Capitalists Anonymous: Weary French seek help in buying and polluting less

There are many addiction support groups out there — from alcohol and drugs to pornography. In France, there’s one called Capitalists Anonymous, for people who can’t stop buying stuff or worry that their daily actions, like commuting in gas-guzzling cars, are hurting the planet. 

The World

Twice a month, members of the support group Capitalists Anonymous gather in a small room in Paris, France, beset by chronic buyer’s remorse. 

Some arrive worried over how much they consume and don’t know how to stop. 

On a recent night, each of the eight people stood up, introduced themselves, and gave their reasons for coming to the support group. A woman named Claire, who didn’t want to share her last name, said she wants to be with people who share her concerns for the planet and mental health. 

Participant Olivier Montegut agreed. He said he’s also been really worried about extreme weather changes. Montegut is a reporter who recorded this session for “AirZen,” a French radio program.

“Where I live in southwest France,” he said, “it reached 90 degrees one day — in April. We’ve just had a baby, and I am scared for her future,” he told the group. 

Dry lavender fields are pictured outside of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon, southern France, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. France was in the midst of its fourth heat wave of the year as the country faced what the government warned is its worst drought on record.
Dry lavender fields are pictured outside of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon, southern France, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. France was in the midst of its fourth heat wave of the year as the country faced what the government warned was its worst drought on record.Daniel Cole/AP

Most scientists agree extreme weather is being fueled by climate change, which is exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels. And capitalism is the force behind it all, said the group’s founder, Julien Lamy. 

He said it’s a global system that pushes unfettered consumption on the rich and poor alike, and virtually everyone, he said, is addicted.

“To push back, I searched for support groups with a focus on recovery and eventually found Alcoholics Anonymous, with its 12-step method,” Lamy explained. In contrast, Capitalists Anonymous has just eight steps but starts with the same one — admitting that you have a problem. 

“It means recognizing that we’re participating in a system that’s destroying life on our planet,” he said. “We must break through our denial.” 

“It means recognizing that we’re participating in a system that’s destroying life on our planet. We must break through our denial.” 

Julien Lamy, founder, Capitalists Anonymous

From there, members move toward converting their fear into motivation to take on that system in various ways. To some, that means supporting other addicts. 

A graffiti reads "wealthy people cost us a lot" on a shop window, during a protest, Friday, April 14, 2023 in Paris.
A graffiti reads “wealthy people cost us a lot” on a shop window during a protest on Friday, April 14, 2023, in Paris.Michel Euler/AP

These steps might sound familiar to people in drug or alcohol programs, but Lamy said in some ways, capitalism is harder to shake because it permeates every part of modern life.

“I often say that what we’re trying to do is like striving for sobriety,” he said, “but while living inside a bar.” A planet-sized bar. 

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, Lamy suggests people take small steps to reduce their impact just to feel better in their personal lives, such as biking to work or cutting back on red meat.

Chapters are just beginning to form in other French cities, like Marseille, in the south. 

Resident Anne-Christelle Beauvois said she heard Lamy on the radio and reached out to learn more.  

Beauvois worked for years in the fashion industry. She said she became alarmed in the 1990s when so-called fast fashion arrived — that system of mass-producing cheap clothes in sweatshops that then get shipped all over the world.

“It’s nuts,” she said. “You can wake up in the middle of the night, jump on Instagram to follow some influencer or brand and click, you place an order.”

Garment employees work at Arrival Fashion Limited in Gazipur, Bangladesh, Saturday, March 13, 2021.
Garment employees work at Arrival Fashion Limited in Gazipur, Bangladesh, Saturday, March 13, 2021. Mahmud Hossain Opo/File/AP

Beauvois said she has never ordered anything online in her life. But she’s hardly “holier than thou,” she said as she lit a cigarette and took a puff on another addition. 

It may be hard to avoid capitalism when the entire global economy depends on it, but Beauvois said people can still produce differently. 

“Do we need to make stuff we don’t need?  Must we work 50 hours a week? Is it such a problem to add more pleasure to our lives and less work,” she said.  

Many separate but related ideas fall under the umbrella of Capitalists Anonymous, and apparently, some of them resonate. 

Lamy, the founder, said people from all over Europe — even Mexico — have written to ask how to start their own chapters. 

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