I’ve been thinking a lot about notion of entitlement lately. I’d be interested to know what you think!
When Joe Hockey told the Institute of Economic Affairs in London in 2012 that the ‘age of entitlement’ was over and that the West could no longer support unsustainable lifestyles, he was not referring to environmental sustainability, to self-determination or to catastrophic climate change.[i] Rather, the then Shadow Treasurer was focused almost entirely on the economy and the unsustainability of welfare payments. It was not so much that the Australian economy needed to cut back on the ‘universal entitlement’ of welfare payments, in order to balance the budget at a time of financial crisis, but more to do with Hockey’s desire to cut back on welfare to those he called ‘leaners’ (those who were unworthy) as opposed to ‘lifters’ (who kept the economy running smoothly). Prosperity was clearly linked to economic growth and entitlement was for those who participated in the growth economy. There was, however, a significant minority that sought to cut back for other reasons.
The year before Hockey’s landmark speech, Guy McPherson, editor of Conservation Biology, had also called for an end to the age of entitlement.[ii] But this time, unlike Hockey, it was one that related to over-consumptive lifestyles. Industrial culture was threatening the very survival of Homo sapiens. McPherson’s solution was to look for an individual response. His answer was to leave his academic job in the city and ‘go back to the land’ with his family to live more sustainably – a move that many others had made many times before him.
McPherson’s motivations were indicative of self-providers everywhere:
The reasons for changing my lifestyle reflect my core beliefs. I could no longer contribute to an empire built on an industrial economy based on consumerism, and thus resist imperialism (i.e., the dominant paradigm, which is characterized by oppression and hierarchy), or live in a city, which is not supported by my moral imperatives.
Self-sufficient homesteading presented a real alternative, albeit one that did not fit with Hockey’s philosophy. It was a total rejection of the growth model but one that proponents felt could truly represent their values.
Self-sufficiency has important historical antecedents developing simultaneously with the growth of the consumer market, but it remains a real alternative for those who want to escape the confines of the consumer market and a life based on a string of consumer choices. Self-sufficiency, the act of providing as much of one’s needs as possible, offers proponents the chance to remove themselves from the growth economy. The reality is that self-sufficiency doesn’t have to be an all-consuming lifestyle in which self-providers remove themselves entirely from society to live the life of hermits in the bush. Rather, self-sufficiency allows us to rethink our relationship with consumerism and materialism and come up with an alternative lifestyle that is of our own making. Whether we choose live on and from the land or grow vegies in pots on our inner city balcony, we are practising self-sufficiency.
Every time we reject the growth economy we have a little win; the more we do the greater the victory. Far from merely being another form of green consumerism, self-sufficiency is something that cannot be co-opted by marketers and advertisers and sold back to us in neat well-designed packages. Self-sufficiency gives us the autonomy to make our own decisions about how we want to live and what impact we are to have on the planet. Importantly, self-sufficiency also removes us from the ‘leaners and lifters’ dichotomy. We are independent from an economy we have no faith in and has little faith in us.
There are always choices about how we are to live. Some choices are obviously better than others. And, for the planet some are clearly a no-brainer. Self-sufficiency is the ultimate act of rebellion, and one that could make a real difference to the status quo.
[i] Joe Hockey, ‘The end of the age of entitlement’, text of Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey’s speech to the Institute of economic affairs in London on April 17, 2012, http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-end-of-the-age-of-entitlement-20120419-1x8vj.html accessed 7 November 2016.
[ii] Guy McPherson, ‘Going Back to the Land in an Age of Entitlement’, Conservation Biology, vol. 25, no. 5, 2011, pp. 855-857.