Apr 23 2012

Kumbayah in the Commune – Reflections on Elgin

Published by at 1:29 am under Reflection Blog

This was a very difficult article for me to get through. Elgin makes some very valid points about the value of voluntary simplicity, but his approach and tone really rubbed me the wrong way. If we could truly educate the world and somehow magically achieve worldwide mindset shift, then perhaps we could live in the utopia Elgin describes on p. 407:

 If we intend to live together peacefully as members of a single, human family, then each individual has a right to a reasonable share of the world’s resources. Each person has a right to expect a fair share of the world’s wealth sufficient to support a “decent” standard of living-one that provides enough food, shelter, education, and health care to enable people to realize their potentials as productive and respected members of the family of humanity.

Earlier when he was discussing the practices of voluntarily simplicity, Elgin said, “…there is no dogmatic formula for simple living, there is a general pattern of behaviors and attitudes that is often associated with this approach to living.” (Elgin 401/402).

I found this rather ironic, because he immediately followed this statement with a list of nearly 20 guidelines. Some of the guidelines were fairly common sense: (They “Tend to lower their overall level of personal consumption-buy less clothing with more attention to what is functional, durable, aesthetic, less concern with passing fads, fashions, and seasonal styles”), but others bordered on hippie ideals, such as boycotting companies for political reasons, alteration of “male-female roles in favor of nonsexist patterns of relationships” and “the eloquence of silence” and “the language of the eyes.” Barftastic! The table on 404, while I’m sure it is well meaning, really comes across as almost commune-like. It nearly makes me want to eschew the principles of “voluntary simplicity.”

I like Elgin’s thought process and the message he intended to relay, but I really, really, really disliked his delivery. If he wrote the entire article the way he wrote the last paragraph, I would have found it far less abrasive. In effort to learn a little more about Elgin and his motivation, I learned that this article was initially published in 1981. Our version (“with significant revisions”) was published in 1993 and yet a more current version was published in 2010. I’d be interested in comparing the newest to the older versions.

There were a couple of quotes that stood out for me, in addition to the ones I listed above. I have listed them below.

“Poverty is involuntary and debilitating whereas simplicity is voluntary and enabling.”  (Elgin 399)

“Ecological living is not a path of “not growth” but a bath of “new growth.” (Elgin 399)

– Sara

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