Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Simplicity? A Complex Answer, Part III

Beady Test
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Continuing to look at what leads me to think living a simple lifestyle is advisable, I'd like to turn for a minute to the (traditionally conservative) notion of Prudence.

In addressing some previous questions on simple living, the point was suggested...

...simple living as opposed to technological advancements, and the wealth creation that so often goes with it, does not improve lives for the most people.

To that point, I'd say that the commenter was making some presumptions that go too far.

The Amish (as an extreme example of people who seem to be opposed to technological advances) are not, in fact, utterly opposed to all technological advances. They are CAUTIOUS (in the extreme) of technological advances. They epitimoze (perhaps to absurd degree, perhaps not) the conservative value of Prudence.

They don't willy nilly accept technological CHANGES that come along and presume that because they have come along, they are an advancement. They keep such changes at arm's length and, when they are comfortable with the notion that it is indeed something that can be helpful WITHOUT having hidden costs to themselves or others, only then do they embrace the advancement.

Thus, they use (sparingly) gas motors for cutting wood (obviously a technological change over cutting by hand), telephone booths, accept rides from others, ride the bus, etc... That is, they DO embrace some technology, but only cautiously and only when they feel confident that it's going to be a net benefit (or at least that's my undestanding of the Amish and technology.

This is what I'm speaking of... Slowing down the pace of our acceptance of each new technological option that comes along and weigh its net value. Live deliberate lives, thoughtful lives, sustainable lives, keeping an eye out for the impacts beyond just the immediate.

The commenter made the statement about being opposed to technological advances and the wealth creation that so often goes along with it. I think what the simple life advocates would suggest is that we presume too much too quickly too often. DOES positive net wealth creation come along with many/most/all technological "advance?" I don't think we can assume that this is true, not at all.

IF I can create a brand new Widget (TM) for $1 and can create a demand for that Widget and sell it for $10, then I have "created wealth" and the world is a better place! Hallelujah! That is the simplistic way of looking at it. The more prudent, cautious way of looking at it is to ask questions...

1. What IS a Widget?
2. Does it add anything to my life?
3. If I have happily lived without a Widget thus far, what reasonable "demand" for that Widget is there?
4. What are the costs of that Widget? Not JUST the cost to produce it, but did creating the Widget produce pollution? Waste? Has that waste and pollution been cleaned up? Who paid to clean it up? Were there any other associated negatives (ie, did it not only produce pollution, but TOXIC pollution, which increased the risk of cancer or other illness - and who's going to pay for that?)
5. Is the Widget replacing some OTHER item(s)/technologies? What are the costs associated with those losses?
6. Is the Widget causing less tangible - but no less real - costs? Does it cut into family time? Does it cause us to exercise less? To worry more?

You get the idea, I hope.

Simple living is deliberate living, conscious and conscientious living. It is not chasing after every new Thing that comes along, but recognizing that our confidence, our happiness, our lives do not consist of Things and more Things, but in God, in our relationships, in our family, in our community. This is where our contentment lies and thus, why do I NEED more Things?

Sometimes, there may be a very good answer to the question of "should I get this new Thing?" For instance, someone might like a mandolin or a flute so they can learn to play it (free entertainment, worthwhile education) and play with my family and friends (strengthening the family and community units, creating a better world) and thus, it may well be worth the cost.

Having decided that, I could buy a mandolin for $100, used, or I could buy a very fancy cool mandolin for $10,000 - what choice do I make...? Was the "cheap" mandolin made in China by child laborers in unjust circumstances (and thus, came at a much greater cost than the $100)? Was the $10,000 mandolin made with a rare wood that came from an endangered forest (and thus, perhaps came at a greater cost than even the $10,000)?

Deliberate living. Prudent living.

Does that mean I am paralyzed into fearfully buying nothing unable to know all the possible repercussions? No, clearly not. I'm just suggesting something more reasonable and prudent than beginning with the presumption that all the stuff I can buy is going to make the world and my life better.


John said...

Excellent post, Dan. I see no immediate area of disagreement.

Dan Trabue said...

Cool. But are you really trying hard enough???

Dan Trabue said...


People do not create new products and then try to create a market for them. You obviously don't know the basic things.

Then it is true: You indeed have a rosier view of humanity in general and marketers/commercialists specifically.

I think if you watch TV long at all, you will see folk marketing all manner of stuff EXACTLY for the purpose of making a market for their product. Convince people "If you don't buy our cigarettes/cologne/car/caffeine, etc, etc, then Girls won't like you and you'll never be Rich." That's what commercials do. And they do it very successfully (in fact, "marketing" itself is creating a job where none previous existed.)

