(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
In the era of eco and climate crisis, consumption in our part of the world must go down. The question of what we really need is thus urgent.
Swiss Marxist Razmig Keucheyan (b. 1975), professor of sociology at the University of Bordeaux, has in the book Read about artifacts (The artificial needs) undertook the difficult task of distinguishing between authentic and unnecessary needs. He states that capitalist production and consumption are the main causes of the environmental crisis. By distinguishing between false and true needs, he will impose capitalism a sustainable need structure. Through dialogue and democracy we jointly decide what are real needs – the needs are not "ontological". Keucheyan does not want an authoritarian Marxism where the bureaucracy decides what citizens need, and recalls the Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller's (1929–2019) criticism of the Soviet Union as a “dictator-
ship over Needs ».
Keucheyan's own nostalgic utopia is attached to the Communards and Paris Commune. When he dreams of what the world will look like in a post-capitalist society, he is blue-eyed: The distinction between manual and intellectual work must be abolished; people will be able to spend more time reflecting on their qualitative needs; and people should be able to transform into creative and autonomous artists.
Items with increased service life
But Keucheyan is first and foremost an analytical endeavor that cuts through the problems of finding practical solutions. His crucial proposal for action is to stabilize the goods: To reduce consumption, the goods must be given a longer life. In practice, this can be done by increasing the warranty period, an extension from two to ten years: "The guarantee is the class struggle applied to the duration of the objects." The subject's autonomy towards the product must be strengthened so that control over the needs is regained.
Away with artificial needs!
The eco-movement and its attention to consumption must be linked to the unions and the production in the factories – in order to eliminate the alienation the false needs of capitalism have created.
The world's elites have an ecological imprint that is insane. Their needs cannot be universalized. For Keucheyan, the task is to create universalizable needs.
It holds with green soap!
An extreme example of false needs is people with "compulsive buying disorder". Keucheyan argues that people who suffer from false needs can be cured jointly – just as anonymous alcoholics solve their alcohol problems by helping each other. But that is not enough to change consumption, also production must change.
Suddenly, cartridges for the printer are no longer available because a new generation of printers has taken over. Such renewals are constantly happening to throw away the old and buy new. In the professional literature this is called "planned obsolence", and in many cases it is undoubtedly directly against the interests of consumers.
In order to reduce consumption, Keucheyan therefore wants to make goods more durable. This will reduce the exchange value and strengthen the value in use, in Marx's terminology. But does this strategy not prevent innovation, so that technology development can slow down?
The French sociologist has thought of this as well. He has four requirements for commodity production: What is produced must 1. be robust and have longevity, 2. be removable, 3, be combined with other units, and 4. be updated by anticipating innovation, which is entirely possible . These are four measures against the use-and-throw culture and waste of resources. But Keucheyan is probably optimistic when he thinks that this strategy will short-circuit the logic of distinction, referring to Thorstein Veblen's notion of conspicuous consumption and Bourdieu's taste sociology. If the need is related to recognition from others, the item as an identity marker will not be abolished merely by extending its lifetime.
Ascetic and / or long-term?
While I was reading this book, I met an old acquaintance in a cafe, a former MLA who grew up in the Bible Belt. He was excited about the theme: Away with artificial needs! What do we do with 20 different detergents when it comes to green soap? Youth spend too much money on branded clothes, introduce school uniforms! The proposals came on an ongoing basis: banning more than 18 degrees in the apartment in winter. More socks and sweaters made of wool from aged animals! Harsh penalties for hot apartments! There is too much fraying: Ban steak, no meat at all! And sugar, which only causes bad teeth and health problems. I thought of Nina Skåtøy in Dag Solstad's novel. The old activist had worked his way up in ecstasy. Before he banned the next pint, I fled to another cafe.
More socks and sweaters!
Keucheyan's analysis is weak when it comes to the relationship between needs and social relationships. He has no clear distinction between needs and desires. Thus, in practice, the entire Freudo-Marxist tradition is defined.
I No Logo (1999) Naomi Klein emphasized the social pressure to consume: One must keep up with the neighbor. Also, the entire consumer shame movement is based on monitoring one's next: Passport of that others do not forbidsmokes too much!
Ban beef, meat!
If the consumption pattern is driven by emotional panic, the political level may be weakened. Organizing necessary production and consumption requires long-term thinking. Universalizing needs and determining whether they are sustainable is difficult in many cases. The last thing we need is symbolic politics that falls into a quasi-ecological lifestyle bubble.
Keucheyan's book has many substantive weaknesses, but it is a sober and instructive contribution in the debate on overspending. In a country that has produced a great deal of fiction and intellectual cruelty, his distant analysis here represents French prose at its best.