Get our latest essays, archival selections, reading lists, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
What if “post-growth living” could be an opportunity for greater pleasure, not less?
COVID-19 remains a global public health emergency, the planet is on fire, and democracy is at serious risk. Faced with these immense political challenges, why talk about pleasure?
Philosopher Kate Soper has been grappling with this question for decades. As an environmentalist and denuclearization activist, she noticed a worrisome pattern: efforts to green the economy and distribute wealth more equitably often sound like a program for joyless living. Tighten your belt, make do with less, give up your pleasures.
To Soper, this gets it exactly wrong. Leading this issue’s forum, she urges that we see “post-growth living” as an opportunity for greater pleasure, not less. Modern life is immiserating, sickening, isolating, and exhausting, creating desires that consumption can never fulfill. Designing simpler ways of living—built around local community and abundant free time—could make us happier and healthier while giving our overextended planet a new lease on life.
Forum respondents, including Green New Deal economist Robert Pollin and Kenyan activist Nanjala Nyabola, embrace Soper’s call to remake society but question her prescription. The result is a wide-ranging debate about the limitations of lifestyle critique, the value of economic growth, and the kinds of alternatives that are possible.
Among those convinced that pleasure is political was British designer William Morris, a committed socialist and leading figure in the nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement. Morris was—as E. P. Thompson once put it—“our greatest diagnostician of alienation.” In his essay for this volume, Ben Schacht explores Morris’s distinctive vision of a society that prioritizes pleasure and beauty for all.
Other contributions focus on the connections between pleasure and gender, including the joys of collective action and care work, the ordinary pleasures of Black motherhood, and the links between good sex and democracy. Together they imagine what it will take to make a pleasurable life possible for everyone.
…we need your help. Confronting the many challenges of COVID-19—from the medical to the economic, the social to the political—demands all the moral and deliberative clarity we can muster. In Thinking in a Pandemic, we’ve organized the latest arguments from doctors and epidemiologists, philosophers and economists, legal scholars and historians, activists and citizens, as they think not just through this moment but beyond it. While much remains uncertain, Boston Review’s responsibility to public reason is sure. That’s why you’ll never see a paywall or ads. It also means that we rely on you, our readers, for support. If you like what you read here, pledge your contribution to keep it free for everyone by making a tax-deductible donation.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.
What we have achieved this year—and our plans for 2023.
Robin D. G. Kelley on the midterm elections.
As a student, I stitched / a cadaver together / while my professor / said you must / be a predator . . .