Can zero waste and minimalism go to extreme?

(This is not a post about living with 100 items or re-using kitchen waste)

 

I have recently come across a really interesting exchange of opinions between a few Instagram influencers in my home country. One of them, who is not particularly close to zero waste ideas, raised several important points concerning potential exclusivism of zero waste sympathizers. Another one, perceived rather as a zero waste icon, responded to those concerns and defended the philosophy of the movement. Few other observers commented via Insta Stories on the debate, taking sides of one or the other. The whole discussion was also partially tackling the issue of minimalism, which I think was justified. It happens quite often that those who live according to zero waste rules, live minimalistic as well.

Neither am I a zero waste freak or a complete minimalist, nor would I like to condemn any of these movements / philosophies, but I would like to touch upon this topic here especially because of this exclusivist potential, raised in the debate. It opened my eyes for a completely new problem somewhere where till recently I haven’t seen much problem at all.

I will list here several points which were heavily discussed in this online exchange.

Plastic free

Social exclusion is not only money-related

 

This concern has two sides. On the one hand it may relate to the fact that “bio” or “eco” products preferred by zero waste sympathizers are (sometimes) more expensive than the standard ones. This directly links with the fact that simply those who earn more money may potentially get more of those products, which are preferred according to the rules of the zero waste philosophy.

On the other hand – which is not so obvious – nowadays among the desired goods we should not only place money but also time. It is maybe hard to think about time in a similar way as we think of a car or an iPhone as a desired good. Nevertheless we could all agree that having more time becomes a luxury. Those who can quit work, become a freelancer and manage their time as freely as they can, are definitely perceived as well-off.

How does it relate to zero waste?

In order for us to get these “preferred” products (without plastic, home-made or produced by local producers, wrapped in natural products or simply not wrapped at all) we would rather not go to a random supermarket on our way home. We could find some of these things that we are looking for (e.g. an apple or a carrot without plastic bag) but not all of them (e.g. a plastic free organic shampoo cube, additionally vegan and sulphate free, cruelty free and free from palm oil). In order to get some of those products we need to do a decent online search. Alternatively, in case of many “bio” and “eco” products we need to go to the street market and find a particular stall, selling these particular apples/carrots without pesticides, picked in the home garden. This requires time. You do not have time, you may not be so perfectly zero waste as you “should be”.

Being zero waste / minimalist as an indicator of your social status

 

Summing up the above part, zero waste might be perceived as an activity designed for a slightly better-off people, who have money, time or both. If you do want to buy products that are according to zero waste rules even without spending too much money, you still need to do some research and literally go to get those products from the fair trade and eco-friendly producers (or buy them online, which requires searching for them, paying for them and waiting for them – again: time and money).

If you neither have time nor money and still want to be in the zero waste club, you do need to make some extra effort. Observed from this perspective, the zero waste movement / philosophy starts to become a way to exclude significant groups of people from belonging to this movement / philosophy.

I hope you see a warning light here.

Living according to zero waste rules usually goes hand in hand with reducing stuff that you do not need and that is not “preferred” according to the rules of this philosophy. The same applies for fair trade and minimalism fans, which for this particular theoretical exercise are all lumped together.

If you are able to get rid of all your clothes and accessories that contain elements of natural leather because you think that you should not participate in the suffering of animals or because killing animals is not eco-friendly, this means that you had those clothes and accessories in the first place.

If you can get rid of your TV because having such a gadget seems to be against the rules of minimalism, that you are trying to apply in your life, this means you had a TV in the first place.

If you had fancy plastic bags or plastic baskets for shopping and now you would like to get rid of them because they are against zero waste rules, this means you had those bags and those baskets in the first place.

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What does that mean? That means that you can get rid of things for the sake of philosophy XYZ only when you possessed them in the first place. If you have more goods or gadgets you can throw them away more easily than another person who has very little. If you have lots of goods and you throw some of them away, you will probably not be hurt by lack of those things. But if you have very little, getting rid of one piece or another may significantly impact the quality of your life.

