Intellectual consumerism – Joanne Poyourow

(Colin Bell)

Joanne Poyourow has some interesting thoughts up at the Transition US blog, proposing the concept of ‘intellectual consumerism’. Do some people turn up to Transition and other meetings merely to sate themselves with knowledge, but never put it into practice? She sees it at least partly as a psychological issue – gaining this knowledge becomes a proxy for taking action in a way you feel either inadequate or unable to take. But it also forms an aspect of the same addictive cultural behaviour that leads us to physical consumption. She goes on to propose some helpful practical ways to get people to engage more.

I’m broadly with her in all of this, but would add a couple of other observations as well.

One is the issue of time and community. Turning up to Transition meetings takes time, which conflicts with time that could be spent doing something sustainable (say, gardening as opposed to buying vegetables at the supermarket). Obviously there’s a balance to be drawn. A complicating factor is that Transition is a community, not just informational, and you need to turn up with some regularity to be part of it. Or you feel – with justification – that you want to support events that your friends are organising. So I wouldn’t be quite as cynical about some of these people as Joanne is suggesting.

The second, of course, is that the same factors apply much more widely. Churches see similar behaviour, with an increased attitude of “what can I get out of it?” and a distinct subculture of people who become obsessed with theology, Christian books, particular preachers and the like.

Probably these don’t help in addressing it, except insofar if the culture starts to shift back, it will improve in all respects. In the meantime, as an information junky, I definitely need to hear Joanne’s warnings!



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2 responses to “Intellectual consumerism – Joanne Poyourow

  1. Clare Redfern

    Surely most Transition meetings, whilst often imparting knowledge, as well as encouragement and support, are very focussed on practicalities. So you are more likely to come away poised to grow more vegetables, knit a jumper or insulate your house better.
    Having said that I have only attended 2 meetings – mainly because I’m too busy getting on with an energy project which was initiated largely by those 2 meetings!

  2. Colin Bell

    Well, that’s the idea, and clearly for you – and many others – it has the intended effect of facilitating and inspiring positive action.

    I think where Joanne has a point is that there are definitely “meeting-based” cultures, where broadly the same people (plus a few external speakers) give talks to each other about how bad the world is and how good it would be their particular idealist solution was in place. The attendees rarely do anything to practically advance their ideas – often they see all they can do is spread the word to other people – and are just reinforced in an angry apathy.

    Clearly Transition, unlike many of these groups, does have practical steps that can be taken to get us towards the ideals, but the attitudes can carry over from these other groups.

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