Wednesday, January 14, 2004

What is voluntary simplicity?

I have heard it defined as the outgrowth of a desire to be a: less harried by the breakneck pace of the modern capitalist society; b: less of a burden on the producing poor of the world; c: less of a burden on the finite resources of the earth, or d: a combination of the above.

But what is the root of this free-will asceticism? Not that I'm a sociologist or anthropologist, but I've a few ideas.

Our society, being of the philosophically western, developed persuasion, has in recent years become increasingly crowded, economically divisive, debt-burdened, competition based and exclusionary. While there are many reasons for these adverse effects (and each of these have cycled up and down in our society since it began), the main reason for their sharp increase in the last few years has been the increase in population and comoditization of land into 'real estate.'

In the years between the fifteenth and the mid-twentieth centuries, a huge resource was exploited by humanity. Almost the entire landmass of North and South America was divided up between common people and corporate entities alike. The desires for individualist's elbow room and capitalist expansion of resource and market was satisfied in a manner and at a pace unseen before in history.

In the midst of this expansion (whether or not it was moral in the eyes of the original inhabitants and stewards) people were able to escape the confines of cities and social and religious persecution by the wide availability of land to be homesteaded or leased. They could be what they wanted to be, and with work and perseverance, they could make a go of being masters of their own domain, which by extension in human terms, is really the person himself.

If a person has a difficult time integrating into society nowadays, he has very little choice but to conform to the social and economic norm to be able to prosper and express his personality. Those who do not are written off as insane or deviant, ending up in prison or institutions, or at least marginalized to some extent.

Rules and laws have become more all-inclusive and in some instances increasingly restrictive, even in free societies such as that in the 'developed world.' Litigation is rampant, and in some ways, out of control. There is precious little 'space' for those who want other than that which the majority what and have, and the increased capitalization of our society will continue to bring divergent thinking to the surface of our society. Some will be like the voluntary simplicity 'movement' while others will exhibit more destructive behaviour until a more libertarian and capitally-flexible society can be brought about.

That's in essence what voluntary simplicity is, a retaking of agency over one's life and surroundings from society's expectations. Through simplicity is achieved freedom from a sort of social repression.

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