by Jean-Manuel Traimond from Collectif Passerelle.
Degrowth is not a curse, not a bane, not a painful duty inflicted by long faced killjoys. It’s an opportunity. It’s not some dismal synod of preachers whose definition of a wild orgy is to nibble two radishes and half a carrot. No. It’s the best (actually the only) possibility for humankind to enjoy, together, (yes, “no one left behind” as was said and not meant) our planet and our life. And when money men deem themselves very wise because they try to convince us that degrowth means candles and sweaters rather than electric radiators, one is justified in answering no, sorry, some people already live degrowth. And love it.
I lived four years in a degrowth oasis, one of the most beautiful on the planet. The fristad « free town» of Copenhagen : Christiania. A former army barracks. Complete with lake, forest and redoubts. 1000 people de facto self-governing since they occupied the place in 1971! And today, in 2022, the land now belongs to a foundation whose sole scope is to enable the Christianites to keep living in freedom and degrowth. No bosses, no chiefs, no leaders since 1971! Neither a slum of welfare queens (that fantasy beloved by the world’s extreme-rights), nor a hide-away of thieves or a den of terrorists, Christiania boasts more than 80 work collectives. Some provide public services: kindergarten, community clinic, sauna, street sweepers, etc. The others? Shops, cafés, grocery stores, concert halls, a very famous bicycle maker, the «Pedersen bicycles», and a host of cooperatives for cabinet-makers, ceramists, antique stoves makers, etc.
No Amazon-like slave factory. No Walmart-like supermarkets. No corporation demanding, as Felon Musk does, « hardcore performance ». And yet, productive lives, solidarity and togetherness, and a stunning abundance of beauty and joy. All right, let’s get down to the practical stuff: what does one really enjoy in Christiania? will Mr. Hard-Nosed ask.
Capitalism steals everything from us, and first of all, our time. In Christiania, when a for-profit activity thrives, instead of raising profits for the people who created it, they recruit more colleagues. So everyone’s workload diminishes, and the number of people with an income rises. And you can enter more than one such activity. For example, I worked one whole year as a waiter in a vegetarian restaurant. Two days a week, which was more than enough to pay for all I needed. I also worked as a volunteer in Galloperiet, a cooperative meant to welcome visitors. And in a group of guides for these visitors, in particular school groups. In other words I worked about three to four days a week. I could easily have found more things to do, but I was twenty years old. Ten years later, I would have probably belonged to another non-profit collective. In other terms, to diminish, in productive collective activities, everyone’s workload means both not experiencing work as a burden, freeing time for sociability, on one hand, and on the other hand, like Athenians, but without slaves, to ensure the possibility of participation in self-government.
Christiania is not Paradise, and one sees no angels with golden wings on pink clouds plucking harps. It is still full of human beings. The main shortcoming of the place, obvious to all visitors, is called “Pusher Street”. More or less from the very beginning, drug dealers saw the potential of the place, on their terms. So did the police, who for the first eight years of Christiania’s existence, tried to destroy it by using it as, in their eyes, Copenhagen’s dump truck. Which meant sending all the heroin addicts they could to Christiania. This almost killed it, but a strong popular reaction by Christianites and their friends in 1979 put a definitive end to hard drugs in Christiania.
In 2023 there is still, however, a very blatant market in haschich and marijuana, whose crass commercialism is not exactly degrowth-certified. The surprising point is that heroin clients proved easy to repulse, and heroin pushers meekly followed them, whereas hash pushers, who do sell a product much less dangerous than heroin, and hash buyers, proved firmly rooted to the spot. Fortunately, it’s all concentrated in the area called “Pusher Street” (duh!) and visitors are most welcome to walk beyond it, as it has always been close to the main entrance. One easy way to solve the problem would be to stop making smoking cannabis illegal.
The nefandous Trinity of Growth, Capitalism and Weapons of Math Destruction (otherwise known as Algorithms) wages a merciless war against human interaction, human contact, human sociability. Especially against spontaneous human contact with no other rules than those of common decency. This evil Trinity tolerates human interaction only if scripted, corseted by algorithms, and always burdened with a goal other than the simple pleasure of company. One of Christiania’s many charms is that it is impossible not to find in less than fifteen minutes somebody happy to chat, to share a beer (we are in Denmark), or to receive help, or to be asked for help. Had I been less lazy, today I would know how to drive a tractor, cook five different ethnic cuisines, fix sinks and build windows!
And parents there have time for their children. Yes you read that right, « parents have time for their children ». Relax. Take a breath. It is true. It is a fact.
By the way, dear 60 year-old readers, how many smiles, real smiles, sincere smiles, did you give or receive, today in 2022? How many did you give before the curse of smartphones and email? And dear 16 year-old readers, how many shoulders did you clasp in friendship today, especially compared to how many hours spent in the dour company of pixels?
Freedom and power to create
One more charm of degrowth-loving Christiania? What so often rises out of the whimsy, the sense of humor, the poetry, the invention of Christianites: how to forget the genius of a barmaid who, noticing an accidental puddle in the backroom of a bar, loved its peculiar shape, fetched some round and flat candles used as tea-warmers, and set them along the shape so that all could see not only a puddle, but a yin-yang disc, born out of the tender mercies of a watering hose not fully shut off? How to forget the ephemeral sculpture of a man who picked old tires, a very rusty axle, and a still recognizable crankshaft, raised the axle as if it were a street-light, crowned it with the tires, and turned the crankshaft into an enormous plume for this Mad Max-addled garden party hat? How to forget this old hippie who still wore in 1988 the bell-bottom pants of 1972, and yet surprised everybody by showing up at a party with a necklace made of minuscule blinking colored light bulbs scattered on a wide microchip in lieu of breastplate?
Work. Parties. Debates. Joys. Hurts. Smiles. Laughter.
Real. Not canned.
Jean-Manuel Traimond, together with Emmanuelle Rio, Roland Lehoucq, François Graner, Aurélien Ficot and François Briens, is part of Collectif Passerelle, a collective of scientists and non-scientists alike involved in science & society questions. Their published articles (in French) are available at http://passerelle.ouvaton.org/