Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of explored the underlying causes of the perpetual growth delusion, its effects on the psyche, and how to escape them through deprogramming and non-parti cipation. To conclude the series, Part 3 will suggest simple and achievable ways to begin the degrowth process in your own life.
I have just begun to explore these possibilities in my life, so please take these words only as encouragement to break with tradition and explore more equitable systems of value to support the futures we want to build.
Work in fields that use and remove wealth, rather than create more of it
This is an aspirational goal for me, personally, and a useful framework for helping to identify the type of work I can do in the future to contribute to degrowth. My career thus far has mostly been been spent either as a technologist or a marketer and neither help me satisfy this goal.
There are plenty of ways to contribute to the world without making the rich any richer. Grant or sponsored work, nonprofits (sometimes) and other work funded through donation, art supported through patronage, and other ways of converting money back into commonly accessible value, would all qualify; as long as the end results are made publicly available.
However, the gesture is essentially meaningless without the follow-through of extracting value from the monetary system and converting it back into, essentially, the commons. Since we cannot all work for nonprofits, etc. I suggest the priority is the removal of wealth, regardless of how it is gathered for the purpose (see “Move wealth into regenerative financial drains” below).
Abandon credit and live debt-free
With the caveat that there are societal realities that one must navigate using credit judiciously, I heartily recommend never going into debt for any reason. Sarah and I maintain credit cards which get paid off in their entirety each month without exception. But we will never have a mortgage again after we sell this home. We will never have a car loan, or a payment plan for our phone, a Banana Republic card, or anything else that bears interest for a bank.
The goal here is twofold: First that we avoid making the rich richer in any and every way possible. Second, that we maintain the greatest possible degree of personal agency -which is easier to do when you’re not under legal obligation to pay a debt.
I bought a house at 27 with every last penny I could muster and I spent the next 10 years paying more in taxes and interest than I could ever extract by selling our home. And now skyrocketing taxes make it infeasible to stay here long-term. This is what you get for buying into the American Dream.
The point of this fun anecdote is to demonstrate, intimately, the realities of the usury system on a personal level. If I knew then what I know now I’d have saved my money and bought something much cheaper for cash. Operating “in cash” is an essential strategy for preserving and increasing personal agency.
Reject the notion of interest-bearing loans
The inverse idea is also true. I neither want to owe, or be owed, any interest -ever. This is the key idea that unlocks the degrowth future that I want so badly. Interest IS slavery. The “something for nothing” of this is wrong.
Interest is more than just the proceeds of a crime, more even than the ongoing income from a crime already committed. It is also the engine of continued robbery; it is a force that compels us all, however kind in our intentions, into willing or unwilling complicity in the strip-mining of the earth.Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics
More than something for nothing, interest actually represents something more heinous; something stolen and then sold back to its original owner. All of us share the same universal right to exist –freely. The commons, as Eisenstein calls it, is Mother Earth and her gifts belong to us all. To waste her charity or consume an unfair portion is immoral.
There is rightness and justness in receiving compensation, or better, gratitude for your labors; but there is no excuse for usury, no justification for debts deliberately made difficult to repay. Only predation, classism, and nepotism make it so…
Participate in the gift and barter economies
In many alternative communities, including the occult and astro community, the idea of barter is already making a gradual and natural comeback; between non-wealthy members who began by engaging in mutual aid, preferential shopping, and patronage. Over time, as more members of the community found ways to contribute value to the community, more of the economy itself moved out of the monetary realm.
It works like this: Someone offers an online class on a subject they have expertise in, some people sign up to take the class, and some of those people either reach out to the provider with offers for alternative payment -or the provider reaches out to them with the same suggestion.
I’ll do X for you if you do Y for me. The “market value” for these services is irrelevant; the value that matters is personal. This may result in valuations that vary from person to person but this is also irrelevant because, since each provider may adjust their expectations up or down according to the situation and thus may receive the goods or services they desire without be fixed to a common standard of value.
Artists who are forced to charge money for their work are forced to compete on even terms with essential resources like food, water, shelter, etc. Without money, one cannot meet these basic needs in our society today. However, in a barter system, these artists may exchange their gifts for the gifts of another, without first having to reduce their work to a monetary standard which forces competition with other, more easily quantifiable, goods and services.
Taking us a step further into the non-monetary future, the development of a gift economy (alongside the monetary economy) would have a most transformative effect on the physical and spiritual context of our transactions with one another.
Gifts circulate, they possess a history (of who gave an item to whom), their value isn’t exclusively utilitarian, and they are held sacred in a way that purchases are not. The act of giving ensouls an item, adding the numinous to the material; mystery to the mundane.
