Towards Ethical Lifestyle Design

“People who avoid all criticism fail. It’s destructive criticism we need to avoid, not criticism in all forms.” (Timothy Ferriss)

How about Ethical Lifestyle Design?Should lifestyle designers be better people? When reading the recent discussion on the topic over at Beyond Growth (1, 2), one could reach the conclusion that this indeed should be the case. And, honestly, why not? Why limit our niche to the creation of muse businesses, travels, and vain endeavors?

On the other hand, when looking for a better approach to lifestyle design, one should also have in mind that pretty much everything one could wish for in the niche does already exist in another one. Searching for a well-elaborated critique of consumerism? Call Adbusters. Looking for people engaged in fixing our financial system? Ask Attac. Miss an environmental stance? Join Greenpeace or Earth First. Now, you might ask, what do these institutions and the individuals behind them have to do with lifestyle design?

The answer: It depends on your definition of the word. It’s a triteness, but following the broadest and simplest definition, lifestyle design is about nothing more or less than designing your lifestyle. Or, as JD Bentley put it a few months ago in a similar discussion: “Judging by the requirements of the term itself without any concepts applied by the zealots who promote it, everyone who has ever lived is a lifestyle designer.”

But probably, in a widespread use along the web, there’s something more to it, limiting lifestyle design to a much smaller group of people: The niche is then about being an entrepreneur and creating “muse businesses”, automatizing and outsourcing as many tasks of them as possible – in an attempt to create a stream of passive income and obtain free time for the more interesting things in life.

Understood as such, lifestyle design is indeed hyper-individualistic. It strikes me as an “American Dream 2.0”, and that’s probably no coincidence. Tim Ferriss & Co. certainly are deeply influenced by this traditional approach to life, preached over decades in the US.
Maybe, this influence isn’t even a bad thing. Community activism has its place in the world, and hopefully it will grow. But as activists rarely see paychecks for their work, taking care of their funding by creating their own businesses probably isn’t a bad idea at all. As Cody McKibben, an Asia-based lifestyle designer writes in the comments of Eric Schiller’s original post: “[A] big part of my motivation for building my business and my influence IS in fact so that I can use it in the future to make an impact in situations where I currently feel powerless, to open people’s eyes to injustice that is built into the “systems”, and to direct people’s actions to make a positive difference in others’ lives. Right now though, yes I am focused on ways to increase my own income—first have to look out for oneself and then look out for others.” While this may not please most people that want a better planet now, it’s just a call for rationality: If we die of hunger, we won’t change anything.

Unfortunately, not every person on earth is interested in social work. Actually, most people are not. The same is true for aspiring lifestyle designers. In a funny misunderstanding of Darwinism, some of them might even be mislead to think they could exist outside of any community at all. But as I don’t hold it for a good idea to force people into social activism, let’s forget about them for the moment.
Concerning everybody else, we may be on to something when asking about how to create solidary forms of living together on this planet in times of the internet. But the answer to this certainly isn’t anymore about lifestyle design as we know it. Following our definition of the term, it would be either about life in general, or about something new altogether: Terms like “Community Design” or, as proposed in the comments to Klint Finley’s post by Uriah Zebadiah, “Culture Building” seem to be more appropriate. If we want to maintain the term, it’s probably useful to expand it a little, in order to differentiate it from the niche that solely focuses on earning money. As for this article, I will go with “Ethical Lifestyle Design“.

Now, the question is what role the muse business side of Lifestyle Design could play, when it comes to integrating it to a life of social responsibility and activism. And here comes the problem: It won’t play any role at all, if we deny the possibility of using it to hack our working-life in order to create free time and a certain amount of passive income. This is something that was at least implied in Klint’s response, when he stated concerning muse businesses, that “most people, no matter how pure their positive thoughts, will never actually succeed in this.” If this is true, we won’t have to worry and complain about the whole lifestyle design phenomenon anymore, as it then would be nothing but a science-fiction concept created by a bunch of marketing pros.

But is it really true? Admittedly, lifestyle design as a way to dramatically reduce our working hours still has to prove itself. Will it help a larger part of the labor force to break free from 9 to 5, maybe not reaching the four-hour work week, but at least a twenty-hour one? Just by posting a bunch of case studies on his blog, Ferriss won’t silence his critics.

On the other hand, it’s not only since the recent financial crisis of 2008 that people start to challenge their relationship with money, and embrace the advantages of freedom from debt and frugality in order to create a lifestyle that personally fulfills them. Though most of them don’t have nor intend to create muse businesses, this phenomenon could become part of a broader wave of (ethical) lifestyle design. But let’s look a little further into my argument first.