Same applies for preventing yourself from buying stuff that is not in line with philosophy XYZ. If you have money for a “good A” but you do not buy this “good A” for the sake of minimalism or zero waste, you are still better off than another person who is poor and cannot even dream of this “good A”.

That is another way in which zero waste, minimalism & Co. may potentially have an exclusivist dimension.

“I still do not think that I am exclusive just because I am a zero waste / minimalist fan”

 

You may very well argue that you are not hurting anyone just because you apply minimalist, fair trade or zero waste philosophy in your life. And this might be true for you. The problem is that the influencers promoting these kinds of movements / philosophies become 1) very popular 2) very arrogant with time.

The fact that they become very popular means that they appear very often online. If you are a poor person or a person living really modestly and you constantly come across those internet stars you may simply feel bad that you are not as good for the world as they are.

The fact that they become arrogant means that (in some cases – not all!) they start to make (not funny) jokes about those who are not following the rules of the philosophy they are preaching. When I see an Instagram influencer posting really weird jokes about the differences of followers of their beloved philosophy and those who are not following this philosophy then I really start to worry. They are doing maybe no harm to the first group, but they are definitely unpleasant to the second group.

Additionally I am really worried about the teenagers observing this kind of online stars. If I see an influencer getting read of his / her WHOLE wardrobe because he / she would like to replace his / her clothes with something “more fair trade” or “more minimalistic”, then I immediately think about those young boys and girls watching this. What if they do the same just to be the same as this influencer? Maybe clothes in their wardrobes were bought by parents who are struggling to make ends meet and now these parents are put in a situation when their children have nothing to wear and they need to buy new clothes?

Same happens when I see an influencer announcing proudly that they haven’t eaten during the whole go-out or a party with friends because there was nothing vegan / no-meat / eco, etc. that they coul eat. Here again I immediately think of the young audience. What if they do the same just to be the same as this influencer and they will be so extreme in refusing to eat products that are against the rules of philosophy XYZ? Eating at their age is supper important!

But what annoys me most is…

 

I hope you see now that I am not only talking about zero waste but rather as this philosophy being an example of a trend with an exclusivist potential. But… I started from zero waste and I will end with zero waste.

One of the rules that followers of this trend are repeating really often is that it is not about a few people living 100% according to zero waste rules but rather about thousands and millions doing anything for the world and the nature. In many cases (not all!) it is hypocritical in two ways. First, they do present themselves as doing everything 100% according to the rules. Second, because of their own perfection combined with making fun of those who are “worse” in this matter, they do not attracting any new people to this philosophy and – as a result – they are doing not so much good for the world.

What is the conclusion?

 

I do not want this article to sound as if I am against any of the above-named movements. I do believe that some of them have a great potential and are definitely making a difference for the world and for the humanity. Nevertheless, same as with any other philosophy or ideology, they also have a potential to go to extreme.

They might go to extreme when they deprive new followers from joining them just because of setting high conditions for membership.

Secondly, they might go to extreme when they present themselves in a perfect light and diminish the value of others, just because of the fact that these others may not like the idea or may not follow this idea in “a proper way”.

Finally, they might go to extreme by misrepresenting their own rules or putting them wrongly in practice.

 

Just be mindful of this when following any of the new and trendy philosophies!

 

Can zero waste and minimalism go to extreme?

Why does the far right need an enemy?

Negative attitude towards the so called “out-groups” is usually perceived as one of the most important ideological elements of the far right. From the point of view of the rightists, the category of an enemy can be as wide as “foreigners”, “capitalists”, “European technocrats”, “leftists”, or as narrow as “my gay neighbour” or “XYZ leftist TV speaker”. It comes easy and naturally for representatives of the far right to point out an enemy.

Enemy

One of the reasons for the far right to disqualify “out-groups” is that they truly believe that people are not equal by nature. The far right is simply anti-egalitarian at heart. In their view races are not equal, nations are not equal, people are not equal in terms of their knowledge and skills. In general, people are not equal just because of their affiliation with various groups, especially ethnic and national.

