The end of excess

by Kai Schnier

Living on less (Issue I/2023)


Old but still functional: The radio of a dropout in the French Pyrenees. Photo: Antoine Bruy

A world on the brink of climate catastrophe, a war in Europe, the global economy in crisis mode. After years of growth and peace, “the West” is girding itself for a rough ride, for the first time since the financial crisis.

In the USA, Joe Biden recently warned of “great challenges”, in France Emmanuel Macron proclaimed “the end of abundance” - and in Germany, too, unusually gloomy tones are being struck.

“We are facing rough years,” said German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in his recent address to the nation, only to add a little later: “What are we prepared to demand of ourselves?”

“What must we do without to overcome the crises of our time?”

These are questions that many of us in the Global North have not had to face for a long time. 

In this issue of KULTURAUSTAUSCH, we explore a topic that has long been out of fashion, but is suddenly red-hot again: living on less. Recently, hope for the future and faith in progress have dominated our thinking.

But one fundamental question can no longer be pushed aside: What can we do without -- what must we do without -- to overcome the crises of our time?

“What we need now is a culture of scarcity”

The environmental activist Vandana Shiva sees the answer in a radical change of mindset. In our interview, she demands: “The time of waste must come to an end. What we need now is a culture of scarcity, which I like to call an economy of enoughness.”

The dropouts and hermits whose everyday lives have been documented by photographer Antoine Bruy in Romania, Switzerland, Spain and the USA probably see things very similarly. A dilapidated hut, a small vegetable patch, an old radio: they already live on less - a choice that we already make in other areas of life.

After all, we often enjoy minimalist aesthetics in architecture and poetry, points out the author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. And why does pared-down music often inspire us? asks pianist Malakoff Kowalski, who has created a minimalist playlist for us.

Is doing without, to use Vandana Shiva's words once again, perhaps not a step backwards at all, “if we acknowledge that abundance is suffocating us”?

“Many here simply don't even have the opportunity to do without anything”

But perhaps, once again, these are just thoughts that hail from the West. Ideas of living a downsized life could just be the latest lifestyle fad.

An approach that Adrienne Yabouza, a refugee from the Central African Republic, can only smile at, pointing out: “Many here simply don't even have the opportunity to do without anything.”

And it is an idea that causes writer Serhij Zhadan to frown when he describes the current situation in his Ukrainian hometown Kharkiv: “Here it's all about survival.” Who can do without - and who must do without? That question is exactly what this issue boils down to.

Our German-language magazine “Living on Less” is out now. 

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