Jan-Maat's Reviews > Stuffocation: Living More with Less

Stuffocation by James Wallman
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bookshelves: 21st-century, non-fiction, utopias-and-dystopias

...yeah...

A Christmas present(view spoiler). Takes an awful long time to say not very much, amusingly for a book concerned with the social and spiritual obesity resulting from the over production and overconsumption of material goods (view spoiler) required by our economic system, the whole book could be radically slimmed down (view spoiler).

I feel this is an insecure book with the author sheltering behind the skirts of voluminous cases studies or tangentially relevant concepts and I have a sense that all these swishing skirts are meant only to distract the readers attention from the Imperial central argument waddling down the road wearing so fine a new set of clothes that only really very intelligent people can appreciate them.

For me, as with Depletion and Abundance, by trying to remain 'realistic' and operate within the current socio-economic framework of our lives it evades what seems to me the obvious point that the problems described can only be overcome in a radically different society (view spoiler).

The central concept of the book is the problem of GDP: or as I say, what isn't measured isn't managed. In more words, he says material goods are good and a measurable increase in production of material goods is therefore good, however eventually having too many material goods with evermore available leaves us feeling bad, however if there were no production then the economy as we know it wouldn't exist and this would be too frightening, therefore the answer is to consume extremely high quality things which we will truly appreciate and which will be marketed to us through theatrical experiences (view spoiler)(view spoiler) . Since we can't adequately measure or reduce to a single easy number the value and nature of our happiness it tends to be ignored.

The author mentions air-conditioning as an example of progress which I felt fairly amusing since a/c is a grossly inefficient attempt to emulate the effect of living in a traditional built thermally dense dwelling, equally here he is discussing how unsatisfactory material goods are - didn't the Buddha and the Epicureans tells us that over two thousand years ago(view spoiler)- once he addresses that then maybe we can discuss ' progress' sensibly. He misses a trick with Veblen by dismissing him as a satirist - the point is that conspicuous consumption, Veblen tells us, is socially meaningful to us, therefore if conspicuous consumption is inherently unsatisfactory then we'll have to overthrow and construct anew on different lines society in order to get away from it.

I felt that in the background and completely ignored was Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the economy produces goods and experiences which meet our basic needs, but once they are satisfied (view spoiler) the individual still wants self-actualisation for which no quantity or combination of material goods is an adequate substitute for. Wallman looks at minimalism and experiencalism (view spoiler)which he says are trends, particularly the latter which will offset or replace traditional consumption. Minimalism he say is too difficult and thus will never catch on. Bigger and more experiences involving a cast of thousands he reckons are the shape of things to come, while he allows that putting your toes into the sea is an experience, this is in the context of being trumped on Facebook by your 'friends' dipping their toes into a more exotic sea. While he acknowledges the angst of the individual looking at their 'friends' pictures on facebook with their bigger and better technicolor lives he thinks it is the coming trend and that we'll feel on the whole better for it (view spoiler).

This is all proven by case studies of traditionally rich people who tend to look like famous actors and actresses (view spoiler) but who get tired of the hassle involved in owning a house and telling their factor to furnish it etcetera, and having changed their lifestyle their health problems - which no mere mortal doctor can treat - melt away(view spoiler). On the plus side it is vaguely zeitgeisty and has the good news for the rich that you'll remain so and your lives will be more colourful than ever though they may involve more dead wasps or being forced by Nazis to drink whisky at special screenings of "Casablanca"(view spoiler).

He never addresses the question of distribution of goods, ie that some are sick of them while others sicken for the want of them, nor the "Silent Spring" issue - ie if you think you're unhappy now how cheerful do you think you might be once the environment is even more trashed.

Interestingly the big example of experiencialism that he doesn't discuss is the Alpha course, possibly because I believe you don't pay for it and maybe because it is not manufactured by Apple (view spoiler), but it seems to me to be precisely the kind of thing he is discussing - you have a group experience that is meant to culminate in something transcendental and produce a definite outcome at least in terms of your spirituality (view spoiler).

Toward the end of the book he mentions a dog sharing service so the 'hassle' of looking after a dog doesn't interfere with the enjoyment, which is exactly his problem, he does not grasp the essence of experience, which is openness to it as an end in itself - plucking dog hairs from the soles of your feet and living with their curious behaviour, cleaning up after them is life - messy and inconvenient, not a pre-packaged planned parade of delights to distract you from how much you are not enjoying yourself.

