Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rejecting complexity

"We worship at the altar of progress, and to the demigod of choice”
-Dr. Anjan Chatterjee M.D.

The bourgeois notion of “finding” yourself, your true voice, your ultimate being; what crap. Searching for your true voice in an atomist alienated consumer cultural vacuum is lunacy. In deciphering the appeal of hardcore sects like the Amish and the polygamist Jehovah one finds the subjugation of the self to the higher calling of family and community a central theme. This entails the conscious rejection of any input or behavior that does not support the chosen value structure; the honest pursuit of what is right to no end other than achieving right according to those values. The power of No.

Today in Iran one of the main vehicles that the regime uses to enforce its values is a state run soap opera that evidences the values and behavior amenable to the goals of the regime. It is no different here. Our regime feeds on high levels of consumption. Our regime is controlled by corporations hungry for that consumption. Our corporations own our media. It takes a very quiet mind to appreciate the depth of the need to sell the idea of buying and the sophistication and manipulative power of media. It permeates and directs our culture in very proactive and deliberate ways.

Being an extremely independent thinker (just ask my long suffering husband) I probably couldn't live under the yolk of a rigid religion. However, I am newly keen to the idea that the media now manifests as a rigid dogma itself. Our current troubles are an example of what happens when tribute is not delivered. By hook or by crook, all last ditch governmental flailing aside, that keg is tapped out.

Living according to values of family, community and sustainability with an eye to living simply so that others may simply live is the whole scale rejection of the consumer society, the assertion of the power of No.


  1. I've been thinking a lot about how ideas scale lately and one of the big stumbling blocks to imagining the simplicity that you are (rightly) urging, is how does it scale to what is, for all intents and purposes, a global economy?

    I find the idea of profit above everything to be indefensible and reprehensible. But how do you scale simplicity so that we can have the technology that allows a child in Vermont to instantly chat with a child in India, or to build and deploy the Hubble Telescope, or to allow people being repressed the technology to send pictures and messages taken from phones to people half a world away instead of waiting for journalists to show up.

    I'm not saying simplicity can't scale to a global environment. I hope it will someday. But we need to find models and experiments that can inspire us to imagine such a world and not simply accept this one or wish all of the complexities away (which, btw, is NOT what I think you are saying).

  2. This is a common stumbling block. How do we live simpler, richer lives that incorporate technolgy to it's highest use without getting bogged down by it's purulent applications. I think the problem lies in depending on free markets as allocative devices. As a very wise man once said "The market is the worst system for organizing a society, except for all the others. There lies the tragedy" I don't think you can get a moral society without imposing moral mandates on people. Which is kinda what this post was all about. Gotta love when things go full circle like that : )

  3. But can you really have a moral society if the morals are imposed in a top-down structure?

  4. I think a majority of people can come to agree on certain set of ideals that imply certain limitations and directions on resource allocation. If people can overcome their myths and see where their true interests lie, I think this can be done democratically. Fundamental to this equation is that the process be regional. I think this is impossible on a national level. http://www.vtcommons.org/

  5. This post is from Jim:

    "You have to confront one simple fact: Globalization would be impossible without the internet and computers i.e. your revered "technology" and it is globalization that is destroying simplicity. Most of the people in the world live very simple lives and they like it that way. They live in villages and raise corn or rice or sheep or goats as the case may be. The don't need or want western "technology." Indeed, it is technology that destroys simplicity. The problem is that the globalizing powers that be won't leave them alone. They pass "free trade treaties" that destroy the basis of their lives, their villages and local economies. The drive them out of their milpas to make coffee plantations. The burn their forest to grow soybeans or to raise cattle. They cut down forest to make chopsticks for Japan. One million small Mexican farmers lost their farms after NAFTA allowed subsidized US maize to flow over the border (so guess where they are now?). The point is we don't need to achieve simplicty and sustainability we need to protect it and stop detroying it by proxy in the name of gadgets and the trivial, probably spurious, benefits they provide. All over the world simple and sustainable societies are be eradicated along with the forests they live in, the reefs that they fish, the grasslands on which they pasture their animals, and the land that they farm. China's Three Gorges Dam will drown thousands of villages and displace 5 million people living simple, sustainable lives, but hey, their kids will be able to talk to an American on the internet with the electricity the dam will produce (until it silts up or an earthqualke takes it down.) But the bright side is we get more cheap gadgets made by these now desperate, displaced simple people who now labor, if they are lucky, in a Chinese sweatshop making "stuff" for us. Ted Kuzinski aka the unibomber in his manifesto claimed that the industruial revolution aka "technology" was a disaster for the human race. Ted may have been crazy but he was not stupid. Technolgy has made life more complex and dangerous for all of the world's people, and it will prove our ultimate undoing. The less we fetishize it, the better. But, the genie is out of the bottle, human greed, arrogance, anthropocentrism, and myopia will do the rest."

  6. Jim, if you are referring to my comments about technology when you are using terms like "revere" and using scare quotes around technology, I would like to know why you think I revere technology over human life? The questions I raised were just that, questions, and I was not making speeches about technology or claiming that we should revere it or that there are not significant problems attached to materialist cultures that value technology over human life.

    I would also point out that humans did quite well inflicting tremendous amounts of misery and pain on each other, as well as creating global networks of global domination, colonization and slave trades long before the computer and the internet.

    The question for me is if, as you say, the genie is already out of the bottle, how do we begin to reconcile humanity's endlessly curious and inventive nature with a care and respect for the lives and well-being of other people as well as the the world around us? How do we find ways to explore the universe around us while protecting ourselves and our world from our basest instincts?

    Personally, I think the system of capitalism bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for the negative impacts various technologies have had on the world because the very nature of that economic system is to privilege profit over persons.

    I would also be hesitant to speak for other people when it comes to what they would like. Seeing as technology can help deliver clean water, or the ability for women in India to bring attention to the violences perpetrated against them, or can open the world of education or science to a child who, a generation ago, might have only had the opportunity to raise corn or rice or sheep or goats but might now have the drive and opportunity to become a doctor or a scientist, who am I to keep new developments from developing countries? Who are we to say what those villages want or don't want.

    Of course forcing change and abusing people and taking advantage of poverty and privileging profit over the lives of anyone is wrong. But that is part and parcel of an economic system and not inherent in the creation and use of various technologies.

    Finally, I beg to differ that there is any "one simple fact" when it comes to trying to be better people and create better forms of community and government and economic structures. We are a complex and contradictory species and nothing we do will ever be simple.

  7. Came across this article and thought it appropriate for the context of this discussion.



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