Tilting at Windmills

​"Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” Don Quoixote (Cervantes) The new is not the new, the sustainable is not sustainable and the past is not the past.

"Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

Don Quoixote (Cervantes)

The new is not the new, the sustainable is not sustainable and the past is not the past.

It all goes back to Cervantes doesn't it? The quixotic quest to tilt at windmills chasing after ideals that are no longer relevant. Isn't it worth remembering that the old Don and his faithful companion were already ridiculed in 1605. The image of the past is always the symbolic narcism of nostalgia. The ideals which the quest is seeking, the romanticised version of what has been lost was a reflection of the Don's own 'lack'- the Don is ashamed of what he is not, and projects these failings onto everything around him. The windmill is a future, and a terrifying giant - the windmill is the future which he can not embrace.

It is a hackneyed metaphor to bring up this quest but then I think there is a hint of a quixotic quest in the seeking of a sustainable future. I think it is worth remembering that a 'sustainable future' was what James Watt and Adam Smith wanted to see. Sustainability has always been against change and surely (must be) a deeply conservative concept. Conservative, with its roots of conserve, preserve, put on ice, keep cold and ready or at least conservative to protect, to maintain, to resist change. Sustainable is always an argument for a status-quo ideology which is usually the very things which is unsustainable.

The sustainable computer scientist does not rethink what computing is, or what computing is for, or what computing should be for, or create a vision of what the future of computing could be, but seeks to make the status-quo of computing extended into future time for all time. The sustainable computer science is afraid of the future as much as our spanish Don.

Sustainable designers are no different, but the agency of the designer has grown in recent years to a point where 'everything is designed' has become a truism. The Designer wants a world where their expertise of aesthetics and material can be extended into a future time. This feels like a form of self-preservation but is not, it is self defeat. The sustainable designer is desperately clinging to being and identity - being a designer - terrified that years of training and experience may not be valuable to a future world.

The sustainable economist - has the modernly honest goal of a predictable level of growth over an extended period of time. The problem with sustainable economics is that it is as conservative and impossible as any other kind of sustainability. Through looking at sustainable business practice and the ideology of sustainable economics we can see, that the term 'sustainability' is full of fear and contradiction. The very concept of 'sustainability' in business and economics is a resistance to change with the knowledge that resistance to change is always futile. The contradiction seems to be that the most 'sustainable' thing a business can do is to be open to change: which raises the question, what is being sustained?

The Sustainability conversation in most areas in recent years has taken on a particular environmental tone. Which needs a deeper deconstruction. What is sustainability in an environmental sense, what is sustained and for whom. Sustainability, is often associated with concepts such as balance, preservation, ethical good. Refusing to face the concept that the 'environment' or 'nature' is it self a dynamic system (dare I say living). Evolution is the history of unsustainability, each generation of species becoming obsolete, redundant, superfluous to the requirements of the the eco system.

Take a deep breath. Taste the oxygenated atmosphere, this too was unsustainable. There may be another way to look upon ourselves, which is deeply arrogant and humbling at the same time. In this small corner of the universe, this planet may be host to the only life that ever was. The human species may be the only sentient being -ever-. Breath deeply, for then there may be a need for a certain conservatism. In his poem 'mending wall' Robert Frost says:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

To reshape Frosts words "something there is that does not want to stay the same' and 'Before we begin this work of sustainability, I'd ask to know/ What is it we want to keep or let pass on/ and for whom, and who I was like to give offence"

Sustainability is a desire keep the values of the present and at the same time get rid of the negative consequences these actions will have in the future. But negative and positive consequences are tied up in the same ideologies, are trees from the same root.

It is naïve to think that an 'age of sustainability' can follow ... can be after.... sustainability is the extension of the present into the future, through the process of this false promise.

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