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Hey ha!

05 of April '24

The column is from A&B issue 11|23

I don't know about the people reading this, but I used to feel strange when I left home on late September evenings, feeling that it was July. Now as I write these words, my senses tell me it's June. Only that something keeps contradicting that sensation. The wind moves the leaves, which hum in a non-June way. The ginkgo biloba under my house is starting to turn yellow, and the ground is dry, as it would be after a long, hot, rainless summer, not after April downpours.

Scientists are sounding the alarm and providing data: in the last decade, the annual average temperature has jumped 1.6 degrees from the 1961-1990 period. This adds up to a global demographic eruption, and thus to an increase in agricultural, industrial, mining and construction activity, and consequently logistics and consumption, over the past four decades. Because when the Berlin Wall fell, global industry, especially American industry, rubbed its hands together and made sure that people from Asia and the Americas to the former Eastern Bloc countries had everything in abundance. By the way, it has created formats that allow for more frequent sales, because the bane of the industry is the low interchangeability of goods, and the Holy Grail is the ability to subscribe to services or to buy goods more and more often.

Consequently, goods are to be as cheap as possible to produce, unrepairable, easily interchangeable, sexy. That's why American, Chinese and, to a lesser extent, European corporations produce them in low-cost places, where costs can be kept lower than "at home" in various ways (because even China is getting more expensive!): by keeping wages low, not allowing the formation of labor organizations or preventing or at least slowing down pro-environmental legislative changes. So that workers are forced by poverty and lack of alternatives to work until they can be replaced by robots, of course. So that they don't have to spend money on devices that filter the water after the dyeing process of hand-me-down jeans (preferably with a patch that some celebrity designed them) "leaking" from the factory directly into a nearby Indian river, for example, where it turns into a very photogenic foam.

And it doesn't matter that people are burning alive in factories that aren't fire-safe, dying of cancer while living next to a pile of post-production waste, or rummaging through dumps full of our cell phones and tablets out of poverty to extract components from which something else can be made. It doesn't matter, because their lives don't matter. Neither for the 1 percent of American billionaires, nor for us, who, like docile sheep, buy the next black rectangles that the cell phone operators push on us every two years. And it is worth adding that today EVERYONE, even if they live on the street, has a cell phone. For a cool, brand-new, celebrity-advertised phone, we can sacrifice some global South without pain. Why? Because the existence of the people there is not equal to ours. Because they are far away. Because in general, how can we live differently without exposing ourselves to ridicule and inconvenience? What am I going to walk around with an old phone? In old clothes? I won't change my car every three years, taking a new lease or subscription? What will friends, contractors, neighbors, co-workers, family, other students say!

We probably look away for fear of losing the respect of an imaginary environment resulting from the fact that among ourselves, consciously or not, we negotiate standards of belonging to specific groups. The manifestations or manifestations of this belonging are various objects and the attributes and distinctions found on these objects. Today these are labels, patterns ("patterns") and logos. In the past it was the type of fabric, the type and amount of lace, the cut, the type of stitching. Even in the Calvinist Netherlands in the 17th century, vanity, consumption and inequality flourished, the signs of which were less ostentatious than circus-quality designer sneakers from Balenciaga or exaggerated lettering on any patch of clothing, and probably soon, judging from Subway's experiment, our skin as well. Even the Dutch bourgeoisie of the time, professing equality before God and modesty, had their own ways of accentuating their higher social affiliation in the form of wearing expensive lace crescents, vliegers and cuffs to a black or dark green set of clothes.

The picture I'm painting, by the way, making a more or less straight line between social inequality, consumption and crisis, or perhaps rather climate catastrophe, is not so clear-cut, however. First, because the intensification of industrial production and so-called economic development nevertheless translate into living standards everywhere, including in developing countries, which, according to the UN's mid-20th century nomenclature, we used to call the Third World. According to 2004 figures, 18 percent of the globe's population lived in poverty, but just twenty-three years before that it was as high as one-third of people worldwide. Only that in 1981 there were 4.5 billion of us, and just over two decades later there were more than 6 billion. And today, for the record, thanks mainly to the hard work of China and India, there are as many as 1 billion of us 8. At the same time, while the populations of Asia, Africa and the Americas are growing immeasurably (in the United States the population has doubled since 1950), the opposite is true in Europe. Nevertheless, globally we need to eat and drink twice as much as we did when my parents were born. We need to be clothed, reasonably healthy, at least enough to work, procreate and pay taxes. We should have somewhere reasonably comfortable to live, be able to afford some form of leisure and entertainment so that we can work better and be able to conceive and give birth to offspring. There is, by the way, a place for architects in each of these sectors, because, after all, we design not only residential buildings, but also homesteads, warehouses, vacation resorts, tax offices, but even gas stations and restrooms along highways. Ba, according to Philip Johnson's maxim, we are happy to design palaces for people and organizations with whom, although we may not agree, we like the smell of their money, because pecunia however olet.

Each of these things translates into some sector of our economy. The mining industry, because we have to make concrete and liquid crystal screens out of something, and pour fuel into the tank of our leased car. Agriculture, one way or another, because we have to put something on the grill and three or four times a day. The automobile, air, rail and sea industries, because our goods and our bodies have to circulate constantly, whether we go to work by bicycle, bus, rickshaw or Bentley, and our packages by van, 40-foot semi-trailer, cargo plane or ocean container ship. Even the article I'm writing right now and my upcoming books are paper from wood plantations from Finland, Italian printing presses, chemicals (from Germany) inpaint, Mr. Bezos's vans and also his high-bay warehouses, plus server space in data centers paid for with kilobytes of electricity and heat generated in the process.

In a word, even if we shudder at the thought of the consequences of climate change, we find it difficult to glue them together with our own actions, a bit like translating our own vote into the outcome of an election, one would like to say. On top of that, we are eager to separate things: just because I will design a palace for a dictator doesn't mean I will vote for him, and so on. That's why we are stuck wedged between two images. One reminiscent of post-catastrophe films, such as a barrel truck with a line of people standing with canisters to get water in the scorching sun. And the other - borrowed from American blockbusters with a happy ending or a story of a fulfilling career, where we see laughing us speeding down the highway (preferably along the ocean) in a sports car with a mega-engine or flying a private jet, also towards the sun, by the way. After all, what could we be doing that, by the very fact of being done by us, doesn't have a negative impact on the earth, and consequently on ourselves? Make up poems? Let's not kid ourselves: even a poet eats, defecates and sleeps somewhere. Well, and he earns poorly, so he has a poor chance of finding a partner willing to produce offspring with him.

That's why, looking at the ginkgo biloba outside my window, I think to myself, and it's a paradoxically reassuring thought, that there's no need to agonize. Why the fears, acquisitions, hysterics and efforts? T.K.M. ladies and gentlemen! We need to gobble this life to the fullest so that our juices run down our chins and our tummies are HAPPY, to quote a post on the social media of the Polish General Command. Let's stick "Stop hybrid, go Diesel" on our SUVs, let's not segregate any damn garbage, and let's teach our kids to pursue their goals over dead bodies, lying as much as they can, because "the dark people will buy anything." Because you see, smyk, there's never enough money, and you'll buy even love and certainly respect with it. Of course, all this properly packaged. With respect for values, with adequate proof of loyalty. With attentiveness and standing in the truth. Hand greases hand, tisze budiesz further jediesz and ruki pa szwam. And that after us there will be a flood (or rather, a drought) - well, once you live and hey ha!

Jakub Szczęsny

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