My assumptions are the following: While it is still a small minority, there is a growing group among Western people that questions the usual “get into debt quick” scheme as advertised by our parents and credit card companies. Instead, people consciously decide upon their own on the importance of money in their lives. This reality, in combination with recent developments in internet technology, micro-entrepreneurship and the lessons learned from “The Four Hour Work Week” indeed could be a model benefiting a larger group of the populace. I have no proof for this, and I know that lifestyle design – even after the creditable success of Ferriss’ book – is still nothing but a niche of a niche. Thus, the future will have to prove if I am right or wrong with this.

But if we accept these assumptions, an interesting argument could be made concerning ethical lifestyle design and social activism. My point is this: Counterculture and social movements so far have failed on a broader level, because most activists did not have any relationship to money at all. At one point in their lives, they became so broke that they accepted a 9 to 5 job, forgot their ideals, and became part of the system. Geoarbitrage and modern nomadism exist at least since the hippie trail of the 1960s, but the hippies didn’t prevail. They failed because they didn’t have a business plan.

And this is where ethical lifestyle design could make a difference. Nowadays, “anything goes”. We have twenty-somethings making millions as hedge fund managers in airconditioned offices and peers from their classrooms throwing stones at their windows while marching as part of an anti-G8 manifestation. Ethical lifestyle design could provide a third way between extreme capitalist and extreme anti-capitalist forces, funding individuals that engage in social causes around the planet. It could include entrepreneurs, but also people that manage to reduce their cost of living, staying employed but on a part-time basis. Freelancers and hobby jobbers would be welcome, too. The movement probably would not be centralized nor socialized, but of course there would exist avid exchange of thought around the web – just as we see it right now. Every individual could consciously decide about which movement to follow or create one by their own, and every individual could decide about how much money he or she needs to pursue their causes.

While this individualism won’t please many current leftist activists and theorizers, it is probably helpful to accept it in a certain way. This doesn’t have to stop them from working on their own causes! But let’s acknowledge this: While we are here discussing these matters, people around the globe are creating the very movement they want, both on the streets and behind their computers – and we can be a part of it only if we join them. Reality does not wait for theoretical approval. Lifestyle design will only be as good what we make it.

P.S. Eric Normand makes a somewhat similar point concerning the money question in a new post over at Beyond Growth. Please go over and have a look.

Comments 39

  1. Eric Schiller May 26, 2010

    Fabian,

    Thanks for contributing to this overall discussion. I must admit though, that I have mixed feelings about the conclusions you come to in this post. It seems to me that you are suggesting that we must continue to use capitalism as a necessary evil in order to ‘benefit more people.’

    “Ethical lifestyle design could provide a third way between extreme capitalist and extreme anti-capitalist forces, funding individuals that engage in social causes around the planet. ”

    While it sounds good on paper, this almost always leads to a combination of lifestyle design and conscious capitalism, which simply is not good enough. I’ve seen this exact same mentality used by Ferris, Chris Guillebeau, and others. Your description of it as a “third way” mirrors the thinking of those who started the “Third Tribe,” a group of marketers who seek to differentiate themselves as ‘more ethical’ while at the same time participating in the same old manipulative tactics.

    I disagree that counterculture and other activist movements have failed because of their lack of connection to money, they failed *because* of their connection to money: they all bought in. As a result of this, they lost their rhetorical power and by extension their empowering cultural relevance.

    The problem here is that this “third way” functions symbolically as a facade, on the face of things it seems like the solution we need, but in the end it just continues to support the systemic status quo and we find we are in the same place as when we started or worse.

    I’m with Slavoj Zizek on this one, he suggests that conscious capitalism is very simply a lie, it is consumerism at its absolute highest level and the way out of this problem is to radicalize to an extreme degree. I don’t believe this comes out very well in my first post, but one of my goals with this series is to push that radicalization, and in effect re-purpose “lifestyle design” as something that it currently isn’t.

    • Fabian May 26, 2010

      Eric, thank you very much for taking the time to comment and explaining your argument! I understand your critique of the “third way”, but what I miss is an outlook on the alternatives. “Radicalization” can mean a lot of things. It reminds me first of all of the position of maximalist marxists, but I don’t know if this is the direction you are heading. In my point of view, capitalism is by no means perfect, but I don’t see a large-scale alternative to it. My personal hope lies in individual action in personal life and direct political participation. I would be very interested in hear your thoughts on what you’d like to create, opposed to what you’d like to abolish.

      Apart from that, the term lifestyle design to me just appears to be “sold” already. That’s why looking for a new word probably is not the worst idea. Or if you’d like to change its definition, my question would be: Why lifestyle design? Why not the rave culture or football fan culture or anything else, for that matter? What makes a lifestyle designer different, or what should?

      Again, thanks for participating here!

      Edit: And feel free to copy any of it over to Beyond Growth, if you’d rather keep things in one place. One problem of blog discussions is that one gets lost too easily…

  2. Eric Schiller May 26, 2010

    One other thing about activism, there are other reasons in addition to buying in why they fail, most notable the fact that activism has been ‘lifestyle’ based. People were trying to feel a part of something first, and save the world second. This isn’t productive, and creates very temporary followers of a cause.

