Saturday, July 24, 2010

Not so simple

Ah, the simple life. Whatever *that* is. Everybody wants it; nobody can define it. Magazines like Real Simple make too easy of a target, providing a better-than-satire example of how our society can even turn anti-commercialism into a commercial goldmine.

The trouble is, simplicity is so hard to define. I once heard a friend (who can be excused from full rationality by being in love) extol the "simple pleasure" of riding ATVs. It always seems to me that the simplest possible human existence would be sitting at a desk all day filling out forms, then coming home to eat frozen pizza and watch sitcoms. Somehow, it never seems that this is what is meant.

It has a bit of an alliance with frugality, in not buying unnecessary stuff, but it would turn up its nose at frugality's hoard of stashed half-worn-out children's clothes. It seems to have a romantic attachment to getting back-to-nature, though anybody who thinks killing chickens and using an outhouse is simple has gotten no closer to nature than Little House on the Prairie reruns.

Simplicity is a luxury item, available primarily to the well-to-do and/or relationally unencumbered. The poor cannot afford the simple life, because they really might need that stuff some day and not have the resources to obtain it again. They could try to reject the various complicated requirements of modern society like safe transportation and clean clothing, but if they have kids, somebody's going to call the cops on them.

Simplicity is an admirable aesthetic ideal. Unfortunately, it often gets pressed into service as a moral code of right living, a task to which it is unequal. Morals all come in balance, but nobody raises a counter-ethic of useful complexity. The decor would be simpler without that tacky Star Wars diorama, but would it be kind? Thanksgiving dinner would be simpler without Crazy Uncle Larry, but would it be just? It makes pretty magazine pictures, but for real life, we need something a bit more well-rounded and accountable to something outside our own prejudices.


Silvia said...

Wondeful post, very well written...oh, the simple life, it's as you say an ideal that looks always greener on somebody else backyard or homestead, doesn't it?
I just come from a consuming day at the kitchen making fig jam and cooking dinner (I still have kitchen and floors to clean), something that in the past others used to do in their 'simple' life, but that for some reason made mine sticky and complicated.

Wendy said...

Very true post. I saw a copy of that magazine at a doctor's office and it made me laugh. It would cost me so much more to be "frugal" their way!

It did make me think of your "house inhabited by lemon eating monks," though, and that always gives me a chuckle!