I don't disagree that overconsumption is a consequence of our industrialised economy or that there are limits to the degree of satisfaction that manufactured goods and services can provide for us, nor do I disagree that currently developing countries will reach a similar position to more developed economies in the nearish future, I dislike however being rather slowly led round these topics and being told that better 'smarter' consumption is the cure for over consumption as though overeating were the cure for obesity. - If you shout with the Prisoner "I am a man, not a number", then the message of this book is - accept defeat puny human, your government values you only as a fragment of GDP, go forth and spend, or we'll be forced to liberalise consumer credit further...

The problem is that he rejects as snakeoil the pure clean water (pp68-69) of the solutions. Admittedly the solutions like input needing to be less than output to reduce obesity (view spoiler) are simple but not easy, however that doesn't make them snakeoil. Thoroughly avoidable book, although in fairness his interest is in spotting the most likely future trends not in appreciating the pitfalls of the contemporary economy and society.
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Reading Progress

January 2, 2017 – Shelved
January 7, 2017 – Started Reading
January 8, 2017 –
page 249
74.11% "the experience economy: good grief it turns out that it won't be a fascist who is stamping on your face for all eternity but friendly old capt'n Birdseye instead"
January 8, 2017 –
page 265
78.87% "book that says oh no - Capitalism makes us unhappy - but don't worry the answer is more capitalism, in the future we'll pay lots of money to take part in adverts or buy only really expensive things and this will oblige us to be happy because science!"
January 8, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Antonomasia (last edited Jan 08, 2017 10:05AM) (new)

Antonomasia Delighted to see a popular reviewer pointing out the underlying problem with these books / the experientialism trend.
I had felt I ought to try, but didn't know when I'd get round to it; love it that someone else is doing so instead,

I have found the Minimalists podcasts quite useful at times simply as background noise that doesn't make me want more things, but they do repeatedly swerve away from critiquing capitalism, the growth imperative and consumer society, probably so they remain relatively popular and don't get pigeonholed politically. (I get the feeling sometimes that they are aware of these things, but are deliberately not going there.)

Do you also think you have got more overtly political recently? I never used to notice that in your posts but have quite often in the last couple of months.


message 2: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Antonomasia wrote: "Delighted to see a popular reviewer pointing out the underlying problem with these books / the experientialism trend.
I had felt I ought to try, but didn't know when I'd get round to it; love it th..."

depends, in which direction , it may be my reading choices have just made it plainer, I don't feel more politicised or in further directions, but I may well be not the best judge. I've read a couple of minimalist blogs as one offs and generally felt they they disposed of more stuff than I started with, dunno horses for courses, here though it was quite plain that living with little was a choice for the wealthy...and I find the disconnect from environmental considerations bizarre and social ones distasteful - but I can see why one might avoid drawing the economic and social conclusions whether out of a desire not to frighten some or a dislike of the answer, but once you do that then the baby goes out with the bathwater


message 3: by dianne (new)

dianne "...he mentions a dog sharing service so the 'hassle' of looking after a dog doesn't interfere with the enjoyment, which is exactly his problem, he does not grasp the essence of experience, which is openness to it as an end in itself..."

this could easily be extended to children, or even husbands - both of whom can be messy and inconvenient - if only we could pre-program the magical moments for the hours they're scheduled to be with us.
thanks for the thorough review - once again you've saved me from wasting my time by wasting yours. i'm forever in your debt.


message 4: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat dianne wrote: ""...he mentions a dog sharing service so the 'hassle' of looking after a dog doesn't interfere with the enjoyment, which is exactly his problem, he does not grasp the essence of experience, which i..."

perhaps a husband sharing service will be the next big thing...


message 5: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala As an aside from the main subject being discussed in the review and the comments, can I say once again how much I enjoy your asides.


message 6: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "As an aside from the main subject being discussed in the review and the comments, can I say once again how much I enjoy your asides."

