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We’ve all heard of production. That thing in business where people get together to produce things. Once we have found something to produce, we form companies, special trusts, whose overriding legal function is to maximise profit. We even have a life cycle of products. Those who teach business will be familiar with the ‘S’ curves that tell the story: how we first discover products, then we invest in them, then people start to buy them, and finally, in the end, we milk what we can out of them until they are dead or replaced by other products. In short, our business lives are organised around producing things, whether it be goods or services.
AN ANTIDOTE TO PRODUCTION
I would like to propose that we introduce, and strengthen, the word ‘deproduction’ as part of our vocabulary. Our age cries out for a word to define what it is that we do when our business is to undo production, to clear it away. True, we have words like decommission – but those words are so heavy that they are confined to the decommissioning of nuclear power plants and the like. No, what we need is a good, new-fashioned concept of deproduction.
HOW I STARTED WONDERING ABOUT THIS
Death is a funny thing. It makes you re-evaluate in ways nothing else does. The death of my father made me think deeply, to the core of my being, about what it was to arrange things so that production can manageably cease. My dad sat down with me for months, before he died, and took me through all his affairs: finances, investments, files, passwords, intentions… until I was as familiar with them as he was. His aim, of course, was to make it as easy as possible for Mum after his death. He wanted to withdraw his affairs, his business, as harmlessly and carefully as possible, so that my mother would be cushioned from the blow as far as possible; so that she would be cared for, and able to take care of herself.
From that experience, a concept arrived in my mind which I’d like to call deproduction. It is an acknowledgement that everything we are trying to do, everything we are organising, will come to an end at some point. If so, then is it not responsible to plan for that event, to intentionally embrace one’s own redundancy? Dad left notes for Mum, in files labelled with years he knew he would not see. It was not simply succession planning, although there was a fair bit of that. No, there were things he was working on that he knew it was best to let go, and so he began to tidy up after himself.
Once I had performed his wishes, and set up everything nicely for Mum so that she could live comfortably and independently, I set to thinking about my own affairs. Whom did I expect to ‘deproduce’ my own productions? I was living as though a dying tomorrow would never come; as though everything I produced was for ever. But, in reality, I was creating a bit of a mess for the next generation.
ACTS OF DEPRODUCTION
So I began making notes and simplifying things. I tried to imagine my demise, and what it would leave, and started organising things so that tidying up would be easily sustainable. I noted down everything I did, hundreds of things, and left instructions for the easy dismantling of the production process. In essence, I did my own death administration.
These acts of deproduction seemed to fall into certain categories. Here are a few of the key ones:
1. Giving permission to stop. There were several instances where it made it easier for others if I explicitly consented to the dismantling of a structure or process. Otherwise they might feel obliged to continue actions which, really, should die when I die, with no obligation to anyone else.
2. Proactive distribution of wealth. It was useful to act ahead to make sure that resources found their way to the right beneficiaries. Most of these acts were making information available, a bit like making software open source.
3. Sharing useful information. If all the deproduction information was avalable as clear recommendations, then no one would have to fuss, to wonder what I wanted as a legacy.
4. Proactive dismantling of redundant efforts. I did not want to leave a mass of unfinished business, and so found myself undoing a lot of the complexity I had created in my lifetime.
FORMAL ACTS OF DEPRODUCTION
If I was to formalise these actions in political terms, I would say they translate into the following principles:
1. Build, into every creation, consent to its ultimate redundancy.
2. Prioritise ultimate beneficiaries, not immediate beneficiaries.
3. Show your workings, and be open about your intentions.
4. Look for redundant creations, and clear them away.
AN EXAMPLE: PLASTIC PRODUCTS
Politics is beginning to throw up issues to which these principles are salient. Gone are the days of unbridled production being seen as the result of wonderfully free market forces. Production is damaging us, and so we need principles of unproduction. Here is how the above four principles might be applied to the political handling of plastics production.
1. INBUILT REDUNDANCY. Producers of plastic goods would be called upon to consent to, and aid, their ultimate redundancy. This could be by taxation or levy, or by fixing a limit on a plastic-producer’s licence.
2. PRIORITISING ULTIMATE BENEFICIARIES. Producers of plastic goods would, by taxation, levy, or time-limited licensing, be called upon to act in the interest of future users of land and sea. Producers and consumers could be required to hold on to their own waste, instead of distributing and hiding it.
3. OPENNESS OF INTENTION. Plastic producers would be called upon to share plans for their own redundancy; and governments would publish an unambiguous and timetabled strategy for the elimination of plastics.
4. CLEARING OF REDUNDANT PRODUCTS. Most controversially, if a product has no sustainable future, it would be eliminated from the business cycle.
The above, at the moment, reads as overcontrolling and draconian. But much of it is beginning to be attempted, albeit in half-hearted international treaties. In future, I believe it will be understood as the only way, where space is limited and populations are growing, to assure survival. I believe that these four principles, or something similar, will be taken up by political powers as the only sensible route to a longer term future.
Back to the origin of all this thinking: mindfulness of death and everything that comes with it. I will admit to you, I do not have any personal interest in the future of planet Earth, or any of the people on it. I am happy simply to watch things unfold. But there is a deeper level on which these four principles matter. That deeper level is the philosophy on which each individual, and each group, chooses to base its lifestyle.
1. LIVE IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU WILL NOT BE HERE. It’s a fact. In the end, you are gone. So be wise, and consent in advance to your ultimate redundancy. It leaves you free.
2. LIVE FOR OTHERS. The most touching part of drama, I think, is when someone quietly does something for others. It is the most meaningful act because it is done in the face of the most meaninglessness. It is revolutionary, because it accepts the futility of self-interest, but does not ostentatiously argue for any other way. It’s the loss of self that sets you free.
3. BE OPEN. In the face of those who tell lies, openness is such fun. Secret politicians, secret bosses, secret friends, are rendered speechless by open questions. Open information is revolutionary, in that it breaks down power structures which rely on its opposite. So be open. It’s mischievous, as well as, ultimately, easy.
4. CLEAR WHAT ISN’T FOR OTHERS. If you find yourself being selfish, stop what you’re doing. Just like that. And choose instead to do something for others.
BACK ONE LAST TIME TO DEPRODUCTION
So I propose, in our business and personal lives, that we get used to the idea of ‘deproduction’. Make an effort to scan the business arena, and then carefully stop doing what is not sustainable. Then make an effort to scan your own life, and carefully take out of being all your actions that are equally unsustainable, because they are focused on supporting a ‘self’ that, ultimately, does not exist!
Imagine a Minister for Deproduction. Imagine what they might govern and help to organise, when we realise that production is reversible, and get good at unproduction. City spaces could become green again. The seas could become free of plastics. Economies could become carefully constructed, and sustainable, ways of living that bear in mind future generations.
TERMS THAT WILL LEAVE US IN THE YEARS TO COME
A few terms will start to sound silly.
1. Growth. Politicians will realise that talking about growth is like an overweight person talking about getting bigger. It sounds silly.
2. Business. The public will realise that business simply means doing things. We will stop elevating business, and simply talk about doing things.
3. Profit. We will realise that this is merely self-interest by another name. It’s not even very well disguised!
3. for others.
Suits me 🙂