Journal Of Applied Misanthropology

Simplify THIS!

(Imagine a hand giving the classic 1-fingered salute here, 2-fingered if you're a Euroweenie)

"It's all a bunch of tree-hugging hippie crap!" -- Eric Cartman

Lizard was waiting for some processes to complete while at work (on a smegging SUNDAY), so he plonked over to Yahoo, checked through 'What's New', and ended up via some odd twists and turns at a category called 'Voluntary Simplicity'. There, he found enough material for several rants, especially since the idiocy catalogued there touches on many issues near and dear to my heart, and because with so little free time available to me, fish in a barrel are all I have opportunity to shoot currently.

OK, first off, here's some links so y'all can know what I'm talking about, and read and judge this crap for yourselves. Never let it be said that Lizard doesn't delight in letting his readers tug on the rope his enemies have wrapped around their own necks. The main Yahoo link set is Voluntary Simple-Mindedness, and my first gasping grouper is at this location.

In the interests of showing the targeted piscines some false semblance of fair play, I won't even mention the fact that the mere concept of web pages devoted to "the simple life" is inherently ridiculous. But keep it in the back of your mind as I discuss the true nature of these posturing parasites. (Yes, I am in an alliterative mood. Deal.)

Parasites? But, you ask (if you're not too swift) aren't these people concerned with reducing their 'impact on the planet'? (Aside:Lizard would like to see most of them make on impact on the planet, preferably from several stories up, but I digress) They claim to be. And the Christian Coalition claims to care about women, and liberals claim to care about the poor. That someone professes to care about something is no indication that they actually do. (Note, however, that I profess to care only about myself, and you can bank on that. I challenge anyone to show I have committed acts of compassion without a blatant ulterior motive.)

Where was I? Oh yes. Parasites. A parasite, roughly defined, is an entity that consumes what others have produced while offering nothing in exchange. Do the 'voluntary simplicity' folks fit this definition? And how!

Let's look at the fellow on the web page pointed to above, this 'Dave Q' person. Consider this quote: The author of this list, Dave Q, works a few months, then takes a few years off work, or retires. He experiences life fully, yet does not choose to buy many products. Everything he owns fits in a backpack except his bicycle. He has never filed an income tax return. He lives with people who have a spare room in their house they otherwise wouldn't rent. He pays modest rent when he has it, and makes himself useful in other ways when he doesn't.

Uh-HUH. He has never filed an income tax return -- yet he bicycles along roads paid for by those of us who, under threat of imprisonment or bankruptcy, have. He rides a bicycle -- a product of an advanced industrial infrastructure, yet condemns the industry which produces the technology that makes his lifestyle possible. Further, he could only afford a bicycle because they are manufactured by the millions, to be sold mostly to those evil consumerists -- their bulk purchases drive down the cost of goods so that worthless scum such as Mr. Q can toddle about the country 'experiencing life fully' (whatever the hell that means, but more on the empty catch-phrases of the VS folk later on). And he lives in the spare rooms of houses other people built, and must labor to pay mortgages, taxes, and/or rent on. But he 'makes himself useful' -- no specifics given. (I can think of several uses for him, but most involve medical experiments or Soylent Green)

(One quick aside -- I do not wish anyone to take my statement about income taxes as supporting either taxation or government-funded roads. But if we are going to be compelled to pay for such things, then it seems grossly unfair that those who do not pay for them be allowed to use them as freely as those who do. If the 'social contract' mandates that we must pay taxes to receive the 'benefits' of society, then, those who do not pay taxes ought to be denied those benefits, or charged for them somehow. Don't ask me how to accomplish this -- I want everything privatized, remember?)

The most important aspect of this to consider is the 'voluntary simplicity' lifestyle is one which, ironically enough, can only be enjoyed by an elite few -- they need the majority of the world sustaining an industrial society to permit them access to goods and services at low prices, and to produce the tools and equipment they need to live 'simply'. They pride themselves on not producing and not consuming, while expecting the machinery of the industrial world to continue to churn to produce, and the people of the industrial world to consume enough that prices stay low enough that even layabouts can afford to eat.

