Simplicity III

Simplicity ought to be our mode of daily life but what is simplicity? So many books and articles tell us that simplicity is frugality or time management, or “back to the land” or streamlined furnishings. The literal opposite of simplicity being complexity, then perhaps simplicity is merely reductionism in the affairs of one’s life, like Thoreau’s advice to cut our entanglements from a hundred to two or three. But the most challenging way of looking at simplicity is as a “secular” asceticism. Asceticism carries within itself the criteria for leveling and reducing, for prioritizing and sifting. Asceticism is both quantitative (how many) and qualitative (how well done). Asceticism is the basis of the simplicity that ranges from Zen wabi-sabi to Quaker “plainness” to Gandhi’s ahimsa to E. F. Schumacher’s “Buddhist economics.” Asceticism resolves forms of labor, consumption, inter-personal relations, use of natural resources, aesthetics and creativity, and a psychology of well-being. It is far more encompassing and more compelling than simplicity, but modern audiences prefer the word simplicity because of its very ambiguity.