Part 2 of 3—The left, the President, and my evolving thoughts on the fork.
The left attributes stagnant wages, high unemployment, and heightened economic scarcity to conservative Republican ideology, unregulated Wall Street bankers, and all-powerful corporations. The U.S., the left contends, is not a meritocracy. Within our laissez-faire free-market capitalist economy the wealthy have many more opportunities to advance than the poor; consequently, the rich get richer and the poor poorer. Increasing the wealthy’s taxes will reduce inequality, help more people find jobs and pay for health insurance, and give the majority of people with ordinary means a fighting chance.
The right, because they insist our economic problems can be fixed by a kind of American exceptionalism positive thinking, is failing to provide any kind of realistic roadmap that might help us negotiate the fork and create genuine, lasting forward momentum.
The left, because they insist it’s impossible for individuals and families to create any kind of economic security because the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” is so wide, is also failing to provide a hopeful, credible, compelling roadmap.
With an eye towards November 2012, the President tends to split the difference and articulates an American exceptionalism-lite that he couples with an unfailing belief that a renaissance in math and science education will help us reclaim our role as the world’s undisputed economic hegemon.
Neither political party’s platform offers any assurance that nearly enough decent paying jobs will be created, we’ll transition to alternative energy sources, health insurance and Medicaid will be affordable, and anyone but the already well-to-do will enjoy prosperity.
Despite the understandable fear and foreboding, I’m finding more inspiration from ordinary people living humble, simple, selfless lives, than from any political figure, party, or platform. People unmoved by materialism. People attuned to the limits of time. People who identify more as writers, artists, peacemakers, ecologists, and global citizens, than consumers. People relatively unperturbed by the fork because they’re on simpler pathways.
The wrap against minimalism or voluntary simplicity is that it’s boring. Sometimes minimalists deserve criticism for a one-size fits all mentality, but not for being boring. What’s boring is subjective. For me, inexpensive things like writing, preparing and enjoying a healthy meal with a few family members or friends, reading a good book, seeing an excellent film, working out, and watching basketball with the labradude are sufficiently exciting. I’m cool with other people thinking those things are uninteresting.
The natural reaction to our tough economic times and the fork in the woods is to be disappointed with having to live with less. On the other hand, it could be a catalyst for rethinking our taken for granted consumerist-materialist lifestyles.
Some will conclude, “An out-of-touch sentence that only a person who doesn’t have to live month-to-month or worry about basic needs could write.” I get that. I’m beyond fortunate. I’m not sharing my evolving thinking to convince anyone to give up anything, I just hope my musings about how much is enough and what’s most important resonates with some readers.
There’s a big difference between “voluntary simplicity” and “forced frugality”. A forced frugality mentality, “damn we can’t afford anything anymore,” breeds ever-increasing resignation and frustration. In contrast, a voluntary simplicity orientation that prioritizes health, interpersonal relationships, and service is liberating because not as much money is required, meaning not as many hours or years of work may be needed.
This reorientation is similar to my learning to eat more healthily. Initially, I didn’t particularly care for low sugar, non-fat, veggie and fruit based meals, but ten years later I prefer them. I don’t have to force myself to eat healthily, I prefer it. I don’t have to force myself to live relatively simply (by 2011 North American standards), I prefer it.
Wherever this non-work, simplicity journey takes me, I doubt I’ll ever reach a state of buddhist nirvana. I like to travel, I like cars, carbon fiber bicycles, nice hotels, and massage “therapy” too much. And not too proud to admit, I even like Million Dollar Listing on Bravo. Ample room for growth.
Next—The conclusion—Our children and the fork.
You make an important point Ron in that our attitudes about ourselves and how we visualize our lives in terms of wants and needs determine how we enjoy life, or not. Consumerism is what drives most people and is fed by an economic machinery that depends on consuming more, to the detriment of those things you find simple pleasures in – a healthy environment to exercise in, safe food, affordable health care, clean air and water.
But I guess I still see a need that we not only engage those who would defend this materialistic view but ensure that those who are less powerless have someone speak for them with our writing and our energy. Children and the elderly are more victims than we are because they lack the means to fight their battles to pursue any kind of life, even if it be the materialistic choice.
But you have provided food for thought that should serve to keep those of us who would fight windmills to consider all things at a realistic level and serve as an example of an alternate to consumerism
Very interesting – I’m teaching an Honors Course “Consumerism, Politics and Values” this semester, I’m going to send them a link to your blog posts here (that won’t generate a lot of hits because the class is small). We’re working through a lot of issues related not just to economics and politics, but identity, freedom, etc.
Thanks Scott, would love to look at the syllabus (or at least reading list) if you’re willing to share.