Sunday, October 13, 2013

Live Simply

There may have been a time back in the 1970's when I believed that ridiculous Live Simply, So that Others May Simply Live slogan. Other decisions from that time suggest that I did indeed envision a world consumption economy in which, if I gave up things and didn't use them, there would be more for everyone else. There is still some residual of those years in our family culture, of things we do not buy, or do not quickly replace, in order to "live lightly on the land."  We run cars into the ground - at least, the ones that Dad drives.  We were way behind the cultural curve in frequency of going out to eat, and still only do so mostly when traveling.  Yes, I must have believed that American consumption was destroying the world, and refrained from even more extremity only because I was grading our family on a curve.

It is the classic false assumption along the political divide in developed countries, that believes in static economies, in which Harry has more than Tom only at Tom's expense. It remains a common belief, and one can still see infographics showing how Americans use more electricity, plastics, or arugula than other places.  We use way more than our share of American flags and Dodge Caravans, too, and for the same reasons.  We make more, we didn't steal them.

There is of course a sense in which the equation is true, if one forgoes some material good or service in order to send the money to those who have less.  That part works just fine. There are also resources that are so finite and inelastic that Harry's use does indeed prevent Tom from ever partaking.  Yet these are not so common as one would think.  Despite the dire warnings of scarcity, for example, I think we will find adequate substitutes for whale oil. But it remains important to remember: simply denying oneself does not do The World any good.

It might do you some good, though.  While I became increasingly convinced of the foolishness of the idea as a political and social tool, I lost touch with the more basic reason for simplicity.  It is likely to improve your focus on God and your daily bread; it decreases not only your materialism and self-dependence, but your rush to judgements and comparisons as well.

I say that I seek simplicity more than ever now, and that is not untrue.  But it isn't deeply true either.  I started down that road at a brisk pace, then decided to just camp along the side pretty quickly so long as I was farther along than most folks.  Still grading on the curve, apparently.


james said...

Foster ("Celebration of Discipline") warns that simplicity, often the most public of the spiritual disciplines, is most easily used for display and pride.

I don't watch TV, but that's a matter of historical convenience and not simplicity--I spend a huge amount of time online. But when I explain to someone why I have no idea who "X" is, it sounds like bragging. And sometimes it feels like it too--a little unearned thrill of superiority.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yep. Reverse snobbery is a common outcome of "simplicity."

Michael said...

I had to ask my daughter the other day why the name Kardashian even matters.

Allan Sherman, who made his name with "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" in the early 60's had a routine where he talked about his mother telling him that he had to clean his plate because children were starving in Europe. The result: he go fatter and fatter and the children in Europe kept starving.

Anonymous said...

The world is getting more and more pointless distractions. All the gadgets and social media. Is there even one single tweet that will be remembered? I have my doubts.

But I guess it's the mass market. People with 100 in IQ want simple entertainment. That's the problem with capitalism, the mediocre average person sets the tone - making the Kardashians relevant even to smarter kids because they don't want to be left out.

Dubbahdee said...

I'd like to see a graph/chart/infographic that displays the NET of American consumption vs production. In just about any broad category, but energy would be a great place to start.

I'm hearing rumblings that photovoltaics are starting to disrupt our current energy economy. If true, that's going to excite and frustrate people on both sides of the aisle for very different reasons.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Staffan - Yes, and quite visible. In fact to be popular something has to be accessible to IQ 80.

But I don't think it's worse. Imagine my ancestors in Liared and Ulricehamn and Fiskabekskil 150 years ago. If you wanted something better in entertainment, you had to physically move and go to Stockholm or Malmo, or...overseas. Today, if you are IQ 130 you can browse in popular culture just enough to not be a pariah, but spend most of your time with people online who are 110-150. And more importantly, ones with common interests - a luxury unlikely not so very long ago.

Anonymous said...

I did some back-of-the-envelope figuring once about American consumption and production. The statistic that people who worry about over-consumption used to bandy about was that America used 25% of the world's resources. How they defined "resources" was not explained.

However, at the time, we also were responsible for 33% of the global GDP. So far from being wasteful, we were the most efficient society on Earth!

I don't know how valid those numbers were then, or now, but it's always amusing to see people not thinking about the actual implications of the stupid bumpersticker slogans they use instead of knowledge.

Luke Lea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Lea said...

Me, I'm a total goner though not for the reasons you state.

See here for a full statement.

Sam L. said...

Make one feel better? Oh, yes, and superior to those who don't agree with one.