  3. Pingback: Kruse: Towards Ethical Lifestyle Design | Beyond Growth

  4. Uriah Zebadiah May 26, 2010

    I don’t think the problem is that activism is lifestyle based. I think the problem is that the lifestyle isn’t sustainable. There’s no room for prosperity or economic security as an activist. A revolution can’t be built solely of professional non-profit workers earning just enough to support a austere, earth-friendly vegetarian lifestyle, maybe owning their own home but probably not, people living off inherited wealth to support their globe-trotting volunteering, and people living in desperate poverty in some squat or collective house with a bunch of drugged-up kids. Homesteaders rapidly find out that it’s a full-time job keeping up with the farming and the self-reliance, and wind up so far out of the centers of power in their search for cheap land that their activism efforts are minimal at best. Saving for retirement is largely out of the question, or left to the desperate hope that socialism is somehow successful before then. And this group is supposed to topple a system that destabilizes entire regions for fun and profit? Rhetorical power certainly helps, but against the 24-hour news cycle and vast systems of propaganda, I really don’t think that’s enough. Overcoming capitalism’s entrenched elite in the very heart of their power and influence simply can’t be done by an impoverished people. The masses will not be swayed unless they see a clear alternative that has a track record of success.

    If it’s environmentally conscious socialism that’s the solution, if it is a more effective and desirable way of life, then it should be able to compete effectively in the marketplace. What’s needed is a scalable, collective, stable system for funding and developing businesses that are ideologically consistent with the goals of socialism. Voluntary socialism, which can fund independent media to push the message, build sustainable productive capacity, create a sort of business environment where it is clearly to everyone’s economic advantage to purchase the goods and services of other businesses with the same goals in mind, and which can act as a source of money to acquire political power independent of big business (which cannot be said of the big non-profits). By selling to and influencing liberals with money, we can build greater wealth and prosperity which can enable us to achieve larger goals, as well as weather major shifts in the economic and political situation as they develop, in solidarity.

    What I’m saying is that you have to show them the way if you want people to really change. Awareness-raising on its own isn’t enough. People eventually just tune out all the awful shit that goes on in the world, and stories of how much better things would be under socialism largely get swept up in the current of massive campaigns of right-wing propaganda and are forgotten.

    So as I see it, culture building is about arriving at and disseminating ways to live in harmony with both nature and society, teaching good people how to live frugally and sustainably, as well as how to build efficient organizations so that larger goals can be achieved. Designing a lifestyle that is easily achievable for anyone in the developed world, that is realistically aspirational for people in the developing world, and that is fundamentally more fulfilling and enjoyable than what we have thus far. What it has in common with lifestyle design is in the passion for freedom, so that greater meaning can be found. But where lifestyle design is about doing that on an individual basis, culture building is about doing it collectively, cooperatively, at the community level. Designing a more efficient economic structure from the grass roots up. Building something to fight for, and not just something to fight against.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it.

    • Fabian May 26, 2010

      Thanks for the taking the time to clarify your take on community building, Uriah. I agree with you in some points (i.e. doing things instead of preaching them), and differ in others (i.e. your point of view on socialism, at least if it refers to its historical implementations), but I would really be interested in seeing how the kind of community building you think about develops. Please keep us updated on the matter.

      • Uriah Zebadiah May 27, 2010

        Contrary to popular belief, socialism != communism, and it’s not even similar to fascism, though the nazis called themselves the national socialists. I know, it’s a poorly defined word that’s consistently misused and misappropriated to serve almost any idea, used to describe things that are better described by other words. When thinking of the USSR or other communists, it’s certainly tempting to ascribe their atrocities and abysmal human rights record to socialism, but that’s really not accurate. Stalinism, Maoism, these are distinct ideologies that do not jive with other forms of communism, much less the broad spectrum of socialists. I’m thinking pay caps of 5x the lowest paid employee, and once things scale up, business by business, industry-leading vacation time and parental leave, not to mention centralized benefits and retirement packages. Environmentally sound manufacturing processes. Humane, organic food production. Transparent business operations. Stakeholders involved in decision-making. Just the stuff that pretty much anyone worth talking to agrees about but which we can’t get through our corrupt congress.

        • Cody McKibben May 27, 2010

          You make a good point, that these are all distinct ideologies, but can anyone point to ONE SINGLE example of communism in practice that worked successfully without becoming bastardized? Every single experiment with it seems to have ended up a failed society…

          • Duff May 27, 2010

            Cuba has done exceptionally well in some economic aspects despite their many flaws and strong economic sanctions.

