Do you remember a time when destinies were more defined? When existential questions were answered in the very structure of society and its social bodies.
School put you on the path to a profession that you would not change. The government ensured access to your fundamental rights – including security – in exchange for your citizenship. Religion showed you the way to a good life. Here social classes kept you within a cultural or economic perimeter. Elsewhere, castes told you what activities and connections you were allowed to engage in.
All this made the hope of a future for oneself different from the one already mapped out both desirable and utopian. And it also allowed you to know how to find your way, since there were common, perennial and recognized landmarks.
Since I cannot become other than what I am assigned to, I don’t have to ask myself what profession to choose, nor what opinion to give, nor do I have to look for my life partner among so many possibilities.
On moving grounds
And since then? Do you feel you have more choices? And more existential questions perhaps? Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish and British sociologist, offers us a perspective on the mechanisms at work in today’s world. It is no longer a question of robustness, but of liquidity. We have moved from the reign of certainty and durability to the reign of fluctuations and obsolescence. Liquid life, as Bauman understands it, is that of the consumer society. Nowadays, consumption leads the dance.
What we consume would define who we are. Our ability to consume would determine whether we have the right to be part of society or whether we are excluded from it. Man would become a consuser: himself a product of consumption. Yet this consumer society uses the ephemeral as fuel. So if, by a shortcut, the ephemeral defined what I consume. And if my consumption was to define who I am… then my identity markers are constantly being shifted. I find myself on moving grounds.
Here perhaps Hartmut Rosa and Zygmunt Bauman come together with what they perceive of our society. One speaks of acceleration, the other of obsolescence.
The acceleration theory argues that modern society can only be stabilized dynamically. In other words, without economic growth, technical acceleration and cultural innovation, modern society cannot sustain itself. It can only collapse.
The modern liquid society reflects this new norm. Every new product is quickly replaced by another one, which itself then becomes obsolete in a frantic race towards the achievement of a hundredfold renewed promise, still partially kept. The consumption culture must continue to be nurtured.
For what is the point of responding to a need in a sustainable way? Or instead, what would be lost by betting on sustainability?