At a time when technological advances and consumerism have a disproportionate weight in the way people interact with each other and with the planet, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the concept of voluntary simplicity. Simplicity should not be confused with simplification but as something reduced to its essence, stripped it of all unnecessary complexity. Simplicity can certainly be sought in relation to lifestyle (for spiritual or environmental reasons, as opposition to consumerism, or in the search for happiness), but it also forms an essential part of the decisions that we must make in the next years if we want to solve conceptual issues like food and health.
These ideas are not new: The Essenians, the Epicurians, the Stoic and Cynical schools of Antisthenes, Buddhism, and Grey Friars all incorporate simplicity in their teaching. In more recent times Shakers, Mennonites, Quakers and Amish communities, and also thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Ivan Illich and Pierre Rabhi provide us with different but recognizable nuances of simplicity.
Ecological and green movements came up with the eco-village concept as a reduction of superfluous consumerism- a criticism of wild capitalism, globalization and prevailing neo-liberalism. For some of us, it is simply an exercise of justice and ethics.
The Essenes were an ascetic Jewish movement that lived in Israel between 1 BC to 2 AD. One group settled in Qumran in the desert near the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apocryphal Gospels were discovered. Thanks to archeology, we know they lived in small buildings with gardens where they grew their food. They baked their Essene bread (which is actually a cake made from wheat germ, and has high nutritional value) on their roofs beneath the sun. They rejected trade, and, according to the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, they lived "sine pecunia", i.e., without money.
(Img: Ruins of Qumrán. Desert of Judea)
The Amish, Mennonites and Quakers voluntarily set their technological limits at the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. Their rejection of cars, televisions, telephones and electricity may seem like a radical choice, but has the inevitable consequence of encouraging local community collaboration. Some Amish groups permit the use of 12v DC electricity; the reasoning is that DC limits the uses of electricity to things like welding, recharging batteries, and powering milking machines, but the use of hair dryers and televisions is still impossible
Rigid community norms have the effect of virtually no existence of violence, robbery or conflicts, and a strong social cohesion expressed in mutual help. These communities give a home to those who have suffered a fire, or combine constructing a building in a single day with everybody working for free. Interestingly, a community like this in Paraguay is indistinguishable from one in the USA or Canada, meaning money is not the key to quality of life.
Snapshot of the film “Witness” with Harrison Ford, in which an Amish community builds a barn house for a young couple in a single day.
Ernst Friedrich Schumacher (1911-1977) was an intellectual and economist who, like other Germans living in England during World War Two was held in a Prisoner of War camp. There he discovered manual labour, and the contact with a simpler reality allowed him to develop an economic theory that was captured in his book “Small is Beautiful- a study of economics as if people mattered”, now considered one of the most important books of the last decades.
Masanobu Fukuoka (1913 – 2008) was a Japanese microbiologist who, after a transcendental crisis decided to become an agriculturist. Thanks to his scientific background, and a keen observational capacity, he began to reconsider the way clementines and rice were traditionally grown and discovered that a natural abundance of crops can be obtained pest free and with hardly any labour. He explains his method for natural agriculture in his book “One Straw Revolution”.
In 1988 he received the Ramon Magasysay prize (The Asian equivalent to the Nobel Peace prize) for excellence in his field. Like Gandhi, Schumacher, and Pierre Rabhi, he developed a detachment from consumer society and a philosophy where the potential of manual labour as spiritual healing was re-discovered.
Pierre Rabhi is a French agriculturist, writer and philosopher of Algerian origin who champions agro-ecology, and calls for the people to return to the land. After working at a factory, he decided that this was not the way of life he wanted, and in a precursor of the neo-rural movement he moved to Ardèche in 1960, while hundreds of peasants made the opposite journey, looking for a better life in the cities.
From the beginning, he decided not to follow the models recommended by agronomists, and instead combined biodynamic farming with goat herding. As an agricultural educator, he lead programmes in permaculture in Algeria, Benin, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Palestine, Tunisia, Togo, Poland and The Ukraine. In 1992 he launched the Chenini-Gabés Oasis rehabilitation programme in Tunisia. He is also the founder of the Terre et Humanisme association, which is dedicated to the practical exercise of food sovereignty and promoting the autonomy of the people.
- Du Sahara aux Cévennes
- Le gardien du feu
- L'offrande au crépuscule
Participación en el documental "Sous les pavés, la Terre".
Downshifting is choosing a simpler life as a social reaction to compulsive materialism and the inherent stress that comes with it, even if that means the loss of social status and purchasing power. One of the objectives of downshifting is to have more time to spend with family and friends, and for self-development.
Downshifting, slow movement, voluntary simplicity, and appropriate technology all relate to a stream of political, economic, and social thinking that fosters a reduction in production, and equilibrium between humans, other living creatures, and our planet. From this position, slowing down is not recoil or a drawback, but a return to normality after a hypertrophy disguised as growth. Slowing down is also related to generation equity and mutual help among the inhabitants of the biosphere. For example, it is immoral to accept that 29% of the population is overweight while 22% go hungry. Nor is it acceptable that hundreds of species face extinction so that one can go on compulsively consuming.