In the gift economy, “trades” are not exclusively between the giver and receiver; but instead, the community at large. A person with an opportunity to give, in a gift economy, receives goodwill for their contribution that is recognized by essentially all members of the community. Later, when that person is in need, a system of reciprocity provides for them. And, regardless, the recipient of the gift now has the responsibility to contribute to the community by the proportion they deem equivalent. The community is the ultimate arbiter of value, enforcing fairness through social pressure.
This requires faith. Faith in others, faith in community, and faith in one’s own ability to contribute reciprocal value. We call it trust in a tokenized, transactional society; but it’s really faith in the essential qualities of humanity. A basic presumption that the world is, in fact, not out to get you but is just trying to exist and create Joy in the world, much like you.
Provide non-monetary aid –help with your hands
I have nothing against the kind of financial mutual aid that is being passed around the Internet today in the form of GoFundMe campaigns and the like; I just find them to be inadequate. And, in the end, they benefit the same predatory investor class that forced us to turn to each other for aid as the transaction fees on our generosity flow up the financial food chain.
The alternative is difficult to do at a distance, which is why it is essential to surround one’s self with a like-minded community, bound by purpose as well as place.
Helping with your hands turns a transaction, albeit a charitable one, into a labor of love. Effort and time amount to focused attention; and this is what we all lack, the feeling of connectedness. Being willing to help with your hands is the most beautiful way to give. Financial giving trails far behind this kind of giving in the estimation of the recipient.
So as to avoid being ableist, I use phrases like “with your hands” metaphorically; of course, I actually mean “giving of one’s time, effort, or expertise meaningfully” -but the other way is more poetic.
Move wealth into regenerative financial drains
Degrowth implies deliberate reduction. Once we can overcome the culturally programmed shock this idea induces, a great many new options appear on the table for us to consider. My favorite among the ideas made possible through a degrowth mindset is regenerative living.
A regenerative way of life is rarely a profitable one. It’s always more profitable to extract the maximum amount of Earth’s resources in the shortest amount of time. The two ideas are incompatible. Instead of profit, we extract a different kind of value from helping the Earth regenerate the biodiversity we’ve stolen from it; I’d call it a spiritual one.
If we don’t care about how profitable an investment is, the idea of investing shifts dramatically and the possible positive futures ahead of us multiply exponentially. Imagine if we concerned ourselves with the legacy we leave behind -investing both time and money into our passions- and not on how much wealth we can accumulate and pass on.
Imagine if your status in society was based on how generous you were to the community and what beautiful, wonderful things you could create -because we suddenly recognize that money is meaningless and our governments print more of it all the time. It’s purpose is to represent real things with real value. Fiat notwithstanding, money essentially represents the time and energy it took to acquire and the goods and services we trade.
You can always make more money. We cannot make more beautiful places on Earth, but we can certainly destroy them.
My own degrowth investment dream is to preserve swathes of neotropical jungle by extracting wealth from the Global North (I call this Pirate Money) and using it to buy up more jungle than I could ever cultivate or use to conserve for the future.
Generating independent content and having that work supported by fellow free-thinkers, and investing those funds into degrowth projects, is another opportunity I would love to explore. The point though, is to find a way to extract value without just immediately re-injecting it into the system.
Preserve and enrich the commons
The world needs fewer inhabitants and more custodians. And that’s not to say anything bad has to happen to the ones here now but that each of us have to come to grips with our impact on the ecosystem. It’s an enormous burden and every little thing we can be doing to slow the rapid decline of biodiversity across the planet is essential.
This is why it matters that more people are gardening, composting, beekeeping, retrofitting, and downshifting in general into a regenerative way of life. This bullet train of destruction the human race has engineered in the form of M*nsanto agribusiness practices is rapidly rendering soils infertile around the world and, through the use of pesticides, obliterating global bee populations. Downshifting is an act of resistance against the commoditization of food and the reckless waste of Earth’s glorious, but finite, resources.
You belong to the land you occupy as much as it belongs to you. It is from whence we come. Our mothers’ bodies were nourished by its bounties long before we were nourished by it ourselves. The “commons” refers to the common resources of Earth shared by all its inhabitants -both human and non-human. It is our duty to safeguard and protect it, to preserve and cherish it; and to aid it in its natural magic.
We are custodians by birthright.
Grow more food than you can consume
Those of us lucky enough to belong to land as custodians are in the enviable position of being able to grow food for ourselves and our community. A relatively small area of any property that receives sun and water regularly can be converted to growing fruits, vegetables, greens, and herbs. Our side yard created a significant surplus of food for our family last year (our first year with a garden) with a little less than 400 sq ft of beds (vertical gardening FTW!)
