|Diogenes and Alexander|
The Greek philosopher Diogenes used to live in a barrel. When the famed conqueror Alexander the Great came to his town, he went to visit to Diogenes, and offered him whatever he wished. Digenes, in response, asked him to move slightly to the side, so that he would not block the sun shining on him.
Most of us would prefer to live in something slightly larger than a barrel, and require a bit more than just sunlight. But, inbetween our modern consumerist society, with its emphasis on consuming more and more, and Diogenes, we might find a middle path, a more sane path than that of the modern world. If we look far enough back, to the world of hunter gatherers, we find a society living very simple lives, yet one in which for the most part people had all their needs satisfied. This society has been called (by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins) “The original affluent society”. Even in contemporary societies of hunter gatherers, hemmed in by modern society, people usually only need 20 hours of gathering a week to fulfil the food requirements. The rest of the time is spent in company, playing music, storytelling, and other enjoyments of life. Yet, they can eat up to 200 different plants, and enjoy good health, usually living up to 65-75 years (once they have passed the first 15 years).
With the change to an agricultural society, as documented by researcher Jared Diamond, and as told symbolically in the book “Ishmael” people began to consume beyond their basic needs, to accumulate wealth, and the race over who has the most began. And, at the same time, the desire to return to the simple lifestyle also began, as witnessed by Diogenes, as also in the Jewish saying (from Pirkei Avot) “the more possesions, the more worries”.
But, despite this warning, Man did not stop gathering new possessions, but rather tried to have more and more. All through history there have been many movements which sought to simplify life – the Essenes in Israel, the Taoists in China, various monks and sects in the Christian and Muslim worlds (such as St. Francis, or Rumi). In the 20th century, this movement received a name – “Simple Living", sometimes also called "voluntary simplicity". The name itself was coined in the 1930s, but recently, with the ascent of the Consumerist society, and the never ending race after more and more possessions, that in themselves become obsolete ever faster (like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, running with all her strength, just to stay in the same place), there has quietly risen another voice. A voice calling to stop and look around us, to concentrate on the important issues in our lives. On our health, our relationships, the joy in our life, on our connection and impact on Nature, on the World.
This is not a call to burn and destroy all modern appliances and to return to the lives of hunter gatherers. In a world of 8 billion people, this is probably an impossible task, eben if we wished to do so. But we certainly can try and follow a saner, more reasonable way to live in this world. In this context I would like to mention 2 examples. The first being that if the
lowered meat consumption by just 20%, it would release enough resources to feed all the people suffering from starvation. The other is that just 10% of the annual advertising budget would be enough to feed the starving of this world. US
We cannot solve the problems of this world, but in the spirit of “Think globally, act locally”, we can change our own lives, and to various degrees, the lives of thos surrounding us, and so be part of the process happening all over the globe.
In my future posts, I will try and give a few tips regarding how to change our lifestyles. However, I will start with the first guideline given to a Permaculture designer – before you start to design something new – go lay on your hammock, rest and observe your surroundings. By observing you will gain insights into your environment, insight into what is importanty, and what less so, insights into what needs to be done at this stage. Only after going through this stage, and gaining a slightly deeper understanding of what is happening, can we dive into the many technical issues, and start searching for specific answers to specific issues.