Sunday, August 17, 2008

A happy minimalism....

This weekend I had the pleasure of celebrating the publishing of my friend Peter Lawrence's book The Happy Minimalist and enjoy a glorious moonrise from his window that is shown on the cover of his book. He's treated to this moonrise, once and sometimes twice a month. My friend Peter has a very minimal carbon footprint through a minimal, and some may say ascetic lifestyle. For instance, he does not have a bed, does not have much furniture and his travel distance is quite small since he does not like to drive (correction: drive use to be travel. He likes to travel, but will avoid freeways. - 8/18). I don't realistically think his experience will translate to the population at large, and he admits as much.

Those limitations aside, he builds a good case for a minimalist lifestyle not only from a perspective of what is good for the planet, society, but also what is good for the individual. A particular point is our reliance on automobiles and a sedentary life is making us more obese as a nation. He also pulls from a range of sources in historical and contemporary literature to make the case that these are tried and true ideas. Making no claim to being ground breaking, it is a nice summarization of thought in support of a minimalist lifestyle.

The value of "The Happy Minimalist" is not in the descriptive reasons for his lifestyle, but the prescriptive remedies and suggestions he takes from his experience. He provides real usable tips for reducing the impact of your life and on your life that modern age throws us. For instance, what put Lawrence on the path of writing this book was his encounter with a doctor who prescribed medicine for a chronic condition. Upon further studying Lawrence decided that regimen of diet and exercise could correct the situation, something the doctors said was not possible. However months later his condition disappeared. I think this says more about our desire for a quick fix, but also our loss of critical thinking in matters of our planet and ourselves. I too had a similar medical experience where I was prescribed a drug for an ailment. I asked my doctor how that ailment could have arisen and he said you get old. I asked well how will I know that was the ailment, and he said take the drug and if it goes away you had the ailment. Bad logic. I ignored him and got better. In my previous posts on safety, I think the larger issue is a disengagement of ourselves from the world around us. Creating a world where we don't have to think does not make for a better life.

This absence of thinking leads to one of the greater ironies of the green movement (and the voluntary simplicity movement) is that it's portrayed as the domain of the liberal or the left. But really, these are return to a true conservatism. An acknowledgment of things that have worked for thousands of years and are proven. "Live within your means", "Eat less, exercise more", " make sure you leave something for tomorrow", "plan now". These are hardly radical ideas, but somehow we've lost them.

"The Happy Minimalist" is a brief primer that shares the experience of one person and there are some suggestions that are usable for everyone. (I appreciate his TV suggestions). However, I think the book is a good short read to get a sense of why and how to be a minimalist. However, , I would supplement it with other books from the voluntary simplicity movement first and foremost, Your Money or Your Life. No one book is going to address the change of our world view, but these and other books will increase the likelihood that more people will get exposure to a necessary change of perspective on how we live our lives.


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