To put it clearly: just because you belong to the group A makes you different from me, belonging to group B. What is striking in the far right thinking is that it also makes you a worse kind of person. As such you can very easily fall under the category of an enemy.

Another reason why the right-wing extremists do not like the “out-groups” is that they usually perceive them as a threat. This is basically how do they give vent to frustration and blame someone or something for the bad situation in which they are placed. This has been psychologically tested and reaserch on that within the field of extreme right studies goes back to Adorno’s work from the late 40s. This mechanism does not change with time although we do tend to think that the world, the wisdom and people’s mentality do develop as time passes…

There is also a strategic and rhetorical justification for pointing out enemies. Since the far right truly believes in ethnic nationalism and aims at building a homogeneous national state, it needs arguments to convince others to join efforts. The more you talk about “out-groups” being bad, being a threat, being less worth than “we” are, the bigger fear can you produce among those who listen to you. Joining forces in hating someone or something leads to the closer relationship between yourself and your companions. This is a powerful tool and also one of the reasons why education in tolerance and acceptance is so important.

The reason why I am raising this particular topic today is because I feel that we are losing sight of these psychological and strategic implications of xenophobia. Recently the far right’s anger was mainly focused on immigrants (as a group) and multiculturalism (as a theoretical framework justifying foreigners’ presence). As a result journalists, commentators and scientists were very productive in writing thousands of articles about the far right being anti-immigrant, anti-muslim, anti-Islam, etc. The more the far right is presented as such, the more people start to think that the far right is mostly about that.

In fact, the enemies that the far right choses as enemies or enemies-to-be, change over time. It can be anti-semitic at one time, anti-Roma on another occasion and anti-muslim on yet another occasion. What remains unchanged is the general tendency and willingness to hate and haunt particular groups of their choice. This is what remains at the heart of the far right ideology.

Why does the far right need an enemy?

A story about the cultural change and why can’t we talk about it like grown-ups

I was participating in a quite prestigious scientific conference the other day. The conference panel, I am going to describe in detail, was concerning the cultural identity of European countries and European civilisation in the times of change.

Presented topics were – as you may already guess – concerning mainly the migration crisis.

There was a presentation about the influence of the immigration and asylum issue on elections in Austria. Then another one on immigration issue in Scandinavia. Another one was about the idea of multiculturalism and how does it influence the idea of a national country. It was followed by an essay on Bosnia and Herzegovina and its cultural mixture and another one about how Judaism influenced history of the Western civilisation. These are all  super interesting topic, aren’t they?

The problem was that the arguments were all on-sided, focused on dangers and in short: a decay of the Western civilisation. (I was a fool to hope that maybe I will learn something about how our culture was enriched over time?)

The panel discussion was supposed to be summarised by the presentation of a chairman, a famous scientists. I was hoping to finally hear an answer to the question raised for this particular panel: how does the European identity really transform in these times of change?

He started his speech quite nicely. What he wanted to say was that the European / Western civilisation has its roots in Ancient philosophy, in Christianity, in Judaism, then modified by Enlightenment and Reformation. All good, I thought. I was satisfied to hear that our roots are not such a monolith as we usually think.

Then he presented some other influences, previously not mentioned by other speakers. For example he mentioned that European civilisation is influenced by sects and cults, like New Age for example. Ok – here I started to worry. What does this mean? Where did he saw that influence? I have never seen a single person believing in New Age in Europe!

And finally, he moved on to the newest danger of the European civilisation – obviously – to islamisation. And this is where his intellectual fuel ended. The discussion was no longer about philosophical or theoretical issues. The slides where no longer supported by highly spiritual quotations of prestigious representatives of philosophy and science.

No – he showed two graphs – one presenting the growing number of criminal offences among the immigrant population in Sweden and another one presenting the number of sexual assaults on German women, committed by immigrants or sons of immigrants.

And this is the moment when one lady from the audience could not  stay calm any longer (if I can put it so nicely). He raised her hand and said: “Apologies to interrupt, but weren’t you going to talk today about how far the European civilisation and culture has changed over time? Why have you stopped and change the course of your presentation? How can you start the presentation with Aristotelian roots of Europe and end up with numbers of sexual harassments committed by immigrants?!”. Then the professor said to her, that he wants to move on with his slides and show her why.

