The Value of Voluntary Simplicity

June 14, 2006

Before this information dissolves from my memory, I just want to give a tender-hearted recommendation for Richard B. Gregg's 1936 essay, "The Value of Voluntary Simplicity" (if you want to read it yourself just to a google search of the title and you'll find plenty of PDFs). It's not a perfect essay on simplicity but it's a prophetic starting point for living a simpler and innerly richer life. It has a few pitfalls, like that of commiting to fallacies: correlations as causation and appealing to authority. He particulary appeals to authority when he implicitly, although repeatedly, suggests that simplicity should be practiced because great minds like Ghandi, Jesus, and Buddha, as well as great civilizations like China, Babylonia, "the country", did as well or at least had simplicity much more cherished than he sees it is in our culture. Overall though it has some brilliant insights and adequately responds to the some criticisms against simplicity. 

 Also, he loosely defines simplicity. It's hard to tell if by simplicity he means "purity" or "refinement", or merely "less complexlity". I think though, the best characterization would be somewhat of a linkage between these synonyms and also with that of the "essential". Simplicity, thus can be defined as a refinement of the essentials for living. If we remove that which we only use to be a surplus to our livelihood, such as television or artificial flavoring, we will thus have less "property" (physical and intellectual) and because of a less complex property attain a better association with the property we do have but without the materialism. He gives a great example of his treatment of a homeless starving man coming to his door. If he is not simplistic he will be less hesitant to let the man in, near his furniture, his precious rugs, artworks and electronics and may not be willing to give up his time, space, energy, or food for the man. However, if he treasures simplicity, he will have a better connection between not only his so-called precious materials but also a connection with the homeless man. If he values the importance of his materials less and more on the simplicity of his livelihood he will be less hesitant, or not hesitant at all, to feed the man. 

Read it. 


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