Wednesday, September 24, 2008


What does Simple mean? It actually means a few different things. First and foremost it means buying less stuff, consuming less stuff, and having less stuff. This is often called simple living or voluntary simplicity. In a sense, my post 'Boycott the Corporations" (9/12/08) was about this. We've got to get out of the consumer mentality.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (see my post of 9/2/08) comes into play here as we try to meet the needs beyond our most basic survival needs. The needs for security, love, belonging, respect, self-esteem, and feeling useful, are all thwarted by the present system, which pushes us toward acquiring material goods to make us feel better. "We are in enormous environmental trouble because we've spent decades trying to meet non-material needs (for status, for affection, for respect, for comaraderie, for security) with material means." (Bill McKibben, 'What the World Needs Now', in Ode, January/February 2008)

There's an irony here--these days simple living stores and websites will sell you enough stuff on how to unclutter your life, that you can get lost in the clutter of simple living items. It means often you need to say: "Enough!" With less stuff, there is more room for looking at what you really need. And others in the world could use a lot of that stuff that we don't need. (I wrote a post looking at what we need and don't--see my post of 9/4/08.)

There is a wonderful video on 'stuff' called "The Story of Stuff". Fortunately there are people who are challenging the consumer mentality such as Reverend Billy who wrote the book, What Would Jesus Buy?, and the anti-consumerists behind Buy Nothing Day and the Alternatives for Simple Living. A very humorous approach to it all is on a site that is selling... NOTHING!

It's important to note that the reason simple living is sometimes called voluntary simplicity is to differentiate it from involuntary poverty. There is a world of difference between people who choose to live simply and people who are poor. What's more, having less stuff is a decision and it should, if done right, enrich your life. This is something anyone who is middle-class or well-to-do should consider. You don't need the stuff and it isn't good for you. Living simply should make you feel freer--not deprived. Above all, this is something I don't advocate for working class or poor people (although if they want to consider it, I'd support them)--they have lived too long doing without. Those of us who've had too much need to figure out what we don't need.

Arnold Toynbee, in his book A Study of History, refers to a "Law of Progressive Simplification" where he claims that “measure of a civilization's growth is its ability to shift energy and attention from the material side to the spiritual and aesthetic and cultural and artistic side.” Or as Thoreau said, "Our lives are frittered away by detail; simplify, simplify."

Simple also refers to taking a small steps approach to things. If we are going to change things from the bottom, we are going to begin by designing simple alternatives. The 'Complexity' people point out that Complex Adaptive Systems emerge from simple systems--you don't design a complex system from scratch, you (and this really means you collectively) build it from the bottom up using simple systems, simple design, simple implementation. This makes it possible for each of us to do it--start on our own, make changes where we can, and work with others as much as possible. And keep it simple. (The 12 Step folks--and others, including computer scientists--use the KISS model: Keep It Simple, Sweetie [or Keep It Small and Simple/Sweet and Simple/Short and Simple/Simple and Straightforward, etc, etc]).

In the book Voluntary Simplicity, Duane Elgin relates five different ways to simplify interpersonal communication:

  1. Communicate more honestly
  2. Let go of wasteful speech and idle gossip
  3. Become comfortable with silence
  4. Use greater eye contact
  5. Use nonsexual physical contact (for this he cites the work of James Prescott--see my post of 7/28/08 for more on this)

Scientists and philosophers talk about Occam's Razor, a principle that can be put as: "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." Thomas Aquinas claimed that God was infinitely simple, and some religious groups such as the Quakers, the Amish, the Mennonites, and others, actively embrace simplicity--although in many different ways. And, truly, there are many ways to be simple. As Duane Elgin put it: "There is no cookbook for defining a life of conscious simplicity."

Quote of the day: "Live simply so that others may simply live." - Mohandas Gandhi
Word (or phrase) of the day: Polyculture
Hero(es) of the day: Utah Phillips


SoapBoxTech said...

Some years back, the BBC produced a documentary that may be of interest when reflecting upon the current system. "Century of the Self" is a 4 part (each 1 hour) series which outlines how Edward Bernays parlayed his uncle's (Sigmund Freud) theories on human guilt and subconscious into the modern PR and Marketing monsters we see now. It is truly a fascinating series which explains so very much of the world we see now. It is easily found through a search of google video.

I think it's one of the most important things I have ever seen. I thought you might enjoy it too, if you have not already seen it.

MoonRaven said...

Thank you, SBT. I didn't know about this. I've just been reading the wikipedia articles on Bernays and the "Century of the Self" series. Scary--especially how his work was used to overthrow the democratically elected government of Guatemala and later, to Bernays own horror, by the Goebbels to help the Nazis attack the Jews. It's a clear story of how we've been brainwashed into buying stuff. I appreciate you calling this to my attention.

SoapBoxTech said...

To Freud's own horror I think you mean. I do not get the impression that Bernays' moral compass would have been greatly affected. He seemed very much the "its just business" type.

You're very welcome. It started with selling some products and now it is used to sell politicians, paradigms, etc...nearly the entire current global structure is based on this. I believe this is why we see so little attention paid to wisdom, but significant attention to intelligence.

MoonRaven said...

Actually, I meant Bernays' horror. According to Wikipedia he was when he found out that Goebbels was using his book to plan a campaign of destruction against German Jews, his words were, "This shocked me..." You need to remember that he, like his uncle, was an Austrian Jew. Where he didn't care how his theories were used against the Guatemalan people--he felt different when it was used against his own people. Unfortunately, in an interconnected world, you can't control how something destructive is used. As I pointed out in June, "...whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap."

SoapBoxTech said...

Oh, I had not forgotten his lineage. I didn't mean to condescendingly correct you tho. I knew it was likely that he claimed to be shocked by his work being used against the Jews. It's just more blatant hypocrisy by another practicing elitist controller type. I don't know how much I would actually trust that he was actually shocked or horrified, however...

The reason I find this documentary so important is because the control technique began with consumerism but very quickly became part of a much much larger control I see it anyway.

My pardons for this little rant...I get worked up when I start reflecting on thousands of years of what I consider to be purely evil mass control they blunt and blatant, or be they subtle.