But looks like she really had enough and said: “I do not believe this presentation is going to be any better if you already went so far. Please tell me: how does this statistics can help me to understand the cultural change in Europe? How do you want to me change my perspective on these important matters if you show me the statistics that has nothing to do with me and my European identity? Explain it to me: How do you think my European identity has changed due to immigrants? How does the information shown on your graphs should make me feel worse or better about my culture? How does it change my European identity that someone somewhere was raped by someone else?!!”

And then I expected a silence. Or at least an applause for her.

And what happened?

She was shouted down by the audience. By people with high scientific degrees, similar to the one that the chairman had. And then I thought – how can we go any further with the discussion about Europe, about the important issues of our continent and the world, about OUR identity if we end up arguing about statistics on sexual harassments? How can we go any further when even the professors are so narrow-minded?

I may be wrong but I always thought that people with high scientific degree should represent a relatively high level of intellectual enlightenment. That they do not argue in a way that newspapers do. That if they argue then they argue on a specific intellectual level and they try to resolve issues of today’s world rather than bombard each other with shallow arguments.

The lady was right in asking him this question. I ask you this question now:Przechwytywanie

Can you answer? Do you know the answer? Can you explain how and to what extend?

I can’t. Or better said: I do not think that my European identity has changed because of that. Nothing has changed in my surroundings. There was not a single change in the landscape of my home village. No, nothing at all.

What can change us and our identity instead? Nationalism, xenophobia, closed-mindness, blindness and the silly belief that we stop the changes that are unstoppable.

 

A story about the cultural change and why can’t we talk about it like grown-ups

Why is it (this time) not about populism?

Terminology concerning the phenomenon of political extremism is bitterly complicated. Authors are becoming more and more creative in terms of defining political extremism as well as particular kinds of extremism, including the extreme right. A researcher burrowing through the literature can see the far right being named as “Nazism” or “fascism” or “right wing radicalism” or “nationalism” or “New Right” and so on and so forth.

What annoys me more than anything else are the labels such as “populist radical right” or “populist right” or “populist far right” or any other combination including both extreme right and populism in one general etiquette. Why?

  • First of all it does not help with understanding neither extreme right nor populism.
  • Secondly it is an effect of a general tendency to attach word “populism” to any modern political phenomenon.
  • Thirdly and sadly – it is a substantive and factual error.

Populism

source: https://imgflip.com

 

I am truly convinced that if we perceive both extreme right and populism as ideologies or sets of particular ideas, then they are definitely not identical. What is more their particular core ideas may not even overlap.

Let me outline my way of thinking about populism and extreme right as two separate ideologies.

