Thursday, 25 June 2009

voluntary simplicity

Where to begin...  voluntary simplicity seems to be the default position  It is the only way to go unless one wants to make life harder, practically and philosophically.
I have always chosen the easiest, simplest way to do things whenever I could.  This includes maintaining my lifestyle in a way that fits with my philosphical ideas as well.....  and that's called "treading lightly on the earth" these days.  This has led to a fairly basic way of living, and not a lot of physical complications in my life. 
Washing up. 

In a news broadcast back in the eighties,  a passing comment included the statement that for an economy to work, it was necessary to have a constantly increasing Gross National Product. This was a revelation.  How could anything continue to increase by an annual percentage indefinitely.  I decided then and there that the economists were wrong and that our society could not possibly  survive with that attitude to the world and its resources.
Some time later, I discovered the law of increasing returns in a book called Complexity (by M. Mitchell Waldrop)   I read about the economic theory that proposed a law of increasing returns.    I was aware of the "law of diminishing returns" as I had lived in Newfoundland (and had been studying ecology there) just as the cod fishery was collapsing, so I knew what adding further effort there had achieved.  That had demonstrated the law of diminishing returns better than anything esle I could imagine.  
But this "law of increasing returns" was a revelation. Studies of complexity are concerned with how single elements organise themselves into complicated structures such as ecosystems, economies, galaxies or ice crystals, or perhaps even civilisations?  The description of complex systems that show self organisation in this way was a new idea to me in 1992.  I was intrigued.  Walldrop's book also contains a description of the Santa Fe Institute where complexity is studied, and the people who work there.  (I think that that would be my choice holiday destination.)
Increasing returns and the self-organising properties of a complex system depend on it being in equilibrium though such systems often collapse suddenly such as when species disappear from a fossil record, stars collapse and landslides occur or the stock exchange "crashes."  Apparently "something" disrupts the equilibrium, and a collapse occurs.
Western civilisation has developed along a complex path that appears (from the inside) to be stable and forward moving.  It is a complex and stable system for the moment.   Other civilisations have come and gone, and it appears as though this one is likely to do the same.    In his book "Collapse",  Jared Diamond described the collapse of a number of civilisations in the past.  These were mostly stable, functional societies  in which some disruption caused instability and collapse...  self organising systems that became unstable.  He implied that we may face something similar. 

James Lovelock described the feedback mechanisms that cause the earth to be  a complex self organising system that maintains equilibrium in the same way that homeostasis functions in a living organism.  He saw the earth as being a self regulating living system.  He called this Gaia, after the Greek goddess of the earth.  In any case, living or not, the earth is a self organising complex system that appears to be able to have increasing complexity, increasing returns.

In our civilisation, it is probable that "the straw that brakes the camel's back" will be oil.  It will be necessary to live quite differently without the "200 slaves" in the basement, for that is how much extra work  (currently done by oil) that our standard of living depends upon.
Our predicament is complicated by the fact that the oil that we are so dependent upon is so pervasive (in everything that we use) and so damaging(to our environment.)    We need oil for transport and food production,  manufacturing and mass production, plastics, fertiliser and pest control and even making photovoltaic cells and electric cars.  Meanwhile, the contamination from oil and its products is damaging our ecosystem.
One would hope that we will run short of oil and learn to live more simply before we do too much significant damage.  

People who are more knowledgeable than I are attempting to visualise how our lives will change and there are almost as many scenarios as there are people contemplating these ideas.  I know that there will be some version of involuntary simplicity (as previous civilisations have discovered) and when I see shopping carts full of frozen packaged food, plastic bottles of flavoured water and bundles of indestructable plastic "disposable" products,  I can see that some people will find a simpler life difficult.  Perhaps this culture of voluntary simplicity would be helpful. 
Bean soup for tea.

We live in interesting times (but I wouldn't swap times or places for anything...  life is good.) 
Keeping warm.

Recently, I have been reading Derrick Jensen's "Endgame Vol 1:  The problem of Civilisation" in which his first premise (of twenty) is that "Civilisation is not and never can be sustainable."   An interesting thought!  I will be buying his second volume,  "Endgame Vol2:  Resistance.  I hope he has some suggestions about what else I can do.

1 comment:

Fiona (posts by her mum and dad) said...

what a lovely post...but where is the recipe for the bean soup?
I hope that you are keeping warm.