Prada Revolutionaries: Confessions of a Recovering Solutionist

Pic: Robert Scoble (CC)

Pic: Robert Scoble (CC)

I wrote a personal retrospective on Bruce Sterling’s Viridian Design movements, along with the Bright Green tech and socially responsible business movements, for the five year anniversary of the end of the Viridian Design mailing list.

Via Technoccult:

Today we have garbage continents and ocean acidification. The latest ICC report tells us that even if we do manage to gouge our emissions, we’re still in for some rough climate change. And cutting emissions still looks as unlikely as it did to me in 2003 and as it did to Sterling in 1998.

Any sane person would look at the evidence and say the Virdian/Bright Green movement failed miserably. But here’s the thing: The Viridian Design movement may have failed in its goals, but accomplished its objectives.

Green is hip. Green is sexy. And the more affluent you are the greener — and therefore hipper — you can afford to be. “The task of this avant-garde is to design a stable and sustainable physical economy in which the wealthy and powerful will prefer to live,” Sterling wrote.

Virdians eschewed politics. “CO2 emission is not centrally a political or economic problem,” Sterling wrote. “It is a design and engineering problem. It is a cultural problem and a problem of artistic sensibility.”

In other words, it was a “solutionist” movement, meaning that it tried to “route around” politics and provide purely technical solutions to hard problems. The term has been popularized by Evgeny Morozov in the context of tech pundits who, but its origins are, appropriately enough, in architecture.

But in a capitalist society, an aesthetic movement is ultimately a consumerist movement. That’s why punk ended up as a lifestyle you can buy at the mall. It’s why the sharing economy is anything but. And just as the personal computer business became just another consumer electronics industry and the internet became an ad network with an NSA backdoor, Bright Green became just another way to move product. Worse, it became an excuse to use consumption as an alternative to politics and self-discipline. It’s the forfeiture of environmentalism to the market.

3 Comments on "Prada Revolutionaries: Confessions of a Recovering Solutionist"

  1. emperorreagan | Nov 19, 2013 at 10:10 am |

    The distance between the goals and the objectives could only have been bridged by a magical rainbow.

  2. My response to this excellent post is at the Technoccult link above.

    What I didn’t think to say there: greentech that’s only affordable by the affluent is effectively greenwashing no matter how good it is. Greentech can only stop global disaster if everyone has access to it.

    “CO2 emission is not centrally a political or economic problem,”

    While I visited viridian blogs several times, managed to miss that, meaning I didn’t get a chance to call that out as steaming bullshit until now.

    The society-wide problem of CO2 emission is by definition a political and economic problem. Society-wide decisions about resource allocation are political and economic by definition. Politics is about who gets what and who pays.

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