Funny that the "rotten humanity, evil to its core" Calvinist type has a rosier view of humanity than the sweet ol' anabaptist dude.

So, in your view, humanity can only be NOT trusted when they're in gov't (or liberals in general), but not when they're in marketing or otherwise trying to increase their wealth?

Dan Trabue said...


For most of these people it's simply called "living life" and doing so to the fullest. Even among such people do all of them measure their lives in terms of acquiring these things, but do so for the fun of it.

God bless them for enjoying the life God gave them.

Shame on (Woe to) you for assuming the worst of them.


Blessed are you who are poor.

Woe to you who are rich.

See the dichotomy?

But to clarify, I'm not condemning folk for buying trivial, non-essential items. (Did you read where I noted that specifically?) I'm not talking about "Them" at all. I'm talking about ME, WE, humanity. Our tendency towards hoarding (see the story of the Manna in the desert) towards building more than we need (see Jesus' story of the rich fool). ME. US.

I, Dan Trabue, am a human who has the temptation to buy much more than I need, more than I can consume, more than is sustainable. And when I, DAN TRABUE, consume more than is sustainable, that means exactly and specifically that I am NOT doing unto others as I'd have them do unto me. Woe is me, indeed.

We have an innate ability to justify our expenses, even if it's not reasonable in the big picture. And so, out of concern for the Big Picture, I, DAN TRABUE, am convinced that I ought to live more simply, in a lifestyle that is sustainable.

I'm sure you've seen (or perhaps not) those environmental footprint websites that allow you to enter how much you consume and then tell you that, IF everyone lived like you, how many earths it would take to sustain that. For this simple life advocate (who has such a long way to go), it comes to about FOUR earths, as I recall! Yikes!

Now, are simple "footprint" tools that ask a few questions telling the whole story and doing so comprehensively? No, but they still make a salient point well worth considering. At least for me.

Dan Trabue said...


So you avoid them unless forced to accept their benefits. Good for you. That's possibly the best thing for such a neurosis.

Neurosis? Is it neurotic to realize that this is a finite planet with finite resources and want to live within one's means in a sustainable way? I don't think so. I think that's rational. On the other hand, what would you call it for those who AREN'T concerned about living within their means in a sustainable manner? Adolescent? Egotistical?

Of course, I imagine your position is that you're not advocating NOT living within your/our means, you just don't think we're anywhere near overconsuming in the western world, right?

Well, that's one question that might need to be answered, right? I mean, if I am right and we are over-consuming ("it would take four earths for everyone to live like Dan"), THEN we might reasonably need to consume less, right? And refusing to consider slowing down consumption would be embarrassingly self-centered, right?

Marshall Art said...

"You indeed have a rosier view of humanity in general and marketers/commercialists specifically."

I have a realistic view and support that which reflects that reality. Your following statements about marketing are not accurate. Even in those commercials that promise the consumer a better shot at hot chicks (which I've never seen as a serious marketing angle except for books on how to pick up hot chickds), the need being addressed is the desire by the consumer for hot chicks. It was a need that already existed or was perceived to exist and the product or service offered is marketed as a solution to that problem. Whatever need or issue the marketing purports to address, it must exist in order to sell the product or service. If they're trying to convince the average consumer that the need might exist for him, and the consumer buys it wondering if it is true, no further sales will occur if the need is determined by the consumer to not really exist.

Funny. I thought I addressed these things because I distinctly remember typing out how I never claimed to be a Calvinist. But one thing into which I do claim to buy is that despite the level of depravity of man, despite his fallen nature, as an American, I believe one is innocent until proven guilty. Your words do not reflect that attitude.


Blessed are you who are poor.

Woe to you who are rich.

See the dichotomy?"

To this I will only say that I agree with Bubba in believing this speaks of being poor in spirit. The rich in question were also poor in spirit. I think Biblical concern for "the poor" is more a concern for the bad behaviors of their oppressors and the broken or failing spirit of the poor more than any concern about "economic justice" or money at all.

You continue to speak of hoarding as if the wealthy are all Scrooge McDucks with a big vault of money in which they like to frolic. I would have everyone hoard as much as they can so as to allow them to cover the expense of most every unforeseen eventuality without having to burden their neighbors who, because they might be simple lving people, have limited resources. Living within one's means should include the cost of saving for a rainy day.

More later