Involuntary Simplicity: Not Just Another Reality Show

Submitted by ARL contributor Harry Tuttle

Involuntary Simplicity:  Clearly not as popular as the voluntary sort, being forced to accept a more meager lifestyle may still be the best opportunity you’ve ever faced.  Buy into it early and you might find yourself well ahead of the curve.

Affluenza – Style Over Substance

As many others have already observed, Americans have developed a rather bad, rather counter-productive, habit of only “playing at reality”, as opposed to actually engaging with it directly.  This, I believe, is a relatively recent (post-1960s) development and a predictable “reward” for our history of success. 

Thus, while it is not consistent with the dominant traditions of our culture, what some have aptly termed “affluenza” is, nonetheless, a real threat to our future.  Some of these “bad habits” to which we’ve grown accustomed:

  • – We’d rather be perceived as “rich” than actually live within our means.
  • – We’d rather watch (literally almost anything) than actually get our hands dirty and do it “for real”.
  • – We’ve developed rabid phobias for “honest sweat”, physical risk, personal failure, and mortality while, at the same time, obsessively simulating such experiences.
  • – We’ve come to expect reward for almost everything except actual achievement, preferring a world where “everyone’s a winner”.
  • – We’d rather buy something than make it ourselves, accept a substitute, or do without.
  • – We pretend spirituality and compassion while obsessing over worldly material fears and envy, using political resources to ensure that we get more than we give.
  • –  Our children affect prison-style clothing in apparent tribute to a presumed toughness that only comes with a demonstrated lack of character.
  • – We resist, often to our dying breath, that there might be something bigger, more transcendental than “self”.

In short, we’ve “devolved” to become culture that is increasingly self-indulgent. 

No news flash here, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming.  A nation that can develop a whole genre of entertainment based on contrived notions of “reality” – such as “surviving” conditions in which most of the world actually lives – is a nation that has lost all touch with actual reality.

“Voluntary” Simplicity

I hate to say it, but even the so-called “voluntary simplicity” movement is positively rife with the same sort of “playing-acting” that inflects the rest of modern American culture.  With some apology to the truly sincere among them, I’m rather weary of seeing and hearing wealthy ex-hippies and/or their trust-funded progeny spout off with an utterly non-sensical, self-aggrandizing litany of “eco-pagan-techno-vegan” progressivism. 

Live lightly on the land?  Right, how about they try treading just a bit less heavily on my life first.   After all, many of these are the same people who have actively discouraged rural development and never cease trying to regulate virtually every aspect of our housing, work, food choices, and child-rearing, to name but a few issues.    

And, as I said, I do believe that there are sincere “seekers” within this, admittedly, over-generalized lump of earth-worshiping, greenie-weenies.  True, they’re probably not wasting much time playing Farm Town on Myspace.  Alas, if they’d only stand up and “dance” or “drum” for individual liberty, I might give them a bit more credit.   

More to the point:

  • Sustainable Practices” are the natural result of a socio-economic system that actually rewards personal savings and frugality, personal initiative and enterprise, and self-sufficiency; not the inflationary, debt-laden, overly taxed, bit of social-dependency-engineering that most progressives have been tinkering with for the past 70+ years.
  • Affordable Housing” is something that only happens when you allow people to build and live in housing that they can actually afford; not what passes for urban planning today.
  • Living Small” is what naturally occurs in a society that defends traditional values such as modesty, charity, honesty, courtesy, kindness, and commitment.  Conversely, it can still be shocked by excess, avarice, lying, cheating, grand-standing, perversity and crudeness.    
  • Cottage Industry” is, again, something that naturally occurs in a society that does not actively discourage enterprise and individual property rights.
  • Healthy Living” is the more likely result of prosperity than any other single factor, not a “re-education” challenge. 
  • Good Food” can include meat, just ask any fish, bird, or non-human mammal on the planet; but might reasonably exclude whatever we can afford after we’ve paid all our taxes, interest on our excessive debt, and “fill the void at any cost” entertainment needs.     
  • Affordable Healthcare” is the natural result of paying directly for our own medical treatment and, of course, of growing up in a society that is not morbidly terrified of death.
  • Appropriate Technology” is whatever succeeds in a free market, not the holy grail of “free-lunch” perpetual motion machines or, necessarily, the expensive hybrid Prius parked in front of the food-co-op either. 

Involuntary Simplicity

So, what’s left?  Well, not much, truth be told.  I believe that we are, in fact, running out of options.  There can be little doubt that we’ve been “playing at reality” for a bit longer than was “sustainable”.  For many, simplicity has simply become what happens when you lose your job or your house.  Is it getting real enough for you?  It is for them.

While I might be inclined to chide the poseurs and their limousine-liberal heros, frankly, I’m just as weary of the “empty suits” of the neo-conservative, corporate-consumer class.  Bigger isn’t always better.  Stuff is not essential to happiness.  The media may not be very helpful to you.  Bumper-sticker sloganism, from either the right or the left, is probably just another useless tool of the confidence game we’re facing. 

As I said, options are running out.  Seriously. 

So, if you’ve begun to earnestly question the value system that’s led to you to the brink of ruin, “good on ‘ya”.  And, those who have been forcibly jarred into an awareness of peril might just count themselves as lucky, assuming they start looking somewhere besides Big Government to bail them out.  There is still some time left to get acquainted with reality, including the very real existence of a loving God, your own mortality, and – so long as you’re still kicking – your own sweat and determination to “buck up”.        

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” – Will Rogers


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