Smaller, Slower, Simpler, Better
“Simplify now (and avoid the rush)!”
For a remote South Pacific islander, Lua was impressively well informed on what was going on in the wider world beyond the shores of her island home. She felt that it was unfortunate that the world seemed to be heading into a new age of environmental tipping points, social turbulence, and psychological turmoil. She noted that environmental threats are growing with each passing year. The world economy remains in a prolonged slump, and all the developed nations are doing everything in their power to restart high-growth economies. This is a foolish endeavor and will ultimately fail, she believed:
“People living in wealthy nations are inevitably going to have to simplify their lifestyles and reconnect with the limited energy and material realities of a finite planet and the slower rhythmic cycles of the natural world. This is a lifestyle and worldview that we islanders understand intimately and value immensely.”
Lua knew that this would be a very difficult concept to grasp, and appreciate, for those folks who’ve only ever lived economically advanced, hyper-competitive, high-growth oriented Western consumer lifestyles. To them, progress has always meant MORE: more people, more energy, more resources, more technology, more complexity, and more patience waiting for ‘trickle-down’ wealth distribution to work its magic on the masses. And less — less driving, less eating, less buying, less manufacturing — does not create any wealth in a capitalist economy. Not much incentive for change there.
There have no doubt been obvious gains in quality of life for millions who have achieved middle-class lifestyles — primarily from capitalizing on a one-time endowment of cheap, abundant, easily accessed, high-density, portable fossil-fuel energy. Americans, for example, making up only 4 percent of the world's population, consume a full 15 percent of the world's energy production and almost 20 percent of its electricity. But going forward, these notions of societal progress will have to change on an ecologically stressed planet with ever increasing energy, material, and vital pollution-control constraints and a swelling human population in pursuit of this middle-class dream. Lua claimed,
“There will likely soon be a Great Simplification, especially in wealthy countries, that will require significant shifts in norms and expectations and in notions of human progress. This will happen as a result of persistent economic stagnation and a steady decline in availability of cheap energy and material resources accompanied by a steady incline in demand for purposeful, meaningful lives and livelihoods. A more sustainable and desirable future will come to mean simpler living and community-based, re-localized, materials-light, low-carbon, service-based economies — less stuff and less social isolation and more experiences and stronger connections to community and to the natural world. My advice to you, Mister Rico: Simplify now (and avoid the rush)!”
Lua believed we could make great gains in the quality of our lives and in the inventiveness, cooperation, and self-reliance of our communities by engaging the purpose-seeking creative intelligence of community members to co-invent the future and redirect our energies toward improving healthcare and education, enhancing social care, renovating and refurbishing buildings, increasing leisure and recreation hours, protecting and maintaining green spaces, and engaging in more civic and cultural activities. All of these socially nutritious endeavors contribute positively to the quality of our lives and well-being and are far less ecologically damaging and spiritually draining than activities associated with high-consumption, socially-isolating, empty-calorie lifestyles.
Most people equate simplicity with childhood — and believe it must end with adulthood. Through a child’s eye, the world is always simple, fresh, in-the-now, beautiful, wonderful. Nature-boy Jack had retained this childlike quality into adulthood and was able to earn a living indulging that childlike curiosity and wonder as a scientist. He was in good company. Fellow ‘wonderer’ Isaac Newton had said, ‘truth is found in simplicity,’ not in the multiplicity and confusion of things. Einstein, upon whose simple, elegant theories much of our complex and confusing tools and technologies today are built, believed that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best — both for the body and the mind. The mindful Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi encourages us to appreciate all of the 'perfectly imperfect' simple blessings in our daily lives. And economist E.F. Schumacher observed that, ‘any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent — it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.’
Lua stated that simplicity breeds clarity — the same clarity by which children, and childlike adults such as Jack, see the world. Put an end to excessive consumption, accumulation, and busy-ness; slow down, simplify your life, shed all of the excesses, and then observe how joy and vitality blossom, she would counsel. Those with the consciousness of simplicity never lose their childlike appreciation for the simple pleasures of observing anew the beauty-full, wonder-full, living, unfolding universe. They maintain a deep reverence and respect for the wonders of the natural world. They experience being an integral part of this deeply mysterious evolving process. They are mindful and connected to the world they live in, yet maintain an inner calm and perspective that is not ‘of’ the world. For them — smaller, slower, and simpler is better. That is where living is purest.