If you hadn’t noticed, Beyond Growth has been very quiet in 2010. We had a few strong posts at the beginning of the year, but since then the feed has been quiet. In a sense this is because Beyond Growth (and it’s authors) have been experiencing a kind of existential crisis within the personal development and marketing fields. When Beyond Growth launched, we really made few of our goals clear, aside from an intention set in the sidebar to focus on several broad topics. All of our intent and ideas were exposed either in the context of the posts or our surprisingly successful comments section. The truth is that our goals for Beyond Growth were and still remain quite broad. We have plans to ramp up our posting in the coming weeks and months, and to begin this post will make one of our goals more clear.The biggest criticism that we receive is that we rarely offer tangible solutions to the problems of the gurus that we criticize. While I think ‘don’t cook paying customers in sweat lodges’ is a pretty obvious solution, the truth is that many of the problems we see in personal development and related fields are just that, obvious once you stop sipping the kool aid.
In many ways personal development and marketing resembles a series of large and interconnected cults, and when one is unplugged from such ideologies it is easy to see how deeply we were buried within an elaborate fantasy. In the case of lifestyle design, the fantasy of conscious consumption has become embedded in the very fabric of its culture. It is assumed that if you are participating in lifestyle design that you are also somehow more ‘awake’ and intelligent than ordinary Wal-Mart gobbling consumers. Life style design itself functions in the greater western culture as a form of elite-consumerism, by building one’s ideal lifestyle around specific artisan consumables, foreign locations, and ‘freedom’ individuals are taking part in a state of fully realized consumerism.
I am not particularly interested at this time in defining who is and isn’t ‘conscious’, (I’ll leave that to the likes of Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson for now) however, it is very important to realize that the entire notion of lifestyle design is a fantasy itself, derived from the same consumption-based ideology that powers Wal-Marts and sweatshops around the world. As Slavoj Zizek might suggest, the problem is not that we are participating in a fantasy, but the fact that we do not realize it is one. We truly believe that we understand what is going on, and that our role in the system is ethical and even contributing to the greater good.
This fantasy within the lifestyle design community is problematic because as a movement it could be so much more than an elite ‘more conscious’ form of consumption. It is pretty obvious to anyone looking that this planet is in terrible trouble, if not from global warming, then from the fact that we are raping this planet’s environment in the name of our own comfort. By participating in lifestyle design as laid out by Tim Ferris and his ilk, followers believe they are bettering themselves and the world by becoming narcissistic “self-actualized” consumers, traveling around the world like Chris Guillebeau contributing countless tons of c02 into the environment all in the name of “excitement,” “changing things,” and completing pointless personal goals. To the gurus who spread these ideologies, any change is good change, so long as it makes you happy, richer, or both. We can do better than this. It goes without saying that most of the people who try on the lifestyle design…lifestyle find themselves failing long before they buy their $50,000 dream car, and likely go back to their normal dreams of becoming the next James Arthur Ray (okay, maybe someone who isn’t into baking people.)
In my interactions with bloggers such as Charlie Gilkey, Mark Silver, and Jonathan Mead, I’ve discovered there is great merit in engaging bloggers in conversation. In that sense, this is not just a critique of lifestyle design, but a call to action. Lifestyle design community needs a wake up call. Lifestyle design needs to become a true movement; it needs to find a meaningful cause that will actually better the planet and its many citizens. I contend that lifestyle design needs to become a movement focused on building a society that actually works in a sustainable, ethical way, a society that feeds its poor, and renews its natural resources or it will simply not survive. We need to put our creators, hackers, and designers to work engaging culture outwardly, showing mainstream culture that the future is not as bleak as backwoods commentators on Fox News would have them think.
What we need to do is stop focusing on individual desires, and start converting lifestyle design into a collective of people who can influence the greater culture for a sustainable future. The truth is that lifestyle designers aren’t any different than anybody else on this planet, and as people with a great deal of influence, we have a responsibility (and I hesitate to say this) to change the world far beyond our own ends.
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