Building the Vision of the Good


[Kate Soper, Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism]


Jordan Fox Besek

The crux of Kate Soper’s "Post-Growth Living" is simple: we need to redefine “the good life.” We need to move away from a culture that equates the good life with endless consumption and toward one that equates it with experiences that are not defined by the market. Not only is this transition ecologically necessary, but it will also lead to fairer, and far more pleasurable, experiences, such as Soper’s desired “alternative hedonism.” I am confident that this singular plea is both fecund and needed, even if, after reading, I am still not sure exactly what “alternative hedonism” actually is.

"Post-Growth Living" is a book that expects its readership to be quite comfortable with the fact that we share much more with other beings than previously thought, that we should move far away from nonhuman relations built on cold calculations, and that there is a relationality of all beings. Yet it is also a book that expects its readership to recognise that relationality between things does not imply that they are one in the same. On these grounds, Soper has no truck with post-humanism. She contends that the attempt of practitioners of post-humanism to “collapse…what they see as misguided or arrogantly humanist distinctions between ourselves and other animals” should be “resisted as unhelpful to the environmental argument.” This is because, she argues, nonhumans are not absolutely inseparable from us, nor do they have powers and forms of agency that uniquely define the human. To pretend we can fully absorb them into our worlds is then to deny the specificity of their own worlds. Her next critique is a bit more robust. The responsibility for ecological crises is profoundly human. Against post-humanist impulses, then, addressing ecological crises necessitates focusing on the ways we, as humans, live.

So, what does this alternative mode of human living look like? It begins with a rejection of the type of consumption on which current ideals of the good life are built, which problematically are today lodestars in the Global South as much as in the Global North. The majority of the world aspires to consume more—more cars, more fashion, more electronics, more everything—and these prima facie unsustainable aspirations are rooted in the everyday life of most of humanity, across class lines, dialectically wedding consumption to processes of production. To reify them as simply the “choices” or “desires” imposed by an all-powerful capital is to reproduce the idea that people exist only as workers or as capitalist consumers, and this is the idea that Soper is begging us to escape.

After this theoretical positioning, the bulk of the book works toward developing a vision of this alternative hedonism. The day-to-day aspects of her vision are not particularly radical, but this is likely the point. Soper’s alternative world is not a profound change from our own, it is simply one in which we develop ways to better reflect on and incorporate the environmental consequences of our consumption, and, in doing so, consume far less.



For a full review of this brief, click here or on the picture to download the pdf file.

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