  1. The basic line of socio-political conflict encompassed by the term populism is a conflict between the elites and the people. We know that all by heart. But – there are visible tendencies in social sciences to expand the term populism on other phenomena and other conflicts as well. And so you can find authors claiming that populism is not only about the vertical line of conflict (elites vs. people) but also about the horizontal line of conflict (us vs. them, meaning mainly foreigners). Ok, but doesn’t the horizontal line of conflict mean something else? Don’t we have an already existent word for that? Isn’t the conflict of us vs. them already reserved for terms like xenophobia or racism or at least hostility? If the conflict between us and foreigners is now labelled as populism, why would we need terms like xenophobia or racism any longer? What does racism and xenophobia mean now, if their key idea is now covered by new popular term of populism? I truly believe that expanding the traditional line of conflict encompassed by term populism (elites vs. people) by another conflict line reserved for years for completely different phenomena (us vs. them, meaning foreigners) does not do any good for any of these terms. Let populism deal with vertical line of conflict as it used to do so and let the horizontal conflict be dealt with by other concepts.
  2. Some new definitions of populism are – as Jens Rydgren rightly put this – designed in such a way so that they match with the concept extreme right. And so is populism more and more often described as antipluralistic, antidemocratic, as nationalistic or authoritharian. The outcome of such a tendency is that populism became presented with terms reserved – again – for other political phenomena. Is populism really antidemocratic? I doubt it. It uses antidemocratic rhetoric for its own goals but these goals are not designed to diminish or abolish democracy itself. Is extreme right antidemocratic? It is – to a way greater extend than populism is. Extreme right tends to have revolutionary goals, it does not accept the status quo of liberal democracies.
  3. It is also said that populism is appealing for anti-intellectualists. It is a domain of a kind of narrow-minded group people. It uses easy words and describes the world in an easy way. Each and every issue in mouths of populists sounds easy to resolve (mainly because it’s actually elite who causes the issue so to resolve the issue we should just simply get rid of the elite). But – a representative of the far right does not match with this image at all. After several years of studying right-wing extremists I am truly amazed by their intellectual background. They do know which elements of history or identity of a given nation or country should they use to be perceived as political grown-ups. They know a lot about their intelectual roots and father figures. The last word I could use to talk about them is anti-intellectualism.
  4. Finally, when we go into details of particular core values of both populism and extreme right the differences are clear and are not easy to be overlooked. Populism and extreme right differ in terms of acceptance of violence in political actions. They differ in their views on international matters. They differ in their attitute to European Union. They differ in terms of definining they group they claim to be serving, etc.

It should be also highlighted that by constantly adding “populism” to anything connected with the far right does influence the perception of the far right itself. Populism is not associated with such a great risk as extreme right is. By adding populism to extreme right we dissolve the term extreme right and it that way we do make right-wing extremists happy! They are no longer perceived as a political evil. They are just populists. As everyone else is.

 

Why is it (this time) not about populism?

How does the far right in Eastern Europe differ from its Western counterpart?

Have you been ever wondering whether the far right in Poland is the same as that in France? Or whether that is Slovakia is the same as the far right in the United Kingdom? Or whether the Len Pen phenomenon could have been implemented in Hungary and Orbán phenomenon could have been expanded to the Netherlands?

There are people who spend months and years of research to answer these questions. Before we move forward and look at what they say, please take 5 seconds to respond to one-question survey here. Thanks!

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In general, there are two camps of scientists, disagreeing with each other on the above-mentioned issues. The first camp claims that because the far right in Eastern Europe is the same as that in Western Europe, you can conduct the research on both parts in the same way and put them both together in a comparative analysis.

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Into this camp I would definitely count Cas Mudde. Mudde is one of the most famous experts of the contemporary extreme right, analysing them from the point of view of their ideological programme (which is the approach that I myself support). Titles of his works such us Extreme-right Parties in Eastern Europe (2000), Racist extremism in Central and Eastern Europe (2005) or the one edited together with Roger Eatwell Western democracies and the new extreme right challenge (2004) reveal clearly on which part of Europe did he focus in his research in a given publication. There’s however one newer book Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (2007) in which he decided to put as many as 111 extreme right parties from all around Europe – from Portugal to Ukraine and from Sweden to Cyprus – into one comparative analysis. It is backbreaking and extremely time consuming, pan-European exercise.

How does Mudde argument in favour of this approach?

  • pan-European comparative perspective increases the number of possible study cases
  • the differences between Eastern Europe and Western Europe are diminishing, e.g. due to the inclusion of the Eastern Europe into such a “Western” idea like European Union and it is to be assumed that the (alleged) differences that might warrant distinct study at this moment will soon be irrelevant, given the homogenizing effects of EU membership (Mudde 2007: 3)

This leads Mudde to the conclusion that since East and West are converging, so does the extreme right organizations in both parts of the continent.

These arguments might not be convincing to the supporters of the second camp – described below – but there is one argument of Mudde that indeed can be scientifically really convincing. Namely – the far right ideology. A common ideology of far right organizations all around the globe has already been underlined in Mudde’s book The Ideology of the Extreme Right (2002). He wrote there that the problem of cross-national comparability can be circumvented by focusing on the ideology of the parties. Ideologies function as the normative bases of the pursued policies of political parties and have the advantage of being more generally formulated than the more nationally centred policies that are pursued (Mudde 2002: 5). In short, this means that the commonly shared ideology of the far right / populist far right gives a scientific basis for comparison.

