03 - The Language Learning Hype Cycle, Japanese Bathroom Signs, Patagonia vs. Degrowth
I entered the trough of Japanese language learning; on Patagonia's new business model vs. Degrowth.
Today, after a bit of a hiatus, we look at recent news at the intersection of sustainability and business. But first, Japan things!
Lost in Translation
Japan has a lot of different signs for the restroom:
お手洗い (te-arai) = lit. "hand-washing"
トイレ (toire) = toilet
化粧室 （kashoushitsu) = powder-room; lavatory; lit. “change cosmetics room”
便所 (benjo) = lit. "convenient place"
殿方用（”gentleman”) / 御婦人方 (“ladies”)
But the most common one is お手洗い which translates simply as "hand washing". Don't be fooled though, it may be called hand washing, but there won't be paper towels for hand-drying. And sometimes there isn't even soap, so it's more like 手濡らす (te-nurasu) = "hand-wetting".
かわいいキャンプ (kawaii camp) = “cute camp” - there is even a whole manga-cum-anime series about a girl who makes friends while camping.
パンダ = Pandas
Ueno loves them.
The Hype Cycle of Language Learning
When learning a language, it is important to know what part of the Gartner Hype Cycle you are on, lest you get too excited and quickly get overwhelmed, or pay for services promising you get-fluent-fast schemes (spoiler: language learning takes time and effort).
Covid quickly threw me off the "Peak of Inflated Expectations" into the "Trough of Disillusionment". I actually think Covid helped me get through the Trough quickly - it forced me to take a step back and re-evaluate my priorities.
Before Covid I was planning on trying to pass a language-proficiency exam in December, the problem being that this exam only focuses on listening and reading. So studying for this exam would take away time from being able to speak.
in the beginning I was OK with this because I wanted to progress as fast as possible, believing that if I could read more and more Japanese I would start a self-sustaining Wheel of Progress that would eventually bleed into my conversation skills. But likely it would have stretched me too far, ending up with a lot of grammar knowledge but never having practiced any of it, therefore having to start over again to gain the speaking motor skills.
Since Covid knocked my schedule back, I realized it would be near suicide to pursue this goal, so now I am taking things slow and practicing on actually using grammar points in conversation.
Is the Patagonia News just a PR Stunt?
I was left conflicted about the news of Patagonia's decision to
save the world restructure their business model in search of a solution to combat the unsustainable march of capitalism towards ever increasing growth. Conflicted, both because of the amount of green-washing present nowadays and because of the impending climate crisis doom - any feelings of progress are outweighed by the dire situation of it all.
M actually broke the news to me, and then the story kept popping up everywhere, from tech newsletters to climate-change ones.
Chouinard is very self-aware that Patagonia as a business isn't actually sustainable. In fact he admits there is nothing sustainable about human activities, besides maybe organic farming or hunter-gathering on a small scale. Take some of these quotes (pulled from a quote website, so take it with a grain of salt):
Everything we personally own that’s made, sold, shipped, stored, cleaned, and ultimately thrown away does some environmental harm every step of the way, harm that we’re either directly responsible for or is done on our behalf.
There’s no such thing as sustainability. There are just levels of it. It’s a process, not a real goal. All you can do is work toward it. There’s no such thing as any sustainable economy.
Everything we make pollutes. The most responsible thing we can do is to make each product as well as we know how so it lasts as long as possible.
So Chounaird & co. have created this beast, a business that strives for growth and an increasing bottom-line, but they must hold the reigns tight and steer it in a direction that does the least harm for the environment.
In the new move to create two non-profits, one for the private voting stock (the Patagonia Purpose Trust), and another one for the non-voting stock (the Holdfast Collective), Patagonia is trying to codify their mission values while still maintaining a for-profit business model.
They are trying to design a system that forces the for-profit business model to adhere to codified values as defined in the two trusts. Of course this only works as a private business - they can function outside of the investor-owned never-ending-growth-hungry model.
Is it just a PR stunt? Does it really change anything? It all seems like a financier move before the holidays that will puts their company in the forefront of consumer minds. And of course, we all are now. But really, instead of buying something new just go thrifting instead.
But then when you read the fine details you can kind of understand what they're doing. Really the non-voting-stock-holding Holdfast Collective is going to be used as a political arm to further the sustainability values of the company.
One of the most interesting parts of this is the choice to make Holdfast a C4. They really wanted to make this a political organization, and were willing to forgo a staggering amount of tax savings (Hacker News)
501c4 nonprofits are less restricted in the type of political lobbying they can do (vs. 501c3's ). They are designed to be used for the promotion of social welfare, whereas 501c3's are more of your traditional non-profits (religious orgs, charitable, scientific, etc.). This means 501c4's can basically function as a political arm, with a broader range of permissible activities (e.g. electioneering, donating to political campaigns, etc.). This allows the Holdfast Collective to better engage with policy as a political organization rather than a more-restricted 501c3 non-profit.
But because of this broader definition of activities, donations to 501(c)(4)s are not deductible. So it seems Patagonia is actually walking the walk, in addition to the good PR.
So Patagonia is trying to pursue sustainability strategies within the existing business environment, but really it's all a futile attempt unless the incentives of the market are changed.
'Sustainable Business Models' vs Degrowth
In the meanwhile, in Tokyo news, a book on degrowth (Kohei Saito -人新生の「資本論 」- Capital in the Anthropocene), that came out in 2020 is being resurfaced to English in 2023, the main preface is that "Marx's 'final destination' as a thinker was not just eco-socialism, but the more radical position of ‘degrowth communism'".
Although there are criticisms of the argument, more important than the academic technicalities it brought a national spotlight to the degrowth conversation, and in a conservative-minded country no less.
Degrowth is the idea that our current iteration of capitalism is not sustainable and we need to but the brakes on business as usual, not only pursuing sustainable solutions to current models (as Patagonia is doing) but change the underlying incentives of public markets.
I tend to think that most of the sustainability news from corporations is green-washing until there is proof otherwise. But in the end it is not up to the corporations to pursue the most “green” strategy - they can only be incentivized by the markets. So it is up to policy makers and elected officials to structure the rules of the markets, which then points to the people who are electing them. The problem then becomes the structure of the democracy, whether it is representative or not, and whether we can make decisions at such a large scale with so many constituents.
Book review of Capital in the Anthropocene: https://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviews/20369_hitoshinsei-no-shihonron-capital-in-the-anthropocene-by-kohei-saito-reviewed-by-ulv-hanssen
A book also about degrowth, already in English: Jason Hickel, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World