Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975)

To define “degrowth” we first need to define “growth”.

What do we mean by the word “growth”?

Pasolini answered that this growth we talk about is specifically “a “growth” whose outline has already been formed and fixed in the context of bourgeois industrialization.

It’s evident: those who want “growth” in that sense are those who produce; that is the industrialists. And, as “growth” in Italy is this growth, they are more exactly those industrialists who produce superfluous goods.

Pier Paolo Pasolini “Growth and Progress” (1973)

Therefore by “degrowth” we mean decoupling from this outline of growth which has already been formed and fixed in the context of bourgeois industrialization: which essentially means growth as the production of superfluous goods.

Today’s term “degrowth” actually means what Pasolini calls “progress”: the production of necessary, not superfluous goods.

Those who want progress want the creation and the production of necessary goods.

Pier Paolo Pasolini:

Therefore this growth we talk about actually means the production of superfluous goods & this degrowth we talk about means the production of necessary goods. There are many other structural signifiers in the economic use of the word “growth” which should not go without mention. First among them is the unit of measure of “growth” as Gross Domestic Product or GDP.

There is of course no qualification or distinction or any attempt to measure or quantify whether GDP is achieved via the production of necessary or superfluous goods or services. It is this idea of value-less growth that the term degrowth seeks to challenge as it wants progress instead of value-less growth at all costs.

Secondly, the word “domestic” in Gross Domestic Product or GDP firmly roots this growth in the territory of the nation state, in competition with other nation states, making no distinctions for growth at regional or metropolitan scales. National competition, not national aid is embedded in the notion of “growth” as defined by the measure of GDP.

Degrowth is simply another word for progress decoupled from the bourgeois definition of growth as the industrial production of superfluous goods & services.

Degrowth does not mean ungrowth, lack of growth, stagnation, economic downturn, depression or recession, that would be anti-growth, meaning lack of growth or negative growth, not degrowth. Degrowth means to remove from growth superfluous goods and services; it is a discretionary form of growth.

Therefore the real meaning of the word degrowth is a form of progress outside of the market logic of the production of superfluous goods inherent in bourgeois industrial capitalism. Degrowth is simply, given the limited natural resources of planet earth, an intelligent form of progress which only factors necessary goods or services.

Defining what is necessary and what is superfluous in the degrowth definition of eliminating the superfluous from production is not possible at a general but only at a culturally specific level: it varies from culture to culture, from community to community, locality to locality. We should all determine what is superfluous collectively by asking that question of our own cultures as we are inevitably consumers of products: we can stop paying & participating in the production of what we consider superfluous. For example, when Pasolini was asked whether he was also part of the consumerist cycle as he published books and directed films, Pasolini admitted to one degree that he was, as it’s impossible to fully escape the cycle of consumerist production, but in another way he wasn’t, because by his analysis of the word “consume”, in his view his was a production of poetic works and poetry can’t be consumed like a superfluous product can.

Pasolini’s is a language based analysis: he learnt Italian before some of its words, like in many other languages, were hijacked by definitions derived exclusively from economic theory. There lies the freshness of his analysis: in the refusal to subjugate language to the economy, in defining words used in language from the point of view of their original meaning rooted in a pre-industrial era. Therefore when Pasolini says poetry can’t be consumed, he means consumption in the original meaning: to consume something so it’s ready to be discarded, which is not the case with his poetry, still being published and translated today. His is a literary not technocratic language.

What I argue here is that because we are living in a pervasive market logic of bourgeois industrial growth, to avoid participating in the production and exchange of superfluous goods & to save the planet from destructive consumerism, self sufficiency, whether at an individual, family, community, village, town, city, metropolis or national scale offers us all a strategy towards implementing the progress of human life on planet earth that now is implied by the word “degrowth”.

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