Dry, can, jam, and consume your fill, of course; but when your cupboards are full, give the surplus away. Obviously, if you can donate to local shelters or food pantries then great, but giving to friends and neighbors still reduces (albeit negligibly) demand, consumption, and dependency on centralized food supply chains.
Clearly, your small garden doesn’t accomplish these things by itself. But the act of gardening, and the sharing resources (and knowledge) from it, strengthens community resilience and decreases dependence on the corporatized state. It also has many additional regenerative benefits like providing sanctuary to beneficial insects, food for local animals, sweetening the air, and soothing the soul.
A few hundred dollars a year in supplies (and being willing to get your hands dirty) is all that is needed to maintain a meaningful garden space -and, of course, there are also community gardening options in most places, if you are not a land owner but would like to contribute in this way.
Give and receive (hand-me-downs) freely
For the same reasons we were taught to “reduce, reuse, and recycle”, hand-me-downs are a practical downshifting strategy that also aids in degrowth.
The more new things we buy, especially cheap things, the more we contribute to the system that extracts value from the Earth, converts it into money, and sends that money upstream to the predatory elite atop the financial food chain.
Conversely, everything we don’t buy is a direct assault on the predator class because the wealth in your pocket isn’t in theirs. To keep your wealth “in your pocket”, so to speak, when the elites are constantly reshaping the global financial system to their own benefit, requires converting it into some thing of lasting value and then gifting it at some point thereby preventing someone else from spending money.
Hand-me-downs are a heartwarming example of this practice. At some point you purchase some useful item which serves you well and you become very fond of it. The attention you pay it ensouls the item in some sense, adding the sacredness that Eisenstein refers to when he writes:
Accordingly, to create objects with soul, objects for a rich and beautiful world, we must invest them with life, self, and humanity; in other words, we must invest them with something of our selves.
Then one day you feel compelled to give someone a thing of value to you, which is perfect for them in some way and conveys your respect / gratitude / appreciation / love / etc depending on the situation and your relationship. Regardless, the essence of the exchange isn’t transactional, it’s relational.
By the same token, by fostering within ourselves a realization of the sacredness inherent in materiality, and by aligning our work with that sacredness, we lay the social and psychic foundation of an economy in which more and more of the things we make and do for each other are beautiful, personal, alive, and ensouled.Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics
The story of an item is the story of the people who spent time with it, gave it purpose, and benefited from it. Any useful item can acquire this kind of person-ality; this is what we call “character”. By passing on items with character, you’re sharing and community-building while reducing consumption and re-enchanting the world.
Work a labor of love until the day you die
I’m not sure we’re ever meant to retire, but I am sure that we were never meant to spend our lives serving on the front lines of the class war; as more meat for the grinder. We fear work, loathe the idea of it, and regret the time we spend doing it. Most of us anyway.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Of course, realistically it is very difficult to only do what you truly love -but if you’re willing to make certain sacrifices, it is possible. It’s good for your soul, naturally, but that’s not how it fits into this narrative.
Working a labor of love, rather than one exclusively for money, and not stopping until you die, virtually guarantees both spiritual and physical fulfillment. Continuing to generate at least some income also means you can continue to move wealth from the traditional monetary system into regenerative value systems.
Every little bit counts
We’re late to the party when it comes to regenerative living but we’re still in the very early stages of degrowth. The phases to follow will neither be comfortable, nor easy, but it stands to reason that the more prepared -and adjusted- we become to the new paradigm before it becomes a self-evident reality, the more likely we are to succeed in the future.
And on a social / global level, every thing we do now to slow the destruction of the commons, to enrich and enchant the lives of those around us, and to refocus on local community and decentralized governance, preserves more for an inevitable future in which those things are treated as precious once again.
Every little bit counts. Everything you do matters. That doesn’t make you the hero of the human story, but that’s ok. It makes you a participant in life. The flowers you grow in your garden provide bees (a precious and endangered ally) sustenance. The food you share with friends nourishes them in body and spirit while taking money out of the corrupt system that generates scarcity. The time and resources you invest into regenerating and beautifying the world create sanctuary for your kin: family, friends, fauna and flora.
Degrowth isn’t a competition. It isn’t a religion, or even a philosophy. It’s simply an inevitability that we can either embrace or endure. For my part I choose not to participate in the predatory consumerism of dominator / extractor culture.
I choose to be a part of the salve for solutionism: radical non-participation and intentional degrowth.
Featured Image: At Rest by Efflam Mercier