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What if less really is MORE?

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By Nathan Kinch

· 7 min read

Let me start by telling you a little about ‘a day in my life’.

It’s about 6:30am. I regain consciousness. I quietly check in on my daughter. She’s sleeping soundly, sprawled across her entire bed. I give our dog a little snuggle. I feel the love. So does she. She stays in bed.

I walk downstairs and look outside. I can see the re-wilding we’ve done. I check on the bees seeking out pollen. I listen to the birds, amidst the construction noise next door. I feel just a smidgen of the joy a few of the ecstatic dogs running around the park feel.

I have a drink of water. I slowly brew a coffee. I listen to a podcast. I read. I meditate.

I snuggle my daughter awake. We spend time together. We get ready. We make food together. We eat.

We then get on the bike. We ride off to a playground nearby. We play the floor is lava on this incredible, winding setup of rocks and logs. We watch the birds. Today we spent time with a baby Rainbow Lorikeet. We thought they might be in trouble, but after plenty of time being with that little being, Mum and Dad came in to deliver some nourishment.

We head to a cafe. We chat. We laugh. We observe and comment. We’re learning about the world around us through our dialogue, through the questions we ask and through the stories we tell.

We head home. We do some drawing out the front of the house.

We take our dog to the park. We run around. We do some more riding. My daughter shows me she can now stand up off the seat. She’s stoked. I’m proud.

We then build. A tower. It gets knocked down. Another one. This time with a different design.

At this point I must have mentioned how much I love her about 107 times. Nothing could be truer.

Eventually her Mum comes to pick her up. We say our goodbyes. This is always a little sad (not between myself and her mum, but the idea of her going away for half of the week. This house doesn’t quite feel like home without her), but it’s something I’ve learned to live in relation to.

Our little one has a lot of deep love, quality attention, and so much more that I am thankful for.

I now have to reorient. I transition out of full time Dad mode. I have to run some errands. I even try to do a little work. Today I’m preparing some documents for a new venture. I’m supporting this new team in seeding our cultural conditions. I then deliver two presentations. I begin refining some ‘output’ from another ecology of practice I’m part of.

None of this makes me any money by the way (at least not yet). That’s another bloody story.

I do a little workout. I’m pretty limited nowadays, especially given the fact I need a full shoulder replacement! No more bench press PRs. In fact, no pushing at all… I digress.

I come home and cook.
I slowly pull together my buddha bowl.
I eat.
I then connect with some new folks over in Europe. Kindred spirits.

The day slowly winds down…

Although I’ve missed a lot of ‘detail’, and there’s no way to get at the subjective quality of such a day, it sounds fucking beautiful, right?

That’s because it is, at least to me.

Now, none of this is to suggest I don’t experience pain (believe me, I do. But that’s another story). None of this is to suggest I don’t over-think or ruminate (thankfully I often catch myself, reconnect with impermanence and get back to being). None of this is to suggest I don’t feel something like a deep existential tension. I do. And it’s largely because the ‘good life’ I envisage and attempt to live comes into direct conflict with the socio-cultural/economic/political/technological etc.) paradigm of today.

I share this very TL;DR day in the life summary for a reason. It’s because this, even recognising our trajectory and the most recent empirical observations, seems like the type of life we might still be able to live in the future.

This life is fucking abundant. Seriously. It’s rich in love and laughter, quality food, great friends, plenty of movement, story telling, learning, exploring our surrounds and a bunch of other stuff humans kinda dig.

I set the stage this way because, in almost every conversation I have with folks about the idea of degrowth (“A planned reduction of energy and resource use designed to bring the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human well-being” - Hickel), they immediately go to some shitty dystopia where we’ve lost our capacity for complex language, we ravage each other every other moment, and where life is pretty much miserable AF overall.

Most of these folks have not gone deep into this area of scholarship. But, the framing effect this title has seems to be so powerful that it disables them from getting below the surface and attempting to understand what is, in fact, being proposed.

Some argue this is a ‘good’ thing. The framing can’t be co-opted. It’s ‘pure’.

But who gives a fuck about purity right now? Seriously.

*I’m happy to dive into different moral theories, the pluralistic reality of human value systems, how to practically work with such theories etc. This stuff is literally my day job as an ethicist. But for now, let’s just roll with the punches.

Civilisation is operating in such a way that our trajectory might well be existential. Our current stories, patterns and structures continue to drive us further away from a fairly stable and thus habitable biosphere. In fact, we’re already beyond that stable zone. Way beyond.

Given this, I believe now is the time to step back and consider the fact that a message of ‘more’ might better serve the civilisational transition we need.

I know I’m not the first to suggest this. I certainly won’t be the last. But just think about it for a moment.

I’m talking more quality time with friends and family. More natural movement. More quality food that we have some direct relationship with. More art. More deep questioning. More block party’s (with the produce coming from our shared urban gardens). More signing and dancing. More <input almost any truly meaningful experience>.

The reality seems to be that the only way to get more of this - the stuff that people actually care about, especially when you speak to them on or near their death bed - is by doing MASSIVELY less of other stuff.

The crazy thing is that this is exactly what degrowth is about.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a second we become dogmatic (I am not dogmatic about degrowth. I’ll support agrowth and / or green growth where there is strong empirical evidence of sufficient absolute decoupling). Dogma is never helpful. What I am suggesting is that we need to platform the fuck out of this possibility. We need to create a relatable and constructive narrative that helps all of us realise that more of the stuff that really matters is only possible if we transition to a wise, just a biophysically compatible global civilisation.

In doing this, I’m not for a second suggesting we shy away from the reality. We HAVE to face this reality. We have to embody the terror and dread. We have to come to terms with the fact that BAU needs to die (or biodegrade, whatever your preferred framing).

But we can’t stay there. That zone of inaction is just as useless as the Ostrich zone. What we need is to come out of the other side with active hope. And this active hope, I’ll argue, won’t result from a misunderstanding of something that may well be both necessary and wholesome. This active hope will result from our capacity to collectively imagine a beautiful vision for life. A life where we all live well, within planetary limits.

As of right now, such a life seems to favour many of the degrowth proposals. But, although there’s a lot of support for such proposals amongst scholars who study these areas, the top level framing itself scares the bejebees out of lots of everyday folks.

So, if we want to transition to said wise, just and biophysically compatible society, we need to step up our story game. We need to seed the conditions for widespread active hope. We need a whole new take on what more can really mean.


With love as always.

This article is also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Nathan Kinch is a specialist in sociotechnology ethics, action research, and social entrepreneurship, who has spent his career designing trustworthy organisations. He's the co-founder of Tethix, a social venture helping people (re)imagine and create technology that enables human and planetary flourishing.

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