Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Simplicity Story

The simplicity institute put out request for people to send through their 'stories of simplicity' - here is mine.

I joined the simplicity movement after a long intellectual process of thinking through global issues – so to tell my story requires explaining something of my political evolution.

My political interest was sparked – like many, I imagine, in their 20s – by the horrifying events of September 11. At Uni I found myself agreeing with the Marxist’s on campus that market capitalism was at the heart of our problems, but also felt uninspired by their vision of alternatives and particularly their belief –shared with almost everyone else – that material abundance was the key to a good society. In my early twenties I read Clive Hamilton’s growth fetish and agreed with his critique of endless economic growth and the sheer futility of consumerism in terms of making us happy.

For a long time, however, most of this had only a marginal impact on my behaviour. I had few other people around me who (appeared) to question the consumer way and this prevented me from acting confidently on my beliefs. While in my mind I had doubts about the fundamental direction of society, on the outside I was just a typical young male enjoying sport, girls, work and –above all – obsessed with ‘fitting in’ and being liked. Slowly I began to accommodate myself to consumer society.

The real turning point came in my mid twenties when I discovered Ted Trainer’s work on ‘the Simpler Way.’ Ted’s writing connected with me like nobody else ever had. It was like reading my own thoughts...only expressed far more articulately and with greater conviction, depth and insight than I could ever manage. I found his critique of our ‘greed and growth’ society and his vision of ‘a Simpler Way’, totally compelling. It stirred me up and forced me to rethink my life and aspirations.

Today I live far more simply than I used to. Whenever I go to buy something I try to consider first whether I really need it. If I do, I try to obtain it second hand or via the LETS scheme I belong to. I still have a car, but I feel guilty whenever I drive it! I am slowly learning to grow vegies and I got my mum to teach me how to make bread - first steps, I hope, to a more self-sufficient lifestyle. I have been lucky enough to go part-time at work, which at the moment I am spending writing a joint book with my dad (about God – long story!), and starting this blog. One of the great things about ‘downshifting’ is you start to reduce your need for money, and therefore work, which frees up time to pursue other creative and enjoyable pursuits.

Despite the importance of intellectual argument in my own journey, it was also massively important for me to connect with others who shared similar views. This is vital for morale, enthusiasm and just meeting great new friends! I have joined a range of local groups in Canberra such as LETS trading and SEE-Change, through which I have met inspiring people doing wonderful things to reduce their ecological footprints. These people encourage me with their dedication, wisdom and enthusiasm. In the future, I really hope to be able to get some local economic activities going – such as a community veggie garden – in my suburb, Campbell.

I have a strong view that the simplicity movement (and Transition Towns, permaculture etc) must be bold in their political outlook and critique. Eventually we need to go beyond mere lifestyle change – as important as that is – and start thinking how we can build a political movement that aims at the eventual replacement of capitalist/consumer society. The really inconvenient truth is that generalised simplicity is not possible without huge change to the organisation, institutions and values of our ‘greed and growth’ society. In our own small humble ways, in the towns and suburbs where we live, we have to start building and inspiring others with an attractive vision of a ‘Simpler (but richer) Way’. Despite the enormity of the task, I believe the revolution is possible. After all, as Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly remind us: from little things, big things grow.

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