Friday, November 20, 2009

GUEST POST: A Critical Reader’s Take


Below is a guest post from Anonymous, a Biglaw attorney and regular reader of this blog.

Let me just say that I generally agree with Anonymous´ overall critique. I actually don´t see a great deal of conflict between his argument and the content of this blog. How his critique fares against other facets of the Simple Living/Voluntary Simplicity movement is, however, another matter. But that is for you, my dear reader, to decide.

On a separate note, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the lack of critical guest blog submissions. I´ve received tons of submissions focusing on (1) the benefits of pursuing a Simple Living lifestyle, and (2) incredibly positive commentaries about me and this blog in particular. While I appreciate the enthusiasm it would be great to publish posts with a much more critical perspective. Nothing kills ideas faster than group think and intellectual complacency.

Bottom line, if you have ever been pissed by something written on this blog, or just generally disagree with some specific aspect of this nebulous yet wonderful thing called Simple Living, drop me a line.

A Critical Reader’s Take

I read Jack’s blog because, as I suspect is the case with most of its readers, I identify with Jack. My life often feels cluttered and weighed down by unnecessary STUFF. I yearn to spend my days hiking mountain trails rather than trapped behind my lawyer’s desk. I attempt to alleviate my depression by purchasing a new jacket, drinking an extra drink, taking home a new girl, thinking that THIS time when I get what I want I will be happy. But of course, when the newness dies away, I find I need something else; the brief moments of satisfaction do nothing to quench my desire for more. The cycle continues, until I find I have accumulated an apartment full of crap I no longer want and certainly never needed, a hangover I can’t shake and a phone full of the numbers of young women whose faces I can’t recall.

So yes, I certainly identify with Jack. And I thank Jack – I have done so in a personal email to him – for sharing his adventure with us. It is inspiring to “witness” his courage and boldness in forsaking the life of temptation and luxury. And moreover, I think Jack has stumbled onto something that is – at least in part – profound and wise. I agree that this life that we have been geared to build with our higher education and white collar jobs does not necessarily hold the key to happiness.

But though Jack and I agree on the diagnosis, we disagree on the cure. Or at least I believe that Jack’s only found the half of it. Jack seems to think, and from the comments it looks like most of his active readers agree, that the answer to the problem is to cut the STUFF out of your life. “Simplify” is the motto, which I take to primarily be a mandate to rid your life of the physical clutter (unnecessary possessions, money, etc.) and maybe also to rid yourself of the desire for this materialistic clutter. The ideal also seems to include some kind of ill-defined spiritual contentment that necessarily follows from a life of materialistic simplicity. (Clearly Jack or others in the simplicity movement will take issue with my characterization, and I look forward to correction and clarification).

Here’s my disagreement with the Simplicity strawman I just built: Simplifying is all well and good, until you come to define your happiness by how Simple you can be. How is being defined by how much clothing you lack any different from being defined by how much you have? How is thinking happiness resides in a tent in the woods any different from believing you will find it in a mansion? In both cases you are looking for it out there, in a reality that doesn’t exist. “If only I get (lose) the big screen T.V., if only I get (lose) the condo, if only I get (lose) the girl.” When the world is telling you that the T.V., the condo and the girl will make you happy, and you realize that it won’t, it is natural to swing back in the other direction, thinking it is the lack thereof that will do the trick. Too often I’m seeing those with good intentions get sucked into this trap (and yes, I would hate to see Jack, a man I admire, be sucked in as well).

I don’t believe that Simplicity is necessary for true happiness. At least not the capital S Simplicity for which Jack strives. Our STUFF is a convenient whipping boy, but I think there is something deeper and more nuanced at play. Our dissatisfaction lies not in what we have or don't have, but in our very need to define ourselves by these materialistic measurements - for richer OR poorer. It is not only our things and our relationship to our things that need to be re-evaluated. If we’re taking a serious look at where we can find real happiness, I think all of us, especially those in the Simplicity movement, need to consider our attachment to our lack of things as well.

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