Thank you, and now would Madame like to see the desert menu? Or perhaps a cup of coffee might be welcome?


message 7: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala In a fine and elegant coffee cup please ;-)


message 8: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "In a fine and elegant coffee cup please ;-)"

It is noticeable how different cups affect the flavour


message 9: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I use different cups and mugs for different times of day and depending on whether I'm drinking coffee, green tea or tisane.
I like filter coffee in a ceramic mug in the morning but espresso in a China cup with a fine lip after lunch. Green tea I take in a china mug and tisane in a thermal mug because I sip it over a long period while reading, for example.
I've used up all the wedding present services and crystal glasses - there will be none of mine with cupboard smells to pass on to the daughters though I've got some of my mother's and grandmothers' sets complete with odors of cupboards past which I'm unfortunately just not irreverent enough to use up.


message 10: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "I use different cups and mugs for different times of day and depending on whether I'm drinking coffee, green tea or tisane.
I like filter coffee in a ceramic mug in the morning but espresso in a Ch..."


the taste of lives past available to be savoured


message 11: by dianne (new)

dianne I like filter coffee in a ceramic mug in the morning but espresso in a China cup with a fine lip after lunch. Green tea I take in a china mug and tisane in a thermal mug

interesting! i have some experimenting to do. right now a latte in a tall glass awaits.


message 12: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Ah, yes, a transparent glass seems right for a latte


message 13: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat dianne wrote: "I like filter coffee in a ceramic mug in the morning but espresso in a China cup with a fine lip after lunch. Green tea I take in a china mug and tisane in a thermal mug

interesting! i have some e..."


whoa, careful there, glasses are an entirely different drinking game!


message 14: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala The afternoon is drawing to a close where I live, and yes, that can mean an entirely different set of goblets...


message 15: by dianne (new)

dianne Life is certainly complicated in the old world.

in the US everything is served in a big plastic cup (preferably refillable). i've seen both wine and beer on ice (!)

here in Uruguay they have a ritual around their mate preparation, reheating, sharing - served in the correct calabash gourd, sucked through the right silver bombilla - mine is consistently awful.
i am very much looking forward to my probable success with green tea in a china mug


message 16: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat dianne wrote: "Life is certainly complicated in the old world.

in the US everything is served in a big plastic cup (preferably refillable). i've seen both wine and beer on ice (!)

here in Uruguay they have a r..."


there's a world of taste (not all of which are cupboard flavours that you're missing out on


message 17: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Jan-Maat wrote: "perhaps a husband sharing service will be the next big thing..."

I believe polyamory is making something of a comeback.


message 18: by dianne (new)

dianne Cecily wrote: "Jan-Maat wrote: "perhaps a husband sharing service will be the next big thing..."

I believe polyamory is making something of a comeback."


True. But that seems like more inconvenience and hassle rather than less (which, i believe was the original idea); may just be my contentedness in familiarity.


message 19: by Cecily (last edited Jan 12, 2017 12:46AM) (new)

Cecily Funnily enough, I was recently chatting to someone who was keen on the idea, but is now in a relationship. I gently wondered if they were still interested in polyamory. In reply, I was told that the new partner wasn't wired that way, but also - just what you say - the whole thing would be too complicated at this time of their life anyway.

(That sounds a more personal and intrusive question than it was in context. They were not in the least offended or upset.)


message 20: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Cecily wrote: "Funnily enough, I was recently chatting to someone who was keen on the idea, but is now in a relationship. I gently wondered if they were still interested in polyamory. In reply, I was told that th..."

rather like sharing your life with a dog, the journey is the point of the thing, not simply an inconvenience that can be snipped away in favour of a series of highlights


message 21: by Miriam (new)

Miriam That is quite an avant-garde theatrical experience you've invented, or is that the author's notion?

I can see the point of dog-sharing for lonely people who are too busy to look after a pet properly. However, I would not trust most people with my dog (or cat, or child).

Oddly, although I have a wide range of wine glasses and know which ones go with which varietals, I have never given much thought to which mugs go with which coffees and teas, aside from the obvious truth that anything hot in styrofoam is disgusting.


message 22: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Miriam wrote: "That is quite an avant-garde theatrical experience you've invented, or is that the author's notion?

I can see the point of dog-sharing for lonely people who are too busy to look after a pet prope..."


the one with the dead wasp was experienced by the author and gets a page in the book, you get a noticeable change in flavours from one cup to another, perhaps as I heard with wine glasses the shape determines which bits of the tongue get the liquid first?


message 23: by BlackOxford (new)

BlackOxford "Thoroughly avoidable." I'm adding that to my repertoire.


message 24: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat BlackOxford wrote: ""Thoroughly avoidable." I'm adding that to my repertoire."

a useful phrase I find!


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