March 3, 2011

Colouring Outside The Lines

"Conformity is the jailer of freedom, 
and the enemy of growth." 
- J.F. Kennedy

The best way to foster freedom in the world is to attain freedom yourself. Gandhi suggested that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. The method I have chosen to emancipate myself and foster change is through living a small footprint, simple lifestyle. It has not been easy.

Simple living is a tough sell in a system that promises liberation through the acquisition of larger piles of loot, and the things and services it can buy. As long as consumption is the yard stick of our success, as well as the answer to all that ails the economy, living on less won't garner much attention.

However, the lack of attention paid to simple living as a solution to many of our problems is, perhaps, a measure of its effectiveness. Because it is an effective agent of change, it is seen as a threat to all we are trained to hold dear.

We are encourage, or even demanded, to service the system in work and in play. Because of this it is difficult to imagine life being any other way - we are soaking in it. Our cultural conditioning limits our imaginations. We cannot become free if we are unaware that our potential is being restricted. It is difficult to make the step toward simple living, even if it will liberate us.

Philosopher Herbert Marcuse, in Counterrevolution and Revolt, wrote that, "while it is true that people must liberate themselves from their servitude, it is also true that they must first free themselves from what has been made of them in the society in which they live. This primary liberation cannot be 'spontaneous' because such spontaneity would only express the values and goals derived from the established system. Self-liberation is self-education..."

Marcuse thought that people were not free because they function within systems such as the economy. If we were free, we would be able to free ourselves from these systems. But extricating yourself from the mainstream is difficult, as anyone who has tried can attest to.

There is intense pressure to conform to the regular high-consumption, complicated, full time lifestyle. Anyone that chooses not to is seen as radically and dangerously different. It is this pressure, and the difficulty overcoming it, that can keep us in chains and living lies.

We can overcome our cultural assumptions through self-education. Here in the Age of Information it has never been easier to access the knowledge that will help us to answer our questions and attain liberation.

Why not work as little as possible to provide for your needs, rather than an established amount of time that is convenient only for employers? How can we know what we really need or want with advertiser's all-pervasive propaganda tainting our decisions? Billions of dollars are spent each year to create "false needs". These misdirections fuel desire and end up enslaving us in their pursuit.

Simple living helps us break free and gives us the time to seek the truth. We can refuse limits on our free time that render us too tired to fight for what we really want and need. We can demand real choice that doesn't just reinforce social norms that are part of the problem. We can think for ourselves, colour outside of the lines, and create the lives we really want to live.

 "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion."
- Albert Camus

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