Hervé Kempf, author of How the Rich are Destroying the Earth, sat down with Leslie Thatcher of truthout.org to discuss Comment les riches detruisent la plan te—the original French version of the book.
From the interview:
Leslie Thatcher, for Truthout: I read “Comment les riches detruisent la plan te” this afternoon. I’m not sure “like” is the operative term for my response. I devoured it in one go, which means I will need to go back and reread many passages – my copy is now as prickly as a porcupine with all the little bits of wastepaper I stuck in to mark the passages I’d want to review.
The book seems to me an incredible tour de force. I could not imagine it possible to lay out systematically, with sentences of classical limpidity and concision, such a complete, as well as completely persuasive argument for what ails the world and what needs to be addressed. The dense connections between all the disturbing phenomena of recent years – ecological degradation to the point of habitat destruction for our own species, increasing social inequality and unemployment, the new totalitarianism (government snooping, torture, the percentage increase in prison populations), and the disappearance of a seriously contentious press are simply and powerfully delineated.
Hervé Kempf: I’m very happy and honored “Comment les riches d truisent la plan te” pleased you so much. I believe it has touched a sensitive chord with many people in many places. Many readers have responded with great interest: it was useful to clearly connect the environmental crisis and the social question.
Truthout: I read that you bicycle to work: how else do you personally reduce your own consumption, share with those who have less, and create a new ethos?
Kempf: Reducing my personal consumption? First of all, it’s possible to live in Paris without a car, given that public transportation is efficient. In daily life, the family (I have five children) goes without television, a microwave, a dishwasher and all those electronic gadgets that are expensive, use a great deal of energy, and take too much time. We pay attention to turning lights off in rooms where no one is present. My wife is a good cook and we eat healthily and pleasantly without meat every day. One important point is that I live without credit – indebtedness is one of the most pernicious instruments pushing us towards excess consumption. Obviously, all this makes life quite happy, since we have the time to read and we spend a lot of time with our friends. The children adapt well to such a thrifty life, even if their friends often have more gadgets than they do. As to sharing with those who have less, one never does enough – of course. But I regularly send money to charitable and development organizations.
Truthout: If Veblen is right about the basic human drive to compete insatiably for social status, it seems to me we need to replace the competition of conspicuous consumption with virtuous competition: to make recycling and reusing – as well as real leadership – “chic.”
Kempf: Veblen and new values: yes, absolutely! To change the world we must create new norms of “savoir-vivre” [manners] (I re-echo Veblen’s formula) so that what’s “chic” is not having a big SUV and taking the plane, but bicycling, having a convivial social life, and consuming less stuff. And in this regard, the oligarchy has a heavy responsibility also.
As Senator Obama said at his Candidates@Google discussion when asked how we force Washington insiders to change a system that so hugely benefits them: “Shame.” It sounds like Hervé has a similar tactic: peer pressure.