Thursday, July 08, 2004

What is Lifestylism?

I'm co-opting the word lifestylism for the title of this project. I wanted to start looking at how people envision their future lifestyles and move toward those visions (or not). I've thought about how people figure out their careers and education choices, but it seems too limiting -- we do not base our present or future identities solely on our work. When we project identities out into the future, we see lifestyles -- and I'm using the broadest definition of lifestyle -- encompassing work, learning, travel, relationships, community, leisure, spirituality, things we buy and pretty much anything manifested in the way people live.

The word lifestylism seems to have found its roots in anarchist literature. I've also seen it used in reference to eco-consumerism, libertarianism, discrimination based on lifestyle choices, a medical doctrine related to healthy living and finally, the sense that it is somehow related to identity politics, loosely defined as basing your political stance on some slice of your identity (feminist, gay rights, etc.), but of the 374 Google results for the word, most focus on the connections to the anarchy movement.

In a nutshell, true anarchists believe that lifestylists (adherents of lifestylism) are politically aware, but don't actually have the guts to be activists in any arena except their own lifestyle choices...which basically makes them a bunch of poseurs and cowards. If your goal was to overthrow capitalism and stick it to the man, focusing on changes in your day-to-day life doesn't seem to go far enough. This view seemed to be articulated well in this quote:
"In this manner, we reject lifestylists, because what they seek -- narcissistic autonomy -- is impossible in our interconnected society, and is not anarchistic, because it disdains class struggle and organization in favor of turning inward and abandoning human solidarity. The methodological basis for our rejection of lifestylism is that it liberates no one, including the lifestylist, and is thus no threat to illegitimate authority whatsoever. The 'temporary autonomous zone' is a pipe dream, as it leaves the prime source of oppression -- the State -- untouched, unchallenged, and intact."
This one has a friendlier tone, but says pretty much the same thing:
"There is nothing wrong with trying to be a nicer person or growing your own organic vegetables but it won't get rid of capitalism, and until we can overthrow capitalism we are stuck with authoritarianism, poverty, unemployment, wars, and all the other things that are part and parcel of it."
Apparently there's even a well established conflict between lifestylism and social activism in anarchist circles -- I appreciated this author's attempt to reconcile them by pointing out the absurdity of one without the other:
"...which brings me to that touchy subject: one's lifestyle. While the debate about 'lifestylism vs. social activism' has been raging all around us, many people have missed the simple fact that there is no 'unbridgable chasm' between the two ideas... that, in fact, they are meaningless without one another. Engaging in social activism without changing your lifestyle to fit with your revolutionary principals makes one a hypocrite. Similarly, to try to live in a revolutionary way, while not engaging in social activism leaves one only further alienated."
This final quote approaches the conflict in a similar way, acknowledging that everyone is a lifestylist:
"Professor Mushkin and the Flaming Furies can scream themselves hoarse about the errors of lifestylism, but when it comes down to it, we are all 'lifestylists', because we are all ultimately politicized for personal and often selfish reasons, and face it, nobody likes being alone."
It reminded me of This Magazine's tagline, which I've always loved: "because everything is political". This addresses the criticism that lifestylism is too narcissistic or too focused on looking out for number one -- it is nearly impossible to live a fulfilling, sustainable life without engaging the people around us.

I'm no anarchist, and I don't place too much stock in the anarchists' derision because I think they're using the label to define lifestyles too narrowly. Why can't my lifestyle include social activism? My lifestyle should be a manifestation of my values -- if I believe that I should help homeless people, then my lifestyle should reflect that. I've included the quotes because I like their revolutionary fervor. I don't mind the idea of emerging lifestyle activism, although I doubt that many of us plan to overthrow capitalism.

I'm also not particularly interested in definitions of lifestyles that focus too narrowly on any one aspect of the ways we choose to spend our time: consumer choices, sexual orientation, health, or any others. I'm proposing a holistic view of what constitutes a lifestyle, and I'm really curious about how people (especially young people) imagine and pursue their desired future.

So what is lifestylism? Simply put, it's the study of lifestyle choices. At a deeper level, it might dig further into how and why people make (or don't make) the decisions that create their lifestyles over time. Perhaps it's too broad, but I'm excited about the possibilities.


Anonymous said...

Excellent blog!

Jeremy said...

Thank you, anonymous.

I just re-read this initial post, and realized that I've taken this stuff in a new direction already. Perhaps it's only a subtle change, but many of my recent posts have been focused on the differences between what we say we value and the decisions we make (how to spend our time, energy and money).

Anonymous said...

Oh those darn anarchists, aren't they just a hoot! ;-) Yoga practitioners are the ultimate lifestylists to me, in that they practice living consciously and with little judgment. You don't need to overthrow capitalism to make societal change. Social change can come from letting go of harsh judgment.

Interesting blog. Recent thread is about happiness - have you read "The Happiness Hypothesis"? It's on my list of books topick up in the fall.

Jeremy said...

Hi Julie -- agreed, the anarchists do provide a certain entertainment value, and I have a soft spot for idealists of nearly every political stripe.

I haven't read The Happiness Hypothesis, although I enjoyed the site for it. Lots of interesting happiness resources popping up lately. I guess we all want to be happy.

Speaking of happy, the chocolates on your site look truly devine. Yum!

Unknown said...

You don't need to overthrow capitalism to make societal change. Social change can come from letting go of harsh judgment.
Julie most likely makes efficient choices in life. I agree with you. Very interesting blog. Found this by accident through research for project Market Segmentation-- Psychographic: lifestle- Strivers, achievers, actualizers.

Anonymous said...

Lifestylism is the appropriation of class struggle as a generic fashion statement.

freerace said...

Some years on now; are you still thinking?
I've been ready your thoughts and would like to know how you've progressed since 2004. Have you evolved as you hoped? Is this all ultimately pointless or very meaningful. I'd like to take this up with you, if you're ok with it.

Kev H

StephaniePumphrey said...

We all get our own personal definition; a moral choice, a code of conduct.

lifestyle definition

John Stephen Dwyer said...

I was brought here by a Google search for "lifestylism" and found a good overview from a perspective that was relevant to me.