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Monday, October 10, 2011

The many names of simplicity

Everywhere you go, whether you want to or not, you can hear the call. Simplify!

Deep down we know that this rat race was not designed with our happiness in mind, it was designed to keep us running. We know that we cannot keep up with the Joneses, we cannot continue on this path we have been on. We know that something must change.

There are dozens of movements that emphasize simplicity, and I plan on taking a look at many of them. The first I want to look at is distributism. The reason behind this is that distributism is what got me interested in simplicity in the first place.

Essentially distributism is an economic system based upon Catholic social teaching. The Catholic church says that there is a certain way that humanity is supposed to act toward each other as a society. Now before someone says "but I am not Catholic", I would say, it doesn't matter. Read some Catholic social teaching or distributist works, and see if what they say makes sense. See if you can find the parallels to your own life, and see if you agree with the system or not.

Essentially distributism is the idea that under an ideal system, as many people would be self employed as possible, unless they chose to work for/with others. If your employer has skills or leadership that you do not possess you might choose to work for them. If you need a group of people in order to purchase the necessary property to produce a product, you would band together and form a cooperative.

Distributism sees agriculture, manufacturing, and mining as the only real sources of wealth. It is in these areas where something is taken, labor infuses more value into it, and then it can be sold/traded at enhanced value. I would say that some service industries fall into this category as well, as they can use their expertise and labor to add value that otherwise would not be there.

Distributism emphasizes the small and the local. It emphasizes that a good product is one that can be changed according to the local demands and environment, while a bad one is universal everywhere. One of the early distributist made this point with an essay on cheese vs. soap. Cheese has a thousand unique forms, and everywhere is slightly different, while the soap in all of the places he visited was exactly the same, even the same brand.

There are five books that I would recommend to those looking at distributism.

The first is What is wrong with the World by G.k. Chesterton. In this book Chesterton investigates Hudge and Gudge, personifications of big government and big business. He looks at the issues that face him in turn of the century Britain and I think you will find that we have not resolved these issues.

The next book is A Utopia of Usurers again by Chesterton. In this book Chesterton looks at various ways in which the world conspires to keep the system afloat, and how real people fight against it.

The last book by Chesterton is The Outline of Sanity a book written to give a hopeful look at the way out of the mess that was facing Britain and is facing it and other countries still. This book gives a blueprint to setting up an alternative economic system.

Unfortunately the next two are not available free on the web. They are both by Chesterton's contemporary and friend Hilaire Belloc.

The First is The Servile State in which Belloc describes how the concentration of productive property in the hands of a few people eventually creates a nation of servants.

The next is An Essay on the Restoration of Property. This is Bellocs view of how productive property could be restored to a large amount of people and the servile state could be avoided.

Distributism is a system that realizes that people are not perfect, and promises no utopia. What it seeks to deliver is a system in which one persons greed can be moderated by the constraints of the economic system, rather than enabled by it. Distributism is one of the few systems that claims there will never be a Utopia, and that the system itself must constantly evolve as it faces new challenges. Most notably, it is a system that emphasizes people, not collectively, but individually. It does not say that parties or governments or markets will show the way to live, but individuals, neighbors, and friends will.


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