Thursday, October 07, 2004

Living Simply


Last night I attended a pleasant discussion group with some of my religious friends. I am myself atheistic, but that doesn't mean there isn't any common ground. They have been working through a booklet entitled "Living Simply," by Murray Shead. Exercise 7, for anyone with a copy at home.

The false allure of an intensely consumerist lifestyle is something everyone battles with. Even people who have good lifestyles are not content - they still hunger for more. Advertising, not merely an informational channel in today's world of marketing psychology, feeds that hunger with suggestions equating consumption and ownership with moral qualities. Alain de Botton's book "Status Anxiety" elucidates this idea. If we live in a world of equal opportunity, where reward is equal to merit, then there is a suggestion that those people with money and wealth are "better" than those without. Few people consciously subscribe to this view that the wealthy are the morally good and deserving, but this is the subconscious message. Without these goods, or a wealthy lifestyle, you are being awarded only your due as a failure. This can lead to a feeling of despair.

Philosophers throughout history have looked at this view. Plato decried material possesions - his writings of Socrates paint him as a person with no home, and no goods, relying entirely upon others to feed and clothe him. It would not be very practical for us all to adopt the same policy, but he asserted that our moral goodness comes not from our worldly possessions, but from our faithfulness to our beliefs. Economists might argue that capitalism is not a philosophy, but a system, or even a science - albeit a loose one. However, the very action of competition for economic resources leads us to see virtue in success, and in excess.

Epicure ( was an ancient philosopher who argues the greatest pleasure - tranquility and the freedom from fear - was obtained by knowledge, friendship, and living a virtuous and temperate life. Alain de Botton went on in his book to look at the way in which groups of people have come to terms with the contradiction between striving hard enough that one can live well and striving for material posessions as some kind of moral imperative.

The Bible makes a similar distinction between by decrying the greed of individuals, but supporting being "a good steward of goods". The goal, it would seem, is to find a balanced life in which one works to enhance ones experience of life, and ability to be productive and creative member of society, without having the desire for material wealth subsume other important aspects of life. Living simply is to rid oneself false business, false striving, and to make the time to do things properly, as well as to fulfil yourself spiritually. It is a rejection of the idea that through material wealth can we achieve respect and love from our peers.

One very interesting question posed was "what in our society can you think of that represents simplicity and tranquility". Thinking on that highlighted how little place it has in our media and our lives generally.



Blogger Quasha said...

Hi MP,

An interesting post. Living simply is something I believe in. It appears many people do not think a great deal about living simply, not only in terms of material possessions and aspirations, but also in terms of media consumption, for example.

10/08/2004 10:59:00 AM  

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