Are you convinced?

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Those who are not, may turn to another camp – sympathizers and promoters of the conviction that the extreme right in Eastern and Central Europe (or post-communist Europe) does differ from that in the West and they cannot be researched together or compared with each other. There are many fans of this point of view – I would say that definitely more than those of the first approach. I would like to name just a few and present their arguments.

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The strongest adherent of this approach seems to be Michael Minkenberg. He presents his idea of irreconcilability of the far right in Eastern and Western Europe e.g. in his article The Radical Right in Postsocialist Central and Eastern Europe: Comparative Observations and Interpretations (2002). He writes there confidently: the Central and Eastern European radical right after 1989 is neither a return of pre-democratic and pre-communist past, nor the equivalent of today’s Western European radical right. Minkenberg highlights that the far right in both parts of Europe differ when it comes to: A) ideology B) structure. Why?

  • the far right in Eastern Europe is more extreme, openly antidemocratic and more militant
  • the far right in Eastern Europe is organizationally less a party and more a social movement phenomenon (Minkenberg 2002: 336)

What is the reason for that? Minkenberg is convinced that the reason for Eastern European far right’ uniqueness is the fact that it is confronted with various cleavages. In Western Europe the far right grew strong as a response to the cleavage concentrated on the “New Politics” (60s, 70s), whereas the far right in Eastern Europe in the transformation period (after ’89) is facing cleavages that are all new. The reality around the far right influences its existence and shape.

This argument is used also by Andrea L. P. Pirro in her text Populist Radical Right Parties in Central and Eastern Europe: The Different Context and Issues of the Prophets of the Partia (2013). She used it against Ignazi’s famous theory, that the new generation of the far right is born in silent counter-revolution (I will definitely write an article on this theory! Bluntly speaking: a silent counter-revolution is connected to the emergence of the new parties on the right as the reaction to the emergence of new leftist parties that came into being as part of what Inglehart calls a silent revolution). If the silent counter-revolution explains the emergence of the far right in the 80s in the West – then, according to Pirro, it definitely does not explain the emergency of the far right in the East. Why? Simply because of the fact that under the communist regime there was no chance for the far right to exist. The heyday of the far right in the East came way later that that!

Also Lenka Bustikova and Herbert Kitschelt in their article The Radical Right in Post-communist Europe. Comparative perspectives on legacies and party competition (2009) conduct an in-depth analysis of various historical legacies of Eastern European far right organizations. What is interesting for us here is that they are strongly in favour of considering post-communist Europe and far right operating in this region as a phenomenon sui generis (i.e. of its own kind). These authors believe that it:

  • was shaped in different historical and political environment
  • is based on a more recent history of state building in comparison to the West
  • involves a concept of “the other” or an enemy has longer history and concentrated around ethnicities
  • has a different starting point – the moment of fall of communism – which situates them in different set of initial conditions when it comes to the state of market and democracy (Bustikova, Kitschelt 2009: 462).

Pirro adds here that what distinguishes the far right in the East is also that the historical legacies and idiosyncrasies of the post-communist context are likely to play a prominent role in shaping these parties’ ideologies (Pirro 2013: 600).

***

What is a conclusion? Is there any conclusion at all?

I do believe that both sides of this “quarrel” have good intentions – they want to understand and research the far right as thoroughly as possible. If they take the whole Europe or even the whole globe as their scientific basis for the study of the far right – and they do find good scientific justification for that – they may come to really important, broad and general conclusions. If they focus only on a geographically smaller region and they do their best to study the far right in their original languages and socio-political environment , then political science will benefit from such an in-depth but narrow analysis as well.

The final conclusion will be mainly dedicated to anyone willing to make a first step in this research of study: whichever approach you choose, please bear in mind to always scientifically justify your choice. There are many people from the opposite camp that may criticise you and claim that your research is methodologically faulty.

 

How does the far right in Eastern Europe differ from its Western counterpart?