What about this 'reducing impact on the environment' crapola? Sorry to disillusion all of you fretting over separating your trash, but the individuals ability to impact the environment is, to put it simply, non-existent. The total pollution produced by any one person is negligible against the total amount, so any personal choices you make are pretty much for the sake of feeling good about yourself -- which is a perfectly fine motivation, as is any selfish motivation, but don't let it go to your head.

But what if all followed the lead of these self-deluded idiots brave pioneers? We can't. You can't have six billion people all bicycling around the country looking for suckers to sponge off of -- you need a massive sucker-to-cyclist ratio for this 'lifestyle' to work. Six billion people can't live by hunting and gathering -- we'd strip the planet bare while dying by the millions. The 'simple' life only works if a minority do it -- or if you desire genocide on a scale that would make Stalin look like a prime candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But didn't we all used to live simply? Yes, when the Earth had a population of a few million, at most. And that lifestyle was, to counterfeit a phrase, 'nasty, brutish, and short'. You'll note the 'simplicity' folks don't have their outhouses drain into their drinking water, and are all nicely inoculated, and make sure they're able to get rushed to the hospital if they have a heart attack while they're out chopping wood with the stainless-steel axe they bought at Sears.

You want to live the 'simple' lifestyle sans hypocrisy? You can! Thousands do! It's called 'homelessness'. Try it for a few weeks.

A 'solution' to the 'problem' of human overconsumption that cannot be engaged in by a sufficiently large percentage of the human population to actually materially reduce the effects of that consumption is no solution at all -- it's a typical upper-middle-class spate of self-righteousness.

I feel it is wrong, fundamentally immoral, to demand any person live with less than the most they can possibly have. Is it right for Americans and Western Europeans to have so much when so many have so little? No, it isn't. The whole world should have the lifestyle of the industrial nations -- I want people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Liberia and Columbia and everywhere else to have air-conditioned homes, one car per adult family member, a color TV (with satellite dish hookup) and a T-1 or better quality Internet connection. Equality of consumption is a laudable goal, (provided the methods used to achieve it do not violate any ones rights or cost me any money) but it ought to be accomplished by lifting up the poor, not dragging down the rich.

But all of this is somewhat tangential to the fact that the promise of the 'simple' lifestyle -- freedom -- is a false one. You are far less free living 'simply' than you are living 'complexly'.

A simple, and current, example:I am now 'simply' living sans car, not due to any desire to 'live in harmony with the world', but rather due to the fact I am a craven coward with the coordination of an epileptic sea-slug, and, thus, am quite uncomfortable behind the wheel. This means I must simply lug large quantities of food (since I am simply obese) to and from the supermarket, which means, since my simple muscles are simply flabby, I need to limit the weight of my purchases. Simple. So I bought some frozen concentrate orange juice instead of a jug of the stuff, since liquids are simply heavy.

I just now mixed up the goop. This simply involved a plastic bowl, a larger plastic bowl, a wooden spoon, a measuring cup, and an old milk jug -- and about 15 minutes of time from start to final attempt at cleanup. And I ended up with only half a gallon of low-quality juice. Whereas, if I had lived the complex consumerist lifestyle and just bought a gallon of Tropicana, I would have spent NO time making it and had NO mess to clean up -- and had better juice, besides. I don't even want to think about the hassles if I'd gone really simple and decided to squeeze my own juice from actual oranges. The horror. The horror.

My point, other than to portray what a pathetic, miserable, hollow sham my life has become? (OK, always was). The advocates of 'simplicity' claim, in their usual vague and meaningless way, that avoiding the complexity of modern life leaves more time for 'what really matters', whatever the hell that is. But it doesn't. If you spend ninety minutes making dinner instead of five, you have eighty-five minutes less to devote to 'what really matters' -- less time to read, or to write, or to talk to your friends, or to work on your hobbies, or what have you. And even more important -- you're trapped. You can't order out if you decide you don't want to cook, or go down to McDonalds (or even your local vegan restaurant), or just toss something in the microwave. If you don't feel like cooking -- tough. (Well, in theory. Most of the advocates of 'simplicity' live close enough to civilization that they don't have to suffer, so they get all the fun of self-righteousness without any actual suffering. It's rather amusing reading diatribes from these over-educated children of privilege, and comparing their 'voluntary simplicity' to the actual poverty endured quite unvoluntarily by billions. I'd love to see them go into South Central or Harlem or Appalachia, or even better Ethiopia or Armenia or Liberia, and tell the people living there how much better their lives are because they aren't 'distracted' and 'oppressed' by the horrors of electricity, indoor plumbing, and cable TV.)

