Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies are at the forefront of current trends. We try to live and promote a take on life that is more dignified, inclusive, all-encompassing, meaningful and hope-imbued than traditional fragmented ways of living. Our efforts are in line with trends described by futurists and analysts of sociological developments. Please see further down different pathways into this analysis.
This topic of changing defintions for luxury is important enough for the KLM in-flight Magazine Holland Herald to dedicate Volume 39, Number 9 (September 2004) to "Stealth Wealth": "While luxury used to revolve around big designer names and material assets, the tide is now turning as tastes become more subtle." On page 11-12, you find "Spoiled for Choice: One person's luxury is another's necessity," by Jane Szita. I read the magazine on September 12, 2004, on my way from Japan to Europe, and try summarising its gist as follows:
The luxury goods market is estimated to be worth €150 billion worldwide, and it is said to be growing three times faster than the global economy. The top corporations such as LVMH and the Gucci Group, however, are struggling. American journalist Teri Agins in her book, The End of Fashion, points out that most women no longer want to be told by a handful of designers what they should be wearing, and how. The top corporations seem to have lost touch with the times, namely the end of "conspicuous consumption" with Rolls-Royces, Rolexes, and the Ritz, and a trend toward "inconspicuous consumption," "stealth wealth" and "downward nobility," where you choose cheaper alternatives, even when you can afford to spend more. Perhaps new markets, such as China , can revive the fortunes of the traditional luxury firms; not least, one in three Japanese women owns a Vuitton bag. However, even new markets turn into old markets at some point. Tokyo has already turned into a forerunner with Tokyo 's new Prada store.
Architecture critic Aaron Betsky indicates, "The most luxurious thing in culture today is empty space." Trend forecaster Melinda Davis in her new book, The Culture of Desire, explains that the once-material realm of luxury is embracing spirituality. She calls it "the state of O," and means the pursuit of "the optimal mental state" as the new luxury everybody wants. Consumers' main needs now are "psycho-spiritual," she says. American marketing futurist Faith Popcorn, as well, predicts that the "spiritual connection will become more profoundly important," as individuals create their own "spiritual cocktail."
Agins, Teri (2000). The End of Fashion: The Mass Marketing of the Clothing Business. New York, NY: Harpercollins.
Davis, Melinda (2002). The New Culture of Desire: The Pleasure Imperative Transforming Your Business and Your Life. New York, NY: Free Press.
The following text fragments are taken from Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2000) pages 300-339, with their kind permission. The excerpts from Ray's and Anderson's book embed the HumanDHS intervention agenda within a larger context and provide a backdrop text for the intervention goals of our group: We wish to help weave together threads that thus far often remain isolated; we envision using the values of humility as a mindset for our handling of social and ecological matters, and equal dignity for all in order to develop new connections between business, academia, civil society, and the arts.
Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson (2000), pages 300-339:
Could our modern sense of disconnection, our lack of continuity with the past and lack of responsibility for the future, be caused by lack of a story ? Or even more unbelievable, a myth? . One of the marvels of our time is precisely this new growth that has never been seen before. After the holocaust of the Nazi Reich and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the tragedies of the native peoples of North and South America, many wisdom traditions were destroyed. But the dead wood of the feudal system, the absolute power of the Church and the agrarian empires, has also been burned away. From all our grave losses and all our fortunate releases, a space has been cleared for innovation and creativity.
This fertile soil is where the Cultural Creatives are working, preparing the way for a new culture. The new growth, as we have seen, includes the large social and consciousness movements of the last forty years. But it also includes one of the oldest and most powerful forms of human social life: mythos. Its fruits are story and image, visual and performance arts, theater and song, music and metaphor and ritual. New forms of the mythos are springing up today, cultivated by a variety of artists and experimenters of all sorts. In addition, a world culture of music and story is growing as moderns understand ancient teachings in a new way. And everywhere that harbingers of a new mythos are appearing, Cultural Creatives are preparing the way.
When someone asked the Vietnamese Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh, "What do we need to do to save our world?" his questioner expected him to identify strategies for social and environmental action. But he answered: "What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the Earth crying." (Thich Nhat Hanh, quoted in Macy and Brown, Coming Back to Life, p. 91). When the Canadian geneticist David Suzuki met E. O. Wilson, he had one big question for the eminent biologist: "What can we do to stop the catastrophic level of extinction that's going on around the world?" Wilson surprised the younger man with his reply. "We have to discover our kin," he said simply. "We have to discover our relatives, the other plants and animals who are related to us through our DNA. Because to know our kin is to come to love and cherish them." (David Suzuki, "Listening to the Elders," New Dimensions tape no. 2359, Ukiah, CA: New Dimensions Foundation, undated).
