Rethinking Sustainable Design: Question 5 – Excess

By your last lecture, did you mean that through reducing materials intensity and conserving/sharing resources in certain areas, we could indulge and expend time, energy, and resources in specialized areas meaningful to us that we are currently neglecting due to wage-slavery and detached consumption practices?

In one way, this was the argument being made. So at a first level, the argument is that sustainable futures must not be about only austerity and privation. They must have aspects that cater to human excess, the way in which humans seek experiences that are visceral expenditures of energy. Paying attention to these more transgressive aspects of being human provides both a better understanding of why people consume they way they consume, and a better way of making sustainable futures more desirable.

But on the other hand, this way of putting it – being efficient over here so that you can respend your savings over there – is exactly the same logic as capitalism (Protestant Work Ethic + Romantic Consumerism). So at a second level, the argument is more that we need to find a bunch of activities that are simultaneously resource efficient and excessive. That is what is interesting for Alan Stoekl about Gleaning and Bicycling; these are practices that are waste minimizing, but the reason they are performed is not because they are sustainable, but primarily, he argues, because they involve a kind of perverse pleasure – getting dirty, feeling your muscles burn, gaming. Designing more sustainable futures will be about making possible excessive pleasures that happen to also be less rapacious in their consumption of scarce sources of intense energy.

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