Simplicity

by on Thursday, 06 May 2010 Comments
[dropcap cap="T"]here might be nothing more difficult today than living a simple life… We live in complex, intricate and perpetually evolving social and technological systems, and we are supposed to understand them, to adapt to them and to conform to the various requirements that they impress upon us. For sure, new technological systems and the social networks they generate are supposed to be user-friendly, even 'fun.' Indeed, our capacity to adapt to them largely comes from our taste for all things new, from the thrill associated with innovation. However, the 'fun' of innovation often degenerates into new constraints, accrued expenses and increased complexity. The management of complexity has become an essential feature of our life, probably diminishing the time available for free and creative thinking.
As just noted, accrued financial constraints go with increased technological complexity. Simplicity of life becomes a dream, a mirage, and we do know that the burden of our needs and expenses alienates us from our nature and from the most basic pleasures of existence. The new entertainments that technology generates make us much less available for the simple joys of walking, listening to streams and to birds, spending time with friends or just doing nothing…[/dropcap]

The point here is not to entertain the nostalgia the past, to come back to a mode of life that, for most of us, has become unattainable. But “simplicity” can and must remain a kind of regulatory principle. When we are confronted with technological, cultural or economic choices, we are entitled to ask ourselves “will such a purchase, such a decision introduce more or less complexity into my existence?”… and to act accordingly. Simplicity might be less a state of things than a driving force. We can still be aiming at simplicity, thus trying to unify our life according to a few guiding principles.

Aiming at simplicity means that we do not want to be dispossessed of our life and our choices, and that we wish to remain the masters of our existence. Simplicity is to be found first and foremost in our head and our heart. Each time we see clearly that such or such a need is not vital for us, that we are still able to reform our life, to let it go, to resist the tyranny of the objects in our life, we are becoming more 'simple', more unified in heart and mind. Ultimately, 'simplicity' and 'freedom' are the two faces of the same coin. Making these values the cornerstone of our existence might require some sacrifices, but they are certainly worthwhile.


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Ultimately, 'simplicity' and 'freedom' are the two faces of the same coin.

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Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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