June 16, 2010

Rebranding The Simple Life

In the 1970s Van Halen screamed that "the simple life ain't so simple." They were right. Simple living is about as simple as safe sex is safe.

The original slow-food/whole-food manifesto, Laurel's Kitchen, showed us that preparing dry beans and meals from basic ingredients means that the simple life requires a fine-honed sense of how to run a kitchen. Not to mention planning and hard work.

What is simple about becoming a baker, barber, small appliance repair person, gardener, builder, cook, and mechanic? What is simple about walking or biking 4 km to the grocery store in the rain?

Let's face it, there is no such thing as a simple life. It does not matter how much money you have. No one "has it made." Does Bill Gates have a simple life? He doesn't. It is a challenge being a human, period.

So how to re-brand the simplicity movement? If life is just hard, no matter how you look at it, no one lives simply. But why make life as complicated and fast as you can afford to make it? Why put the pedal to the floor until the gas tank is empty? It may be thrilling, but it is not good for you. Registering for the Rat Race has its downsides.

We need to see where we were at as a culture when we hit optimum speed and complexity. I figure the Bronze Age might be good, but more realistically, the 1950's were probably about where we started wandering off and gazing at shiny things, never to return to more important matters again.

How much bigger can houses get? How many more toys do we need to make us happy? How bad does environmental destruction have to get before we see the need to live more simply?

I do not advocate wearing a hair shirt and living in a hole in the ground eating dirt, nor do I recommend a regular diet of mindless consumption. All I am saying is that since the 1950's a few hundred million of us have gone off on an insane tangent like drunken kings and queens. And we are taking everyone, and everything else, down with us. We know it is bad, but we can't stop.

Can kings and queens learn to live like peasants again? Oh, the horror. Being a peasant is worse than being simple. The simplicity movement is going to have to re-brand this thing, and I don't think "voluntary peasant" is going to do it.


  1. Well said. Perhaps only the fear that we will be stuck with a much bleaker peasantry if we don't adapt now will do it.

  2. Yes. The longer we delay making changes the more pronounced the ultimate changes will have to be. Also, I would rather choose to live more simply now than be forced to later. If I choose to it is a beautiful thing. If I am forced to I may feel powerless. Life could feel quite bleak in that case. For me this seems like the best way to prepare for a vastly different future.


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