Buy Freedom! Change the World.

Suddenly, I´m reading at speed. This time, I have finished "Köp dig fri!" (= buy yourself free) by Ingrid Sommar and Susanne Helgeson. This is almost a Swedish equivalent of Lucy Siegle´s book about the fast fashion industry. Sommar and Helgeson are journalists who specialize in writing about new design in all areas, clothing, furniture, architecture, cars, whatever. What they have done is to ask a few questions about the way we buy stuff, use stuff, and discard stuff, and how that relates to economy and environment.

What they want to know is, what is quality? What is sustainability? And more to the point: does it matter if we buy second-hand or new? Does it matter if we buy hand made or industrially produced? Does it matter what materials are in the stuff we buy? Does it matter if the stuff we buy can be re-used? Does it matter where the stuff we buy has been made? Does it matter if we buy cheap or expensive? Does it matter if we buy stuff or "experiences"? Does it matter if we do it ourselves? How do we become good consumers? Where on the market can we find a sustainable product today?

The questions have been put to various designers, producers, researchers, artists, lobbyists, architects, and government officials. They have no clear cut answers. Seems like there is not much reliable research being done, that much of what we are told are mere opinions, opinions formulated from a very specific point of view. H&M even declined to answer the questions (which is an answer in itself, I think). The designers seem to be the ones who think about these questions most. Nirvan Richter, architect and carpenter, even says that the best product we can buy today is a course in personal development, from an existential perspective: "Not philosophy or theory, not shallow management, not religion, but a pragmatic guidance back to your self, back to what it´s about to be human, to experience deep presence. This experience is the prerequisite to the transformation that in itself is the only permanent solution to the dilemmas of human culture." (my own fast and dirty translation)

As it is, there are no sure answers. Everyone must do their own reading, make up their own mind. And shop, use, and discard accordingly.

Another thing in this book that stuck in my head was a history of consuming put forward by an American thinker, Paul Saffo, also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He says that in the beginning of the 20th Century, the industry was all about manufacturing, and they became better and better at this up until the Second World War. At the heart of this system was the worker and the time clock. After the war, the industry became so good at making stuff that they were making more than we needed to buy, which is when manufacturing economy transformed into consumer economy, where everyone must be given the possibility to buy more than they can afford. So now it´s all about the consumer and the creditcard. Next, we are passing into an economy where the producer and the customer are merging into a creator. We consume things that we partly make ourselves, we read blogs, electronic books, we craft, design our own cars and bikes from DIY kits sold by manufacturers, craft, and thrift. The consumer race is more or less a thing of the past, he says, and empty-eyed shopaholics are turning into creative customers.

Well, I can see that, I am a part of that, but for sure it´s much of a generational shift, both in customer behaviour and what producers want to offer. It´ll take a few more years to work on all levels, everywhere, I think.

Another thing that keeps being repeated in this book is that stuff is not the devil. Things are not evil. Things are part of culture, are part of how we express ourselves. Things are important. But only when we value them. Buy, barely use, and discard, is not to value something. That´s about shopping satisfaction, about getting a kick from making a "good deal". It´s about exercising one´s spending power. That´s all empty calories.

Also, we need to start paying for what stuff really costs. As it is now, someone else is paying for our dirt cheap clothes and things. Sometimes its the people manufacturing the stuff, sometimes it´s future generations through environmental damage that we are not taking responsibility for. Do you know how much forrest is illegally clear-felled to make the furniture you buy at IKEA?

One thing that is not said in this book, but I say to myself after reading it, is that when we pass into a creative-responsible economy, our spending power will decrease. As it is now, spending power is firmly linked to self-value, self-esteem, status, and a perception of personal success. Economic growth is the creed that capitalism is based on, and that paradigm will have to go if this new order is going to work. And perhaps it will. But politicians will have to come aboard on this, will have to understand what is going on, and will have to be able to communicate that to everybody. Else the engine of consumer economy will just continue to be fuelled and burn more and more of our limited resources. But perhaps they will. Perhaps a new kind of citizen, with other kinds of values and behaviours will actually change the world. Returning to what Richter said, perhaps this will be a more enlightened individual on all kinds of levels.

And, you want to know one sustainable product that´s on the marked today? The bicycle. That´s the perfect product. We shall perhaps pedal our way into the New World.

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