RADICAL ANIMAL

INNOVATION | SUSTAINABILITY | HUMAN NATURE

Interview on "Radical Animal" with Knack Weekend, Belgium’s leading lifestyle magazine

A delight to receive this PDF from Elke Lahousse, journalist with Knack Weekend, containing my interview around the forthcoming Radical Animal book, in a section entitled New Horizons ('Kijk Vooruit"). The interview was conducted by e-mail in English, and is reproduced here below (any Belgian nationals reading can enjoy the PDF translation!). Elke's focus is style and fashion, and my answers complement today's podcast with Ed Gillespie of Futerra quite well. 

 

Why the need for this book? What caused you to write about this subject (you can mention Play Ethic and how it evolved from that).

Recently, a little like the character in The Matrix, I swallowed the "green pill". That is, I became convinced - through reading environmental thinkers and scientists - that there was an urgency about global warming, and that we needed to move as quickly as possible towards a low-carbon economy and society. My personal problem was that I've been studying, practising and advocating play for the last ten years - our human spirit of risk, exploration and novelty, essentially characterised by endless, unlimited invention. And I suddenly realised that I had to find a way for play to make sense within my new awareness of environmental limits. To what extent does hyper-consumerism exploit our playful urge for the new and interesting? What kinds of new, less resource-intensive (but no less enjoyable) products and services could take the place of our wasteful lusting after a better flat-screen or sculpted car? 

What are radical animals? Give some examples

In a sense, we are all deep down radical animals. What distinguishes us from our mammals (and some non-mammals) isn't quite play - many of them use play to adapt and prepare for the challenges of living, though not as extensively and widely into adult life as we do. But what is different is the way we use language and symbols to abstract and reframe our reality in our minds, our extensive powers of imagination. Add that to our continuing playful natures, and we humans demonstrate an inexhaustible appetite for ingenuity, beauty and new forms.

My great challenge in this new book is to try to find an expression for that "radical" nature that isn't toxic to the planet. I'm exploring a lot of what Cory Doctorow would call "maker" culture - people, from programmers to fashioneers to musicians to craftsmen and women of all kinds, who are replacing the psychic compensations of consumption with a new kind of local, customised and idiosyncratic production. Technology, in the form of distributed manufacture and smart energy-grids, will be able to help these makers feed their love of well-designed and functional objects and services. But we will ask them to be more involved in the process whereby their material culture comes about - to be more thoughtful about waste, efficiency and impact as it shapes design and customisation decisions.

 

“We love the new, but we’re crushing the planet. What do we do about it?” What is your answer to your own question? Do we need leaders who master divergent thinking? Or what are the predictions and changes you feel coming up the next decade? You can be very practical and concrete (even referring to fashion). Like describing some ‘consumer of the future’ scenarios.

I think that big business might be a surprisingly useful partner in this shift towards a more self-producing society. Government's role in climate change has too often been about stern corrections of behaviour, imposing social penalties, raising dire prospects. Activists play a vital role in embodying and testing out the lifestyle changes that will be the new norm of the future - but it's psychologically tough to take that "alternative" option, when the basic fabric of the society is so consumerist. Who can bridge the gap? 

I would like to begin a discussion with the big providers of products and services, to see whether they could build a different, less "stuff"-oriented relationship with people - using their talents for branding and design to shift our behaviour from status consumption to meaningful relationship and participation with others. I've been in the music and newspaper business for the last twenty-odd years. A combination of digitalisation and environmental factors has made us realise that our only possible revenue is from serving people with flows of content, or nurturing great community experiences - it certainly won't come from selling solid objects to isolated purchasers.

But I see huge potential in areas like food, fashion, domestic conditions, furnishings, and consumer electronics. People will be happier with a lot less, if they have strong relationships with enterprises who can reliably provide them with more "mimimal" but also "classical" experiences. For example, how do we express our fashion-love by mending and restyling a much more enduring piece of clothing, making that process part of the elegance and deep meaning of our sartori - rather than the frantic, fashion-house led dash for new styles (produced under grotesque conditions, and adding to landfill everywhere)? Or: how we can get into a less wasteful relationship with our information devices? How can innovation become much more modular and repair-oriented, rather than display the toxic glamour of an Apple product schedule? 

To me, these are great challenges to explore. But it stems from a realism about our sensuous, aesthetic human nature which I'm trying to get environmentalists to accept, and other to see as an opportunity. 

Pat Kane's "book-net" is Radical Animal: Innovation, Sustainability and Human Nature, available later this year at www.radicalanimal.net.

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