Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Simplicity and Obama’s Inaugural Address

If anyone wonders what the Simplicity movement is about, they need only read Obama’s inaugural speech, because his underlying themes strongly support the values of this movement. Let me select a few of his phrases (in bold face) to show you what I mean.

First, most basic of all, Simplicity is about challenging the belief system that the pursuit of wealth is the ultimate human goal. Or, as Obama put it, the greatness of the United States has not been built by those who “ seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.” He goes further — he blames our crumbling economy on “greed and irresponsiblity.” Obama understands that there is more to life than making money.

But the Simplicity movement advocates more than just personal downshifting in order to experience the satisfactions that come from reducing our outward wealth so that we have greater inner wealth. We also are committed to policies that create greater national well being — in particular, an economy that reduces the gap between the rich and the poor. Why? Because a large wealth gap creates a cutthroat economy with people scrambling for more, worried they’ll be left out in the cold. This mad scramble creates a society of “me first” that undermines the common good. The only way we can be free of this obsession with more is when that gap is reduced and we are equal and we realize that we’re all in this together.

As Obama puts it, we must “promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.... and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

Obama also focuses on some of the specifics of the Simplicity movement. One of our central concerns is that our egregious consumerism, which is based on oil, destroys the earth and sends us into wars: As Obama puts it, “each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.” He continues: that we must “roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

Obama echoes one of the Simplicity movement long standing protests: that the US has only 5% of the Earth’s population, but uses more than 25% of the world’s energy: “And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect.”

Finally, those of us in the Simplicity movement have long advocated regulation of the economy — Obama says that “this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control.”

Further, those of us who have been spokespersons for the Simplicity movement have always been challenged with the taunt: “What if everyone cut back on their spending? What would that do to the economy?” Well, it wasn’t us who undermined the economy! It was the reckless spenders, both large and small! We in the Simplicity movement continue to answer that question with : “What’s an economy for? So that s few can become egregiously rich? Or is it for the greater good for the greater number?” To bring about that change we need regulation.

Obama’s expression of the values of the Simplicity movement is very inspiring. But there’s one little item that I suspect few people really appreciated: He spoke of “the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job.” The Simplicity movement has long advocated a reduction of work hours as a way to improve people’s well being. And in these times, it’s interesting to note that this was a strategy used during the Depression: The Kellog Company reduced the work week to thirty hours so that they could spread the jobs around and reduce unemployment. No only did this help with the economy, but the Kellog workers came to understand one of the central tenants of the Simplicity movement: We must have more time for the things that are important. We can’t spend all of our hours in the workplace. Our health, our relationships — and even our democracy — all suffer.

When we talk about living simply, it’s not just about saving the planet or the economy, it’s about having the time for friends, family, and citizen involvement — relationships. The happiness research tells us that, after a certain point, more money does not increase happiness. The core of happiness is relationships, and our time starved, frenetic lifesyles, in their pursuit of “the pleasures of riches and fame,” have robbed us of that happiness.

It’s clear that Obama understands the Simplicity movement, and those of us in the movement who worked hard for his election can feel particularly gratified.

No comments:

Post a Comment