In other words, the simplest index of freedom is the number of options available to you and the time you have to enjoy them. If you limit your options, you limit your freedom. I am free to prepare my meals from scratch, starting with raw veggies. I am also free to order in Chinese Food, or buy microwave dinners, or go to a restaurant alone or with friends. I can live a 'simple' life -- without giving up anything, simply by making a choice from all the available options. There is no need to go run off to a cabin in the woods.

Don't want to be 'distracted' by television? Don't make some big symbolic hoo-hah about killing your TV:Just leave it turned off. That way, if you need it or want it, it's there -- and if you don't need it or want it, you can still pile books on it. If the 'temptation' is too great for you, then you don't need to 'find a simple lifestyle' -- you need to deal with your inability to control the life you've already got. Running away from your lack of self-discipline won't solve the problem.

I'm not done yet, folks! I've got enough material here for at least one more essay, maybe two. Stay tuned! (No promises on when, as my greed for material consumerist possessions requires me to submit to dronelike wage-slavery for the oppressive capitalist exploiter pig-dogs. (IOW, I have to (gasp) sit in a comfy office and (shudder) pound on some keys and (horror) suborn my creative impulses to writing code that is of use to someone other than me. Oh, the humanity!) (Look people:I've done real manual labor. It sucks. Big time. Any kind of office work, no matter how mind-numbingly dull (and programming, even business programming, is still somewhat fun), is a quantum leap or two beyond 'honest hard work'.)) (Someone count my parenthesis before I get a compiler error)

Addendum:Some might ask why I'm so worked up over this. After all, from a good libertarian perspective, there seems to be nothing wrong with this lifestyle, provided it is voluntarily chosen. And to that extent, I don't care -- I'm not advocating the police round these people and force them to eat Twinkies while watching Seinfeld. If they wish to live stupidly, that's their right.

But it is stupid -- and my way of 'making the world a better place' is to point out human stupidity.

And in addition to being stupid, it's ungrateful. We live in a world of wonders -- not miracles made by a non-existent God, but by man. We can cross oceans in hours, we can place machines on Mars, we can send the joke about why Bill Clinton named his dog 'Buddy' to the entire planet in mere seconds. If you choose to reject those wonders and live like a hairless ape, that's your choice -- but it dishonors the visionaries, dreamers, creators, and inventors who labored to build this world, and, to a certain extent, it dishonors your own humanity. To be human is to always strive to be more, to look at all there is and still see how much there is left to accomplish. To be human is to want to reshape the universe in your own image -- and to have the power to do so.

I have indeed occasionally contemplated such a lifestyle -- but the fact is, as my orange juice story illustrates, you actually end up less free, not more. And it fails as a weapon against oppression in general, since it is an option only for an elite minority -- as I have shown, we can't all move to Montana. So on both a personal level and a societal level, this philosophy is ultimately bad for freedom. (Again, if someone wants to make that choice for themselves, that's their business, but I consider it a bad choice, and it is usually made for bad reasons.) The whole 'get away from it all, be your own boss, live free!' shtick is quite popular among libertarians, but reality is one of the cruelest tyrants of all -- and if every hour of every day is devoted to brute survival, how free are you really? If you're living in a cabin in the woods, growing your own food, and otherwise cut off from civilization, you are 'free' only to continually labor for your own survival. What is the point of such 'freedom'? If you cannot actually do more with your life, what have you gained? I was quite cranky earlier because I had to spend a whole two hours (or so) in the process of shopping for food (including trave l time and unpacking time) -- but now I'm done for the week, and I have a wide range of possible lunches and dinners to choose from, most of which will take less than half an hour to prepare. This means my evenings are my own, to do with as I please -- that's tangible, real, freedom.

Further, as future essays will illuminate, the whole VS 'movement' is simply a manifestation of some very dubious, and very UN-libertarian philosophies. It is based, in large part, on primitive and highly collectivist notions of family, community and the nature of human interaction.

Lastly, the truth is I have a passionate knee-jerk antipathy to any crap about 'finding what really matters in life' or 'living in harmony with the world' or anything that stinks even vaguely of ludditism.

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