom will be familiar with my ranting and raving about all things eco and its importance for contemporary design, society, the economy, the world, the universe and life as we know it. You may also be familiar – perhaps even in your own right, as a result of your own reading and ponderings on this hugely complex subject – with what I view, anyway, as the ‘bottom line’ of the whole entire deal; that, however much eco-cred the eco-move you’re planning or doing may have, if it isn’t being used, and used in a sustainable way, then it isn’t sustainable at all. In other words, there’ll be no overall adoption of the things that make sense for our survival without a general, far-reaching, profound, deep-laid change in behaviour. And one could make oneself unpopular by suggesting that without such changes, there will be no survival. Rubbed out, us humans will be. Or reduced anyway to the last handful of us pushing a supermarket trolley full of tinned food as far south as we can get so we can at least be warmer avoiding the toxic dust and the cannibals.
And here’s the rub. How do you get people to make changes when the prime motivation, at least, is a vague and all-consuming (though not well informed) fear, much beset with complex arguments about things such as embodied energy, which tend to muddy the picture even more and bring nothing but confusion? Plus, eco choices don’t get made because the general public’s perception of the eco choice is that it’s the more expensive one. And they’re usually right.
In light of all this – and much more – I have been giving a good deal of thought recently to the inner workings of the human mind – nay, not just mind, let’s include spirit – and how it can be trained, or tricked, or browbeaten, or seduced, into adopting new forms of behaviour that, on the face of it, don’t seem to carry much palpable benefit. We have to make ourselves want the things we know we ought to have (and ‘unwant’ the things we ought not to), because the way it’s going at the moment, we aren’t going to want them enough, or quickly enough, to make the changes we need to make.
You’ll notice that this argument is unfolding without reference to the professional context in which design is practised – where, for instance, you either have to educate a client in the ways of green, and persuade him or her that he or she absolutely has to adopt them, or just grit your teeth and get on with the job without reference to the eco agenda, because that’s not what he or she wants. Or, lucky you, help the already greened-up client achieve more of his or her true and laudable eco aims. That’s not where I’m focusing the attention right now, because everyone is an individual with his or her own individual responsibility, and whether he or she sits behind a corporate desk the size of a small playing field or not, it’s at the individual level that this behaviour change has to take place. Your client might be putting a corporate green agenda into place across his or her corporate estate, but it’s only when he or she goes to a home heated with a ground source heat pump that the eco choice can be said to have been made – because if your company makes that choice for you, you don’t have power in the decision and therefore don’t have to take responsibility.
While I’ve been letting these ideas simmer, I’ve been googling (as you do) ‘ecomentalism’. There are a couple of sites out there that use the phrase, but the ones I’ve found so far use it as a term of disdain and abuse, aiming derision at the eco warriors (or worriers) who go all ‘mental’ about the eco imperative, lose what intellectual and spiritual balance they might originally have had, and proceed to act on ill conceived and mistaken motives.
Eco-mentalism (with a hyphen), as defined by AEJ Walker in the here and now, describes a state of mind, a set of mental processes and a belief system, based on the unarguable, inevitable, eternal truth that we are all part of the same organism. We know that the organism needs nurturing, that the current western socio-economic model is inimical to its nurture, and that bit by bit, small step by small step, we must dismantle that old model and build one in its place based on sharing not competition, on achieving harmony with each other and our surroundings, on a revived understanding of nature and what is natural, on an economic ideal that proposes a constant, steady state of activity rather than eternal and unsustainable growth. No one ever suggested the world and its resources were infinite; why then have we for the last two hundred years built our wealth on the blindly cockeyed assumption that we can go on growing it for ever?
Sounds a bit Gaia-ish doesn’t it? A bit hippie, a bit wishy washy touchy feely, Aidan gone all soft in the head? But depend upon it folks, we aren’t going to survive at all if we suppose that the way to do it is wipe out our competitors for food, transport, air and water. It would only be a matter of time before the hoodie with the big scythe came for us as well. It’s our minds that need to change for us to successfully save ourselves – and others.
At this stage I don’t profess to have even an inkling of any of the answers. The conclusion I have recently been coming to is that it depends upon a spiritual, even religious, element; the power of hope and inspiration, the power to believe that we can and will do it, that the forces for good are stronger than the forces of destruction and despair, that we will conquer and survive – not just survive, but live a good and great life, a better one.
I don’t think most sensible people would scoff the idea out of court, given the current state of things; there are literally thousands of inexpressibly complex and difficult issues to grapple with – eg, what right do we have, after 200 years of untold material prosperity, to turn round and deny it to the ‘developing world’ – but when all’s said and done, unless we find a charismatic and uplifting way of seducing ourselves and others into adopting what we all deep down know is ‘right behaviour’, we’re toast.
Fear, threats and negativity won’t do it; they just cause resistance. The route has to be signposted with attractions, with beauty, harmony and love, with things that we naturally desire. And correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me, from what little understanding of design that I have gained in more than 20 years of meeting the world’s best practitioners – in two decades of thinking, talking and writing about it – that the creation of such sweetmeats for the soul, the magical conjuring of desire, is just the sort of thing design is good at. Not just good at; it’s what it’s for. Over to you, dear reader. I’m right with you.