The Trojan Horse of Sustainable Living: Unpacking the Cultural Violence Within

“The more people promote consumerist values, the more they want more and more of this and that, the more they flaunt that phenomenon, the more they create cultural violence. Because if you create a type of society that thrives in this type of self-identification, you are basically also promoting not only the destruction of the environment but also the diminishment of others. Because you are saying that I can afford this type of status and I am better for that, while others can’t.”

This powerful quote has been on my mind lately, particularly as I observe the rise of movements centred on sustainable living, wellness, and mindful consumption. While these movements are well-intentioned and necessary, I can’t help but notice that even they are not immune to the cultural violence embedded in our society. The desire for status and self-identification through material possessions persists, creating an exclusive cycle that contradicts the very principles these movements aim to promote.

Consider the landscape of sustainable living today. It’s not enough to simply use what we have to live more sustainably. Instead, we are encouraged to buy merchandise, from overpriced water bottles to aesthetic food storage containers, and from $70,000 electric vehicles to high-priced natural fibre clothing. Take, for example, the booming market for organic cotton tote bags, which are often marketed as eco-friendly alternatives to plastic but require significant water and energy to produce. Similarly, high-end bamboo utensils and reusable straws, while reducing plastic waste, still cater to a consumerist mindset that values new purchases over utilising what we already own.

This trend extends into wellness practices as well. For instance, yoga, once a spiritual and physical practice originating from humble roots in India, has become a status symbol in the West, with expensive classes and branded attire that cater to the affluent, while the living conditions in many parts of India remain harsh and impoverished. Similarly, ceremonial cacao, once sacred medicine for the Mayan people, has become a ubiquitous commodity in cafes and grocery stores. It’s now consumed round the clock, turning a sacred tradition into a commercial product that fills the pockets of the wealthy while ignoring its origins and the journey it took to end up in your $8 disposable cup.

This phenomenon is like a Trojan horse—a disguise for the same issue of excess, masked as a solution. The promise of sustainability and wellness is wrapped in consumerism, perpetuating a cycle where only the privileged can fully participate. As a result, the gap between those who can afford to live sustainably and those who cannot continues to widen, reinforcing social and economic inequalities.

Jane Goodall’s words resonate deeply here: “We can’t leave people in abject poverty, so we need to raise the standard of living for 80% of the world’s people, while bringing it down considerably for the 20% who are destroying our natural resources.” This quote highlights the deeper issue at hand. As the 20% who are contributing disproportionately to the depletion of natural resources, we must critically examine our consumption patterns and the cultural violence they perpetuate.

So how do we break down these walls that confine us? How do we move away from the idea of privilege for some and servitude for others? Where does this cycle end? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Redefine Sustainability: True sustainability is not about purchasing new, trendy items but about making the most of what we already have. It’s about repairing, reusing, and repurposing. We must shift the focus from consumption to conservation.
  2. Promote Inclusivity: Sustainable living should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. This means advocating for affordable, sustainable options and supporting initiatives that make eco-friendly choices available to all.
  3. Challenge the Status Quo: Question the notion that expensive, branded items are necessary for a sustainable lifestyle. Recognise that simplicity and mindfulness do not come with a price tag.
  4. Educate and Empower: Share knowledge about how to live sustainably without the need for excessive purchases. Empower communities with the skills and resources to make sustainable choices within their means.
  5. Foster Connection Over Consumption: Emphasise the importance of relationships and community over material possessions. True fulfilment comes from connections with others and the world around us, not from the items we own.
  6. Lead by Example: Demonstrate through your own actions that a sustainable lifestyle is not about status but about making thoughtful, conscious choices. Inspire others by living authentically and mindfully.

Breaking free from the cycle of cultural violence requires a collective effort to redefine what it means to live well. We must move beyond the surface-level solutions that perpetuate exclusivity and instead embrace a deeper, more inclusive approach to sustainability. It’s time to dismantle the idea that sustainable living is a luxury for the few and make it a reality for all.

As Jane Goodall so eloquently reminds us, we need to balance the scales—raising the standard of living for those in poverty while reining in the excesses of those who consume the most. Only then can we hope to create a world that is fair, just, and sustainable for all.

Let’s challenge ourselves to look beyond the allure of material wealth and status. Let’s strive for a world where our final moments are filled with memories of love, connection, and genuine happiness. Together, we can redefine what it means to live a truly rich and fulfilling life.

For the people and the planet,


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