Simplicity

The Nearings
The Nearings

The Good Life Center at Forest Farm, the homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing in Brookside, Maine, now offers a regular online journal of essays, poetry, art, thoughts.

This essay about simplicity in October’s issue, by John Saltmarsh [now located here – Feb 2012], spoke to me, because I swim in the place where the waters meet, dipping into simplicity that is merely discriminating consumption and an attempt to solidify my own identity, and doggy-paddling in simplicity that is intentional in its respect for all of creation, that is politically and spiritually motivated; here’s an excerpt:

“Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said of simplicity: ‘For simplicity this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give a fig; for simplicity that side of complexity, I would give my life.’

“Simplicity this side of complexity is something akin to lifestyle simplicity, a fashionable motif of simplicity as conscientious consumption — not reducing consumption, but continuing to consume in discriminating ways. On this side of complexity, simplicity is but another consumer good, something acquired to remake one’s identity, a form of conspicuous consumption. Simplicity is consumed to shape a lifestyle that is inherently therapeutic, individualistic, and apolitical. This side of complexity, simplicity is disengaged, privatized, and lacking in the possibility of transformation.

“Yet on that side of complexity, where you find the Nearings, is a deeply political, deeply engaged version of simplicity that brings social justice to the forefront, allowing a life of simplicity to be the entry point to a life of ‘self respect and integrity,’ as Scott put it. That side of complexity is what Wendell Berry writes of when he says:

If one disagrees with the nomadism and violence of our society, then one is obligated to take up some permanent dwelling place and cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness in it. If one deplores the destructiveness and wastefulness of the economy, then one is under obligation to live as far out on the margins of the economy as one is able: to be as economically independent of exploitive industries, to learn to need less, to waste less, to make things last, to give up meaningless luxuries…If one feels endangered by meaninglessness, then one is under an obligation to refuse meaningless pleasures and to resist meaningless work, and to give up the moral comfort and the excuses of the mentality of specialization.

“It was ‘that side of complexity’ that the Nearings wrote of when they explained that ‘the value of doing something does not lie in the ease or difficulty, the probability or improbability of its achievement, but in the vision, the plan, the determination and perseverance, the effort and the struggle that go into the effort, rather than by acquisition and accumulation.’ ‘We were seeking an affirmation,’ they wrote in Living the Good Life, ‘a way of conducting ourselves, of looking at the world and taking part in its activities that would provide at least a minimum of those values we considered essential to the good life.'”

 

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