Nice try Segal…

October 8, 2006

No, not Steven Segal. Well, he tries and fails too but I’m instead talking about Jerome Segal’s book Graceful Simplicity.

Segal attempts to establish a philosophy of simplicity centered around “gracefulness.” It has it’s roots in the Jewish custom of the Sabbath – essentially just a day of inner relaxation -, Epicureanism – which isn’t a new concept in regards to the philosophy of simplicity -, a rethinking of how we view money and success, and so forth in presenting traditional concepts of simplicity.

A lot of this book I didn’t enjoy. He is constantly tripping over his own arguments and often believably and convincingly presents an argument only to subsequently tear it down – leaving the reader with nothing hopeful. He also spends way too much time on money by sprinkling the arguments throughout his chapters.

In the end, however, I am left with an unrealistic and old philosophy of simplicity and worse yet absolutely no substantive methodology of how to implement this philosophy into my lifestyle. After I had finished Social Change I realized that a philosophy of simplicity had to meet several criteria. Namely, it had to be globally acceptable or at least acceptable by the US and Europe – the biggest reason is because they are both the largest consumers and the largest polluters. The philosophy has to coincide with the already established norms. Think of it this way, most philosophies of simplicity are attempting to stop American opulence and turn it around – like stopping a car on a highway and turning it around. That isn’t going  to work and never will. You may get a few thousand people to jump off the American consumption bandwagon but you aren’t going to stop the problem. What a philosophy of simplicity needs to do is first coincide with American consumption – take the wheel and turn it.

On the other hand I also realized that a critical criterion for an American-centric philosophy of simplicity is that it must not be adopted by the majority. It either has to apply and be adopted by the rich and opulent or give the impoverished the capabilities to live successfully without over-consumption patterns or keep up with the Joneses (or keep up with the Gates’ if your a Juliet Schor fan) behaviors. Simplicity has it’s benefits but it purposefully has its vulnerabilities. There is simply no way we are going to have a simplistic military or simplistic foreign policy or arguablly a simplistic tax system.

I’ve only read this one book on simplicity so far but I will not be surprised if Journey’s of Simplicity, Walden, and Voluntary Simplicity all use the same argumentative techinique to persuade people towards their philosophy. Essentially the argument is this: Stop materialistic worshiping and instead favor the immaterial.   This is basically a religious or spiritual argument and not an economic one. It is Aristolean, Epicurean, Spinozean and so forth. If this is the running trend in the philosophy of simplicity (scientific simplicity excluded) then maybe I need to change gears and instead focus on a philosophy of economic minimalism.


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