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The Simple Life: Necessarily Agrarian? Just for Hippies?

Living simply does not necessarily imply leaving the city to live in the country; nor does it mean becoming a hippie or joining a commune. Although some may find that an agrarian existence is a very good and natural way to live, it will not be attractive (or available) to everyone; nor will living in a hippie commune. Indeed, learning how to live more simply and sustainably in an increasingly urbanized... read more

Does Voluntary Simplicity Glorify Poverty?

Voluntary simplicity can be misinterpreted sometimes as glorifying or romanticizing poverty, a myth encouraged perhaps by the fact that some of the more extreme proponents of simplicity – e.g. Diogenes, St Francis, Gandhi, etc. – did indeed live lives of staggering material renunciation. Such extremism can be alienating if it is considered to be a defining or necessary feature of the simple life, which... read more

Defining Voluntary Simplicity

Voluntary simplicity is an oppositional living strategy that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life’ or ‘downshifting.’[1] Sometimes called ‘the quiet revolution,’[2] this approach to life involves providing for material needs as simply and directly as possible, minimizing expenditure on consumer goods... read more

The Voluntary Simplicity Movement in an Age of Commodity Fetishism

In the developed regions of the world today, such as North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, etc., decades of unprecedented economic growth have all but solved the economic problem of how to secure the necessaries of life and, indeed, have resulted in most people living lives of relative luxury and comfort.[1] Though a small residue of poverty remains in these regions, on the whole... read more

Will Science and Technology make Consumer Lifestyles Sustainable?

Aside from blaming over-population, a second mainstream response to the ecological crisis is to claim that science and technology will save the planet.[1] From this perspective, rather than focusing on reducing consumption or population, what primarily needs to happen is for scientific or technological advancements to make the production of commodities more efficient; that is, to make commodities... read more

The Scapegoat of Overpopulation

In the face of evidence such as that cited in the last post, some are quick to blame ‘over-population’ and argue that the environment is under such strain because there are too many people on the planet.[1] Currently the world population is approximately 6.8. billion and is increasing by about 70 million people each year.[2] Though birth rates are slowly declining in some regions – and have already... read more

A Scientific Review of the Ecological Impacts of Overconsumption

The last post suggested that living more simply will be a necessary part of any transition to an ecologically sustainable society. To support the contention that current consumption patterns are unsustainable, and that low-consumption lifestyles are necessary, here is a brief scientific review of the ecological impacts of economic activity today. The Living Planet Report 2008,[1] based on the... read more

Stepping Lightly on the Planet

As well as personal, communitarian, and humanitarian reasons for living simply, there are, of course, also environmental reasons. It has long been recognized that consumption and ecological impact are correlated,[1] and from this correlation it follows that reducing consumption can be an effective means for reducing ecological impact. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that simpler living, in the... read more

The Humanitarian Case for Living Simply

Although there are indeed many personal and communitarian incentives for adopting voluntary simplicity, it would be an impoverished ethics that sought to justify itself solely in relation to personal or community self-interest. For that reason, it is important to recognize that there are also broader humanitarian reasons for adopting voluntary simplicity.[1] In a world where extreme poverty exists amidst... read more

Voluntary Simplicity, Community, and the Social Good

There are also social or communitarian incentives for embracing a life of voluntary simplicity.[1] For example, when an individual embraces voluntary simplicity by working less, this may well benefit the individual (e.g. by creating more leisure and reducing stress). But those individual benefits will often have flow on effects that benefit others too, such as creating more time and energy for family and... read more

Living Simply as a Path to Genuine Wealth

Money provides power in the market – power to purchase and consume desired commodities, whether goods or services. Consumption, by satisfying market preferences, is supposed to lead to well-being. In essence, this is the economic foundation of consumer culture.[1] Its fundamental prescription is that people should seek well-being in higher incomes and more consumption.[2] The problem, however, as Juliet... read more

The Art of Life

For all the jokes that are made about New Year Resolutions – jokes about how the diet lasts one week, or how the new exercise regime is enthusiastically written down but never practised – I feel there is nevertheless something of profound value in the technique of reflecting upon one’s own life for the purpose of evaluating it and then willfully improving it. The Greek and Roman Stoics were keen... read more

Christmas: The Assumption of Consumption

The other day I saw a Christmas card which read, “The faster we destroy the planet, the sooner Jesus will be here.” First it made me laugh; then it made me think. At a time when the world’s most respected scientists affirm that ordinary Western consumption habits are indeed destroying the planet, what attitudes should we have toward the corporate event known as Christmas? Should we still be seeking... read more

Step Out of the Rush…

Here is a wonderful story that has been floating around in cyberspace. THE SITUATION In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a... read more

Technology and the Simple Life

Apparently, ballpoint pens don’t work in space because of the lack of gravity. It is said that NASA, troubled by this realization, spent many millions of dollars designing a ‘space pen’ that could function in the absence of gravity. The Russians used a pencil. Whether or not this story is true, it raises interesting questions about how technology is used in modern society. Are we, like NASA,... read more
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