Can our identities be borne by this planet?

So, last night I read this on the stepper (among a whole bunch of Financial Times bits and pieces and old Red Peppers).

“Creating Sustainable Identities: The Significance of the Financially Affluent Self” by Victoria Hurth, of Exeter University. It’s published in “Sustainable Development” 18, 123-134 (2010)

Here’s the abstract:

This paper uses identity theory and postmodern identity perspectives to analyse why high-income groups often have values, attitudes and intentions to consume sustainably, yet tend to have the highest energy consumption of any group. Two key arguments are presented. The first is that the affluent identity is opposed to the environmentalist identity and is more salient, desirable and likely to result in more social support and self-esteem rewards. Therefore, where both identities are held the affluent identity is likely to be more dominant and invoked in more circumstances. Second, the invocation of the affluent identity is liable to result in high-energy consumption. Despite some evidence of affluent identities being successfully connected by marketing with low-energy green consumption, there is stronger evidence of the affluent identity being consistently embedded symbolically within high-energy consumption choices. Recommendations for marketing and social marketing are made and a matrix to guide sustainable identity strategies is proposed.

Translated into English: Some rich people want to feel good about themselves by buying green. But the two missions of “feeling good” and “keeping up with the Joneses” conflict, they’ll just keep on fucking the planet, pretty much every time. In other news, ursine mammals defecate in sylvan and arboreal eco-systems.

After name-checking the usual sociology of identity crowd (Bourdieu, Dittmar, but not – oddly- Goffman) we’re treated to observations that Rich People have big carbon footprints-

“the evidence suggests that the affluent identity is consistently embedded in energy heavy products, particularly those products with high identity signalling properties and high energy significance such as cars, holidays, homes and food. In contrast, although there are example of low energy alternatives that are embedded with the affluent identity, in the main these continue to be embedded with a less socially desirable environmentalists identity, with little or no reference to the ‘affluent identity.’

Translation: “dahling, hair-shirts are soooo 1973.”

And guess what- “research indicates that the affluent identity is extremely salient, elicits wide support from general society and is consequently connected with high levels of gratification and self-esteem.” Er, didn’t the Pet Shop Boys have the final word on this?

And blow me down, but “empirical studies have shown that people distinctly connect financial wealth to attractive personality characteristics such as individuality and uniqueness.”

This is true, insofar as it goes- so many of the products forced upon us promise individuality (within the crowd) and – the touchstone – ‘authenticity’. But me, I think the upper crust is just a bunch of crumbs sticking together. But what to do?

Anyway, the point is that if the different identities people are wearing clash, the first clothes to be cast off are the green ones – “The affluent identity is also likely to dominate the overall ‘ideal self’, unless there is a very strong commitment to the environmental identity: for example, those who fall into the category of ‘ethical hardliners’…. For those who do not yet hold an environmentalist identity, there significant identity barriers to overcome in order to reconcile holding the two identities simultaneously.”
Translation; all your meathead carbon-spewing friends and families will be jeering at you for giving a damn, snarking about “Swampy this” and “eco-terrorist that” until you return to the flock. Tall nails get hammered down, because even when they don’t actively campaign, their mere existence reminds people that by going with ‘the flow’ they are making a set of moral choices. Shitty ones, for the most part.

The article goes on (and on) and sort of comes out in favour of the kind of “sell the sizzle” stuff that futerra is always banging on about. Academics, eh? Always naming the problem, e’er so rarely improving on the partial solutions suggested by activists. That’d be far too “political”.

P.S. I meant to integrate this little rantlet into the post above, but forgot: “A hell of a lot of this mindless (I was going to say bovine, but when did you last see a cow blinging its horns?) consumption is about homo stupiens trying to figure out how to cope with the knowledge of their own inevitable death. The gods used to carry that weight for us, but we whittled them down to one and then polished him off between about 1859 and 1945. So now we are left with our terror, which we mismanage.”


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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