        • Fabian May 27, 2010

          I have a similar problem like Cody. Sure, on paper socialism sounds like a great thing. But where did or does it get implemented without drifting into what we know today as “real socialism” and all its ugly sides? As far as I know, not even on a much smaller level, let’s say in indigenous cultures, the positive sides of socialism could be attained.

          Concenring your proposals and thinking about the outlook of their implementation, it probably depends on your “menschenbild” (idea of man). I think that people are rather good than bad, but I also think they are selfish in many ways. So prospects for implementation can only be good on a smaller scale (individual and community level) – the alternative would be forcing it upon people, and I would not feel this to be desirable nor helpful for the cause.

          • Uriah Zebadiah May 27, 2010

            Okay, I think it’s a little off-topic, since no one is suggesting communism, but to address your points:

            I’m a socialist, but I’m not a communist. Specifically, I’m a social democrat, or a liberal socialist. Examples of my preferred form of government would include most of northern europe, which are stable, free nations across the board with the highest standard of living on earth. Better education, better health care, more free time, happier people, less crime, less poverty, more freedom, less corruption, more responsive government. Free markets in industries where markets are sufficiently competitive to drive progress and market efficiencies, central planning where they’re not, disproportional taxes on the rich to pay for it all. It works! Northern europe was on the brink of economic collapse in the 70s. While the US brought in corporatists claiming to be conservatives, they went another direction. 35 years later, they went from being massively less well-off economically than we are to being better off, while we haven’t seen wage growth in 40 years, even as the nation has become 90% more productive.

            And I’m not sure what you mean by ‘real socialism’. Are you saying that you’re not a ‘real socialist’ state unless you have a totalitarian communist state? You do realize that the scope of the central planning agency in a communist state is one of the big divisive issues among communist ideologies, right? That Stalin and Mao killed other communists as readily as capitalists and liberals like me? Trotsky is worth reading, one of the leaders of Lenin’s revolution, very interesting guy. Stalin had him exiled and then assassinated. Who’s to say that a free communist state wouldn’t be just as successful as any other nation on earth? The difficulties of building a communist state would seem to favor rigid, brutal totalitarian regimes, made worse by economic embargoes from the capitalist world. I would maintain that successfully maintaining a true socialist state demands freedom and decentralized decision-making, though China seems to do well with their ridiculous bullshit ‘communist’ system. Not that a true corporatist system like the US is much better, but for the built wealth we already have here.

            As far as indigenous cultures go, there’s endless variety of types of tribal management systems. However, there is a strong tradition of communism among Native Americans and many other indigenous peoples, eschewing ideas of personal property, making decisions by consensus, sharing resources equally. It’s the norm more than the exception. So it would seem that selfishness is a learned behavior, a cultural thing. But why would you assume that selfishness would not lead one towards a socialist system? It doesn’t take a genius to realize that people working together can do more than the same number of people working individually, that eliminating waste and inefficiency can lead to greater results for everyone, that building up centralized infrastructure benefits everyone. Unbridled capitalism (tending towards corporatism/fascism) benefits only those willing and able to exploit others. Hence CEO pay going from 45x the average worker to over 1000x the average worker.

          • Fabian May 27, 2010

            I never talked about communism, neither. (Cody did.) I referred to “real socialist” states in a historical sense (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_socialism). I am aware of the differences between these states and socialist theories. But that’s exactly the point. When you’re asking “Who’s to say that a free communist state wouldn’t be just as successful as any other nation on earth”, the answer is: I don’t, but this state unfortunately just doesn’t exist, and as far as I see never did. Also, IMO, prospects for it becoming real are not great, but I will happily work towards them, coming from a socialdemocratic background myself. I agree with you that many Northern European states are a lot more livable than the US, though they are far, far from perfect.

            As for indigenous tribes and communism being “the norm more than the exception”, I’d really be interested in some further data on that, if you have it. I have been studying South American natives for some time, where the notions of “eschewing ideas of personal property, making decisions by consensus, sharing resources equally” generally are more a (false, or at least incomplete) impression of Western visitors than a reality. It’s an genuine interest, not in the sense of wanting to “win” the discussion, but learn something about that. So if you have some examples, please share them. (Maybe per mail, as to not drift further off-topic here. Thanks!)

  5. J. D. Bentley May 26, 2010

    This is a really thoughtful post. I honestly didn’t expect to read something this heavy. It’s brilliant. (The original posts, too.)

    On the term ‘lifestyle designer,’ I’ve been moving farther and farther away from that. People who describe themselves as lifestyle designers are generally outright jackasses. I can’t shake it’s hollowed marketing roots. It’s just empty and pompous.

    But, for the purpose of this comment, if I take ‘lifestyle designers’ to mean muse entrepreneurs who automate and outsource, I think there should most definitely be some kind of effort to become more ethical. I could say that about literally any person on earth, though. I’m not sure I buy into the myth of a Lifestyle Design movement. As far as I can tell, there have always been a majority of people who accepted things as they were and a minority of people who didn’t. Self-described lifestyle designers are arrogant and delusional about their “revolution” and I don’t think it amounts to much more than a youthful desire to differentiate the new generation from the old generation (regardless of how little difference there’s ever been).

