Thursday, April 22, 2010

"When true simplicity is gained..." it can be expensive

Charlotte Allen discovers the simplicity movement, which seems to complicate rather than simplify life. Its devotees do, however, get to feel morally superior to the rest of us, while spending a lot more money. From "Not Really Simple" in In Character, A Journal of Everyday Virtues:
.... Welcome to the simplicity movement, the ethos whose mantras are "cutting back," "focusing on the essentials," "reconnecting to the land" - and talking, talking, talking about how fulfilled it all makes you feel. Genuine simple-living people - such as, say, the Amish - are not part of the simplicity movement, because living like the Amish (no iPod apps or granite countertops, plus you have to read the Bible) would be taking the simple thing a bit far. Modern simplicity practitioners like Jesus (although not quite so much as they like Buddhist monks, who dress more colorfully) because he wore sandals and could be said to have practiced alternative medicine, but they mostly shun religious movements founded in his name. Thus, simplicity people are always eager to tell you how great the Amish are, growing their own food (a highly valued trait among simplicity people), espousing pacifism (simplicity people shy away from even just wars), and building those stylishly spare barns (aesthetics rank high in the simplicity movement), but really, who wants to have eight kids and wear those funny-looking hats? ....

Hunting is usually taboo in the simplicity movement because it involves guns (hated by the professionally simple) and exploitation of animals (ditto). However, if you're hunting boar in the upscale hills ringing the San Francisco Bay so as to furnish yourself a "locally grown" boar paté, as does Berkeley professor and simplicity movement guru Michael (The Omnivore's Dilemma) Pollan, or perhaps to experience an "epiphany," as another well-fixed Bay Area boar hunter recently told the New York Times, you're doing a fine job of returning to the simple life. ....

Simplicity movement people always seem to shell out more money than the not-so-simple, usually because the simple things they love always seem to cost more than the mass-produced versions. On a website called Passionate Homemaking that's dedicated to making, among other things, your own cheese, your own beeswax candles, and your own underarm deodorant, you are also advised to cook with nothing but raw cultured butter from a mail-order outfit called Organic Pastures. The butter probably tastes great. It also costs $10.75 a pound - plus UPS shipping. At farmer's markets, where those striving for simplicity like to browse with their cloth shopping bags, the organic, the locally grown, and the humanely raised come at a price: tomatoes at $4 a pound, bread at $8 a loaf, and $6 for a cup of "artisanal" gelato.

Wealthy and well-born people admiring - and sparing themselves no expense in convincing themselves that they're cultivating - the virtues of humble folk is nothing new. Two millennia ago, Virgil, in his Georgics, heaped praise upon the tree pruners and beekeepers whom he likely could see toiling in the distance while he sipped wine on the veranda of his wealthy patron, Maecenas. .... [more]
Not Really Simple — Observation — In Character, A Journal of Everyday Virtues by the John Templeton Foundation