Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Voluntary Simplicity, Again

As follow-on to the article "The Value of Voluntary Simplicity" I started reading the 40-page article from 1977 by Duane Elgin entitled Voluntary Simplicity.

According to Duane these 5 values are at the heart of Voluntary Simplicity:
  • Material Simplicity
  • Human Scale
  • Self-Determination
  • Ecological Awareness
  • Personal Growth

As maximum future growth, in 1977 Duane predicted the following figures for the US.
  • Millions of US adults fully embracing Voluntary Simplicity: 5 in 1977, 25 in 1987, 60 in 2000.
  • Millions of US adults partially embracing Voluntary Simplicity: 10 in 1977, 35 in 1987, 60 in 2000.

I have no statistical data for current years, but it seems that the maximum growth has not been reached. He explains that these maximum projected figures can only be reached if both pull and push forces are at work. Here, it seems that while pull force can be seen throughout the society, few pull forces have been created by the economy, media, corporate or political leaders. In other words, individuals seem to continue to have an inner desire for voluntary simplicity, but corporations and political parties are hell-bound on growth and material consumption.

I concur that developed nations seem to be in a period of social drift. They appear to be losing both momentum and a sense of direction. People seem to be waiting for some leader or chain of events to make clear the nature of an alternative social vision.

Duane foresees 4 principal social evolutions (again, remember he did this in 1977) for the US:

  1. technological salvation
  2. descent into social chaos
  3. benign authoritarianism
  4. humanistic transformation

In your opinion, which one most closely matches current reality 33 years later? I would say that the mainstream has evolved along 1 and 3. We live in a near-authoritarian state and pin our hopes on technology to resolve our problems. Example: Laws prevent us from filming and approaching the BP oil catastrophe while at the same time we hope that through technology we can clean up the immeasurable mess. Voluntary simplicity could play a part in the humanistic transformation of choice 4, but only a small minority of individuals have gone that path.

Duane points out that voluntary simplicity not only plays a role in 4, but also in options 1, 2 and 3. Regarding 1, voluntary simplicity can positively amplify technological solutions by tackling the inherent resource scarcity issues. Regarding 2, social unrest and wars can more easily be defused in a society with voluntary simplicity in place. Chaos is likely to stem from imbalances of rich and poor and wars over resources. Voluntary simplicity helps in reducing both risks or the size of the conflicts. Regarding 3, voluntary simplicity with one of its essences being in self-determination can be counterbalancing grass-roots force to compete with authoritarianism and to help keep it in check. Hence, Duane argues that voluntary simplicity will be a positive and desired movement in all sorts of social evolutions (with the 4 mentioned possibilities just being examples).

What kind of society would emerge if voluntary simplicity were to become the predominant way of life? On page 28 he compares the two world views.
Emphasis in Industrial World View
Emphasis in Voluntary Simplicity World View

Value Premises
  • Material growth
  • Man over nature
  • Competitive self-interest
  • Rugged individualism
  • Rationalism

Value Premises
  • Material sufficiency coupled with psycho-spiritual growth
  • People within nature
  • Enlightened self-interest
  • Cooperative individualism
  • Rational and intuitive

Social Characteristics
  • Large, complex living and working environments
  • Growth of material complexity
  • Space-age technology
  • Identity defined by patterns of consumption
  • Centralization of regulation and control at nation/state level
  • Specialized work roles—through division of labor
  • Secular
  • Mass produced, quickly obsolete, standardized products
  • Lifeboat ethic in foreign relations
  • Cultural homogeneity, partial acceptance of diversity
  • High pressure, rat race existence

Social Characteristics
  • Smaller, less complex living and working environments
  • Reduction of material complexity
  • Appropriate technology
  • Identity found through inner and interpersonal discovery
  • Greater local self-determination coupled with emerging global institutions
  • More integrated work roles (e.g., team assembly, multiple roles)
  • Balance of secular and spiritual
  • Hand crafted, durable, unique products
  • Spaceship earth ethic
  • Cultural heterogeneity, eager acceptance of diversity
  • Laid back, relaxed existence

In which world would you rather live?

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