    Sure, there are really people out there making money off the internet and loving what they do (I’m one of them), but it’s childish to think that the people who aren’t doing that are unhappy and dying to be saved. Self-described lifestyle designers only evangelize amongst themselves.

    I guess the short of it is, people should strive for goodness in whatever they do and if a “lifestyle designer” wants to be good and to do good, that’s great.

    • Fabian May 26, 2010

      Thanks, JD. The “evangelization among themselves” is one major problem I have with the niche. It’s so incestuous that it’s no wonder things don’t advance. Anyway, more people becoming conscious that they are able to take life into their own hands certainly will be a good thing.

    • Duff May 27, 2010

      “People who describe themselves as lifestyle designers are generally outright jackasses.”

      You mean like people who brag about cheating at martial arts?

  6. Tim May 27, 2010

    Woah my gosh. This is deep stuff with big words. I think I get the maybe gist of it. I like radical stuff, and I want to agree with some of the things you’re saying.

    It’s over my head at this point in my life. Could you possibly help me out and give me the one or two sentence version of this post to clarify. That would be awesome.

    • Fabian May 27, 2010

      Tim, thanks for joining in. I think the shortest version could be this, quoting from the text: “Ethical lifestyle design could provide a third way between extreme capitalist and extreme anti-capitalist forces, funding individuals that engage in social causes around the planet.” For me, LD is a reality, if we like it or not. If it grows (what we don’t know yet), free time and money resulting from muse businesses etc. could really be used to make the world a better planet without worrying about personal survival on an economic side. In my opinion, HOW we exactly do this depends on each and every person.

  7. Mick Morris May 27, 2010

    This is a great analysis of the “lifestyle design” process underway and linkages to forms of activism, and a challenge for this “industry” to find some ethical platform on which to build.

  8. Cody McKibben May 27, 2010

    Wow, Fabian, this is an incredible article. SO many things in the article and in the comments that follow that I wish I could add some well-crafted responses to, but it’s such a massive problem we’re looking at (and I will probably need to digest for some time and write my own lengthy article about these issues).

    Thank you for referencing what I’d said in the comments of Eric Schiller’s article—definitely, social entrepreneurship and supporting the disadvantaged and working on larger social and environmental causes have always been somewhere in the back of my mind, but it is extremely difficult to confront these problems head-on when you don’t have the capital to put behind it.

    Take a look at some of the most prominent people who are creating BIG campaigns to help ease the world’s pains: some of my role models include Warren Buffett, Andrew Carnegie, Pierre Omidyar, Jeffrey Skoll, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, George Clooney, Bono, Al Gore… if you look at any list of philanthropists who are bankrolling the awareness campaigns, the research for solutions, almost EVERY SINGLE ONE of them were hugely successful business people (within the existing capitalist system), made obscene amounts of wealth as hugely famous actors, musicians, or selling books & hyping themselves (like Tim Ferriss—who, let’s not forget, promotes causes like Room to Read, DonorsChoose.org, building schools in Vietnam, etc.).

    They either created something of value that the world wanted and marketed it, or they had TONS of mommy & daddy’s money to play with. That’s just the way the world works—and sometimes I don’t understand why marketing has to be such a dirty word. The truth is (as you stated in your article): people just won’t pay your rent, your utilities, your health bills, in exchange for you to go out volunteering and protesting your whole life.

    What I see in Lifestyle Design is it affords us the ability to experiment and explore “shortcuts” to becoming the next Pierre Omidyar or Jeff Skoll. (“Shortcuts” in quotes because anyone who takes this seriously knows there is no such thing as overnight success or a get-rich-quick solution.) But: how do we minimize the material THINGS we need, minimize the amount of wealth we must horde in order to live comfortably, multiply the time/effort we expend exponentially, and stretch/leverage the money we earn, with the end goal (for me at least, though not for everyone) to have more time to spend on important discussions like this one, on purely social ventures, activism, etc.? I think in the (very) long-run, Lifestyle Design, and it’s natural extension Community Design/Community Building, may give us the tools to answer these questions…

    Yes, LD is too young to have proven itself beyond the shadow of doubt yet (though I believe it IS largely hinged on the abilities, risk tolerance, and tenacity of the individual), but where I solidly (and respectfully) disagree with Eric is that this radical leftist agenda/Marxism/communism HAS proven itself insufficient at answering these questions and solving these problems, over and over again actually, in EVERY single country and every society that has ever embraced it. No matter what system you’re talking about, yes they’re all corrupt to some degree, because once you add the human element, it’s people that corrupt every system, and an infallible economic system hasn’t been dreamt up yet.