Right now over 70 percent of the world population is convinced that something serious has to be done about the dangers facing the planet. Conditions are right for a sharp turn in the direction that elders like Wilson and Thich Nhat Hanh recommend. Most of humanity wants to know how to make the change. It's one of those tipping-point times where things can change unbelievably fast - once some leadership for the change emerges, and some opportunity for it.
As we've seen, it's not a matter of having better information, nor of having the right politics. It's a matter of moral imagination, a wisdom of the heart. This is where many Cultural Creatives are headed now; directly into the core of the problems of our common world.
When the insurance industry starts to insist, with genuine fear, that it can't survive the weather damage that will accompany global warming (as many are now saying), then Moderns clearly have to change their ways. In 1999 Harvard Business Review published a major article on how to make industrial production sustainable. Many large companies already agree: really big multinational corporations like Electrolux, ABB, and Mitsubishi Electric, which belong to the Natural Step, are already convinced that they must change, or they'll hit the wall and die. So they're changing toward sustainable practices (Amory B. Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, and Paul Hawken, "A Road Map for Natural Capitalism," Harvard Business Review, May/June 1999).
As our modern knowledge about society and the planet has grown over the past generation, we have discovered that for all its dynamism and profitability, modernization has been a very unstable wave of change.
In 1999 a stunning book came out called Natural Capitalism, a work that is destined to set a pattern for business innovation in the twenty-first century. It focuses on the same issues as The Natural Step, but it shows how to redesign every business process to be ecologically efficient and to protect the biosphere - and still be profitable for business (Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, Boston: Little, Borwn, 1999, p. 20).
Slowly a lesson has been drifting in on one movement organization after another. At some point, opposing something bad ceases to be enough, and they must stand for positive values, or produce a service that is important to their constituency.
Now What Do We Do?
Hurrah, we've won the hearts and minds of the people! . pause for celebration . Omigod, now that do we do?
With 70 to 90 percent of the population supporting even the strongest ecology statements, the environmental and ecology movements have won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Western world. But now they must face a difficult fact. It's no longer enough to tell people how bad things are or to raise awareness. Not only do people already know it, but they pretty much agree with the movement's views, too. Agreement must now be turned into practice.
Our studies show that huge majorities of Americans want ecologically sensible "green" products and services, but most aren't wiling to pay a premium to get precuts that should not have been destructive in the first place. Similarly, they want business to stop inflicting environmental damage, and they believe that a better use of technology could do the job without destroying the economy. (As Natural Capitalism argues, they're right.) They want actual leadership and proactive initiatives from all levels of government that aren't sellouts to big business. And they want practical proposals on how to change their behavior and lifestyle. But nobody's delivering.
Certainly big money and some big industries (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, utilities, chemicals, autos, agribusiness) use their control over big media and big government to paralyze attempts at concrete action. But that's only part of the problem. Additionally, no institutions have been set up to translate public sentiment favoring ecological sustainability into practical action (including the work of lining up all the elites and power groups, and facing down the financiers). Green activists, accustomed solely to raising awareness, have not constructed those intuitions.
We know a strongly pro-environment scientist who works for a major utility. He's on many committees that link industry, government, and environmentalists, and he has been bothered by this problem. "I've worked for years trying to get all these groups to agree, and it's finally succeeding. A lot of business who once backed off from honestly admitting the need for action are now willing to adopt the ecologists' platforms. But you know what? At this point, the environmental groups are backing off, scared. They're afraid of what will happen if business just says 'You're right. Now what?' They seem to feel that business could just take over their position and their movement would collapse. I'm afraid the environmentalists are not set up to keep pushing businesses to take the next step - because the next step involves making detailed analyses of what actually works in business practice, and making big changes in people's lifestyles. They haven't a clue how any given industry works, they don't know how to make and sell products for a new lifestyle, and they haven't thought about how [ecological sustainability] changes the culture."
Ecological sustainability and commerce must come together, as Green businesses often see, even though the two have been at each other's throats for years. A change in consciousness is needed, so that "conscious commerce" can be a reality, unifying the inner and the outer. But the ones who know how to do business are often the ones who scorn consciousness, and the ones who know how to work with consciousness avoid spreadsheets and profits. Who can trust the businessman to be honest, or the environmentalist to be practical? All sides must learn to build trust within a new send of community.