Thursday, January 28, 2010

(In)voluntary Simplicity

One of the critiques of voluntary simplicity is that it is a choice made possible by privilege. What, after all,is the difference between frugality and poverty? Most readers of Walden know that Thoreau didn't really abandon civilization and live a life of deprivation. His friends provided society and occasional dinners and his mother did his laundry. He could essentially chose his level of poverty and abandon it whenever it was convenient.

My class happens to be reading and discussing Walden just as our furnace has died. A replacement arrives on Tuesday, but in the meantime the forecast is for daytime temperatures in the 20s and 30s. The indoor temperature is inching down, and I have no idea how cold the house could get. If we were wealthy, we'd board the dog and check into a nice hotel or bed and breakfast for the duration. But we are not, and a furnace already costs plenty; adding another $1000 to the tab is not possible.

So instead, I get to experience a few days of involuntary simplicity. Fortunately, we have a gas fireplace in the living room, a window unit heat pump in the family room and I plan to do a lot of baking and roasting in the oven. I am also a big fan of layers and long underwear, and my husband never gets cold. It remains to be seen whether or not this experience will encourage a more spiritual outlook, or a sense of living more deliberately. And no, Mr. Thoreau, I do not plan to pass the time felling trees.


Jacob said...

re: the first paragraph: sure, privilege has a role, but it's a poor counterargument of the petty-minded to lambast the voluntarily simple for dilletantism. it misses the point, but it's an understandable rhetorical reflex of the suddenly discomfited.

the whole point is that in order to achieve a more equitable distribution of finite resources, the privileged do have to choose to give up something. that's the only way more resources can be available for the currently underprivileged to live a little less simply if they so choose. viz the bumper sticker: "live simply so that others may simply live." just like how men have to give up something (the undiluted strength of their vote) for women to get a direct voice in the democratic process. and so on.

a brilliant exposition on voluntary simplicity in the post-peak oil age is john michael greer's "the long descent." i can't recommend it highly enough.

Jo said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I am collecting resources for the class, and this looks like a good one. And I love your rebuttal to the privilege argument. Consider it swiped.