    Advancing this radical revolution makes me think of these ignorant people who wear Che Guevara t-shirts, idolizing him as the social and economic “freedom fighter” without knowing anything about the details of his life. You have to step back, look at the big picture, and ask yourself if you’d REALLY want to be a part of such a “revolution”. After living in Bangkok and being in the middle of anti-government/anti-establishment riots for 2 years in a row now, I can say I’ve BEEN THERE in the middle of a so-called “people’s uprising”, a socially- and economically-fueled revolt against the “system”, against the elite, against the people who pull the strings—there certainly are important disparities and inequalities that need to be examined and resolved, but what seems to always eventually follow is the revolters abuse their own newfound power/influence, the wealth/public property/infrastructure/safety of a larger community is put in jeopardy or entirely destroyed, innocent people become the victims of violence, and unnecessarily lose their lives.

    Maybe I’m going way too far by drawing these parallels here, but this seems to be what Eric and Duff are really pushing for, is a radical abandoning of capitalism and leftist overhaul of the way society works. As much as I respect those two guys, and think this needs to be discussed, I disagree about going down that path. I think the only way to really improve the world is to find (unconventional) ways to work within the system, and change it from the inside out. You don’t really create long-lasting positive progress by violently overthrowing the incumbents. Once you spill blood, you forfeit your ethics entirely.

    • Fabian May 27, 2010

      Cody, thanks for the large comment. Actually, my thoughts are much in line with yours. What I’d like to emphasize (in my personal case) is that it isn’t necessary to become as big as the people you list as your role models. I think positive action is possible at a much smaller level – if I remember well, you engaged in supporting a volunteering organisation in Thailand, and it’s this kind of stuff that really makes a difference in my opinion.

      As for Duffy’s and Eric’s position, I just have no idea if you’re right. I certainly would like to hear their stance on this, i.e. what they would do, reducing things to practice. I wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence: “Once you spill blood, you forfeit your ethics entirely.” Unfortunately, in countries like Colombia, groups fighting for good causes have practically always ended up like this, leading to more problems, terror, and death.

      • Duff May 27, 2010

        As far as practice goes, there are many, many levels to the discussion.

        On the meta-level, I applaud discussions like this. One major rhetorical problem in this lifestyle design/personal development/US entrepreneurship culture is the lack of political discourse itself. The debate is quickly labeled “impractical” or “negative” or “too complicated” and summarily dismissed!

        Note that a previous commenter said that this issues in this post were over his head and requested the sound bite. Even the demand for “practical solutions” is a kind of anti-debate, a rhetorical position emphasizing that if you don’t have an easy sound bite solution to geopolitical problems, then the problems don’t exist or aren’t worth discussing.

        So the first thing is to open up debate and discussion, to create the space and possibility and even interest in discussion of culture, politics, social change, etc. that actually has room for wrestling with the difficult issues, not simply ideological positions and sound bites.

        Once we have room for debate, the thing is that me or Eric or any one individually can’t possibly have the solutions to geopolitical problems by himself. Collective problems require collective solutions. We can not solve credit card debt through individuals working harder or being more disciplined for example. We need everyone to band together to first discuss the root problems (in this case I hold banks more accountable than consumers due to predatory lending), then collectively seek solutions.

      • Duff May 27, 2010

        One problem with lifestyle design (aka entrepreneurship) is that it is an individualistic solution to a collective problem, like the issue of consumer debt which is structured by predatory lending from banks. We aren’t even thinking in terms of what we can do together–somehow we’ve been duped into thinking that we are powerless to solve collective problems but empowered to make money online!

        • Fabian May 27, 2010

          Duff, I don’t think that asking for practical solutions is “anti-debate”. At least not in this context. I’m not asking for a 10-step-program to a perfect world, but for some alternatives to the things you are critizising.

          Starting with discussion and a collective search to solutions is great and you guys are working on that over at BG – and I really appreciate this. It’s also the logical starting point. But at the same time, these discussions get lost too easily, and they don’t involve enough people yet. So, this could be a place to say: “Let’s do X to get more people join in, and to have a discussion that’s easier to follow.” Hell, it may even mean writing summaries of these matters! To me, there’s nothing bad about it, because not everybody can follow all important discussions at the same time. This is why journalism was invented…

          At the same time, individual action can be better than nothing in my opinion. It may lead more people to join in, thus creating a collective solution to a collective problem in the long run…

    • Duff May 27, 2010

      Both Eric and I are small-business entrepreneurs. We are also both deeply skeptical of Capitalism and corporatism. Playing within the system is not necessarily opposed to changing the system. Voting is “working with the system,” as is pressuring Congress to reform predatory credit card company practices, as is blogging one’s views about the problems of Capitalism! We have never once suggested violence as a method for change.

      • Cody McKibben May 29, 2010

        Good points to keep this discussion grounded. I wasn’t implying you had ever encouraged any of those things, but as a student of history, religious studies, and humanities, and as an observer of the world around me, I have watched “freedom fighters” turn into the tyrants they once opposed time and time again. And, when it comes to revolution, when you get a large crowd of people riled up and angry about something (like “the establishment”), you usually lose all control.

        I’m just putting in my support for moving this discussion from what we should push away (i.e., avoiding/abandoning/demonizing capitalism, corporatism) to what we should embrace (like the things you say: voting, interest groups, campaigning for fair lending, real community development & social entrepreneurship projects, etc.). It’s easy to identify what you don’t like—I’m very guilty of this most of the time—but harder to focus on what you do like and adopting a “towards” mentality rather than an “away” one.

  9. Eric Normand May 27, 2010

    Great post, Fabian. You have a way with words and a clear view of the situation.

    The way I see it, the only way for anyone to drop out of the system is to (as you put it) homestead. Not only is this impractical for a busy activist, but homesteading has likely lead to the hyperindividualism that we see in America today. An attitude of “stay off my land” is probably not what Eric Schiller had in mind when he started the discussion. It’s escapist at best.

    I just don’t see any other way besides starting with the system we have now. Revolution is too chaotic to see beyond the initial victory (if it even happens). Survivalists have zero effect on culture. Zapatistas also, though inspirational, live their life nearly isolated from the rest of the world. Probably not what Eric had in mind, either.

    @Eric

    I don’t think we need to perpetuate capitalism, and I don’t think Fabian was suggesting that. I do think that we have no choice but to begin where we are. We must eat. We must have shelter. We must have communication. The most efficient way, at the moment, to get these is through the market. I can think of no other practicable solution.

    What do you suggest, Eric?

    I agree that conscious consumerism is the very pinnacle of consumerism. It is the most pernicious form of consumerism since it exists as a paradox. The only way to break out of its programming is through mind grenades.

    Perhaps this is the path you suggest? Sarcasm and irony well-crafted to get people to think? Church of the Subgenius? Principia Discordia?

    Or what about a de-programming boot-camp like in Fight Club? I’d spend 3-weeks there clearing out any last vestiges of consumer behavior.

    I guess I would like something more, Eric. Something to build on.

    • Fabian May 27, 2010

      Thanks for joining in, Eric! I would sign much of what you’re saying. Because that’s exactly the thing: Principia Discordia today is much like a staircase wit. Nice, but too late. And too weird for many people. And the other point is: We can go on and on to write about these things, but people won’t be impressed. Maybe they will be, if we take positive action starting with, as you say correctly, “the system we have now”. At least that’s the only thing that comes to my mind.

    • Duff May 27, 2010

      Irony itself has been co-opted by marketing. Sometimes it is still effective, but increasingly it is a consumerism–just look at hipsters and their tight pants and fixies (one-gear bikes).

  10. Eric Schiller May 27, 2010

    What do I have to offer? The truth is right now, not much. We get criticized all the time for not offering enough tangible solutions. Let’s look longer term. Let’s consider things in 100 years, 500 years and so on. What do I have? I can say we need to *do better* than the ideologies we are currently settling for. For the record, I’m not at all arguing for a blood soaked revolution at all. While that may be the common imagery attached to words like ‘revolution’ I’m not sure where either Fabian or Cody got that from my writing.

    Cody, your reasons for rejecting socialism/communism are to me, not good enough. In every context that I’ve studied such attempts at creating those systems, it is widely agreed that they were never set up to the specifications of those who designed the systems. In effect we’ve never actually had a true socialist or communist state. As a result I hardly find the fact that we’ve never succeeded a good enough reason to give up and continue supporting a violent social system while acknowledging that it isn’t perfect.

    Your notion of ‘finding unconventional ways to work within the system’ is not a productive endeavor at all. This is because the current notion of ‘working within the system’ functions as a facade for actually buying in to the system. Lifestyle design and the ‘unconventional ideas’ that you are suggesting are in reality very very conventional. This is a symptom of the two faced side of capitalism that I so often speak of. I see so many people who seem to be getting off on the idea of being unconventional life hackers, that they are blinded to the fact that their actions are not actually unconventional at all. As a result, they continue to support the system, all the while believing that they are changing it. There for I do not believe that ‘working within the system’ to change it is a worthwhile endeavor, it is actually very counterproductive. You might read this article to get a better idea of what I’m talking about: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/2574/ We could build a new notion of what ‘working within the system’ means, and if that’s possible I think it is along the lines of reprogramming like Eric Normand stated.

    For the time being, yes we have to eat. However, I believe that most people who say they want to save the world are announcing such so they can justify their true inner desire to become very wealthy. Perhaps the shift in conscious that we need is to *actually* put the needs of the system ahead of our own.

    Eric, I’ve addressed some of your concerns at the top of this post, however I completely agree with you about deprogramming and mind grenades. While I’m not quite comfortable talking about these sort of specific solutions just yet publicly, I will say that meditation, psychedelics, chaos magick, building alternative communities and others are powerful tools to self realization and unplugging from the capitalistic mindset. One of the problems I see so much is that ‘lifestyle design’ fancies itself as an alternative, progressive community, but is not actually participating in any of the progressive rituals that open the mind to other capacities.

    • Duff May 27, 2010

      I find it especially interesting that violent revolution was read into our critique of culture when many capitalist neo-liberal bloggers use the rhetoric of revolution in their “manifestos”–even using the word “revolution” to mean “new product.” To me this is a rhetorical violence that perpetuates the structural violence of capitalism. We portray any change from the existing structure as a bloody revolution while propping up the wars, colonialism, income inequalities, and mass ecological destruction as the kind of “change” we can all support, while “the American way of life” can not be subject to change.

    • Fabian May 27, 2010

      Just to set things straight, I never stated you were into violent uprisings and stuff – I just wanted to hear your thoughts on it. A “revolution” can be many things indeed (unfortunately, nowadays it’s a fucking iPad), so I wanted a clarification.

      “…meditation, psychedelics, chaos magick, building alternative communities and others are powerful tools to self realization and unplugging from the capitalistic mindset.” – Sure, but does it “scale” (SCNR!)? These ARE defintely interesting ways to pursue, and I’m looking forward to hear more about your take on that when you see that time has come to talk about them.

    • Duff May 27, 2010

      I’ll also state that while I have participated in many of the rituals of higher consciousness, many of these too have been commodified by the influences of capitalism. While the experiences of the Absolute or other realities are in some ways beyond the relative socioeconomic structures, in other ways access and information to such practices are dependent upon them. Transpersonal experience has long been a staple of American counterculture and will continue to be impactful in questioning established realities, but we must continue to critique our countercultures as well and the influence that larger structures have on and in them.

      • Fabian May 27, 2010

        Right, I remember this sweat-hut case you wrote about. Also, just like irony, meditation has become completely co-opted by marketing gurus. Stuff like this is happening in many of these areas, and it will become more.

    • Cody McKibben May 29, 2010

      Eric, I think we probably agree a whole lot more than is first apparent on these issues. I’m interested in experimenting with the mind, and experimenting with alternative community building quite a bit, but sometimes we are prevented from talking openly about these things… maybe one day :)

      I don’t mean to imply you guys are calling for violence or anything of that nature, but I would caution against an aggressive stand-off with consumerism or capitalism (I know that makes me sound like a defender of the system) because when these ideologies collide, large mobs of angry people eventually make stupid decisions, and things get messy.

      And Duff, I agree with you—I think maybe what I didn’t spell out before is how this whole discussion (thanks to you & Eric) has shown me that you’re probably right that a lot of us in the lifestyle design & marketing communities use “revolutionary” language when we really shouldn’t. Things definitely need to get mixed up, but perhaps it’s a dangerous parallel to draw, especially when the solutions we offer usually are not that revolutionary (as you observe quite well).

      Forgive me for dragging this conversation on, but I’ve just been caught up for the second time in 2 years in the middle of violent riots & standoff between angry anti-government protesters and Army soldiers in Bangkok, on my street outside my window. I see powerful people pulling strings from their ivory towers, framing the situation as a “people’s revolt” against tyranny, average folks being brainwashed over months and months of hearing the same propaganda (the marketing) into taking a violent “stand”, but their leaders are blind to the blood running through the streets…

  11. Eric Normand May 27, 2010

    I got into yoga because of Robert Anton Wilson. I practiced out of some old books my mom had for a while. I was afraid to go to a class because I felt so pedestrian. I thought I would meet self-created supermen. Then I went to my first class and was kind of disappointed. It was so normal. I thought I was going to find a bunch of freaks who were so far out I wouldn’t understand them or be able to keep up with them. I thought they would look down on my inferior brain. All I found were some women in leotards and guys who liked to stretch.

    I see where you’re going, Eric.

    I think it would be pretty cool to see a psychedelic lifestyle design cult. Or a viral eBook that’s a Morissonian hypersigil. In fact, who’s to say I haven’t read one already?

    What you are suggesting reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson’s H.E.A.D. movement. Brainwashing yourself for fun and profit or something like that.

  12. Steve May 28, 2010

    It seems that people get hung up on the whole idea that they have to be Tim Ferris. He even says that you should not not be him. It isn’t about being Tim Ferris, it’s about being who you want to be. If that’s traveling around the world, so be it. If it is working to save the whales, then that’s your design.

    Lifestyle design is about being who you want to be! We shouldn’t get caught up in trying to be Tim Ferris, or anyone else.

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