Daniel Doherty and Amitai Etzioni's "Voluntary Simplicity" is not one the books that I've had the chance to read. It also was never on my list of Etzioni books I thought I should read. Apparently his studies show him that after a certain wage is achieved (40k?) Americans don't get any happier because of their "wealth." He suggests we "rethink" the idea that wealth equals happiness. He's a leader in the accusation that Americans are greedy consumers movement. But how does he live in Washington D.C.? How big is his house? Does he have running water and sewer and garbage services? Does he chop his own firewood, does he ride a cheap garage sale bike to his meetings and luncheons? Where does he shop? Are his suits from Value Village?
Our life is one of authentic volunteer simplicity, and it's pretty weird to find Etzioni at the helm of this movement, also referred to as "simple living." Here's a guy who loves to preach about so many things he calls himself "the everything expert," but his resume gives no sign of hardships or struggle to gain so much wisdom about so many simple things. He writes so many books and obviously holds a position that pays well enough for him to travel all over the world to meetings at the Hague and the Vatican and Solomon's Temple... does he fly coach or first-class?
I can't help but wonder about the Vassar professor who put our manifesto alongside Etzioni's theory of voluntary simplicity. Was there a point? What are we to think about the purpose for including us in the debate? Did the class reach consenus on the meaning of Quality of Life?
Studying Etzioni demolished the quality of my life. It was embarassingly impossible for me to hold a full-time job and study Etzioni's philosophy, language and legal system. I not only had to find the documents but I also organized my research into a (farily) comprehensive format that could be used by attorneys and laymen both. My research was unfunded and ridiculed by most people I knew back then, especially after I chose to give up a few things that required full time wages. First I gave up my city housing and went camping, but to my family and friends I was "homeless." My gertees developed out of my need for a better tent with an inside fire. Then I gave up eating, but I got too skinny and scared my friend Patty; now I see the actual and critical value in having regular food. All along I haven't called my lifestyle anything, because I didn't even know it had a name. And now I find myself smack dab in the middle of a sustainable get back to nature concept that's been co-opted by the communitarian elites. Go figure.
Here's a good example of the difference between me and Etzioni. He writes about it, I live it. My life experience shows me that in order to live the simple life you need a LOT of things you don't have when you live an ordinary life. You need lots of water jugs and a hose and a source to get it from, or you need a 300 gallon water tank on the back of a truck and a storage tank in your house somewhere that pumps it into your system. You need a woodstove and a LOT of wood, which if you get it yourself means driving to the woods, cutting down trees and then all the branches and slicing it into manageble logs and then chainsawing it into smaller pieces which then need to be split with an axe and a hatchet into even smaller pieces. Wood has to be carried and stacked, outside piles must be covered with a waterproof tarp. Tarps are necessities, and the blue ones are not exactly earth friendly. And it doesn't end there, especially not if you cook with wood. Wood chips have to swept constantly or they get into everything. Dust blows. Water has to be heated for dishes and the dirty water has to be taken outside and thrown someplace... and if you use a honey bucket (or a chamber pot) this too has to be carried outide, dumped somewhere and rinsed every day. Then there's the garbage (everything is packaged in triplette nowdays). It all has to be burned or buried and these are both yukky, yukky hard jobs. This life requires SO many things I never had laying around my house in Seattle... or Fairbanks for that matter.
When I first started my "simple" living I had nothing I needed to make my life even the slightest bit easier, and I have "consumed" more since I began this lifestyle than at ANY other time of my life, even when I was married to an Alaskan pipeliner who lives to shop. I build what I need and so I've slowly bought or begged the things I knew I needed to build my gertee and keep it viable, and I'm still dreaming about the purchases I'd like to make in the future. I would love to have goats, chickens, yaks, llamas, horses, a garden, a greenhouse, a hot water system, solar panels and batteries, a propane cookstove and a compost toilet. These are the things that make life better by providing essential ingrediants, and they don't come cheap. It costs to go "off the grid" and try a "sustainable" or holistic approach, and the bottom line is there's nothing in this lifestyle that's simple, except maybe the way I meet each day. I start by remembering what my grandma Henrietta told me was her secret to happiness. She said, "Do something you hate to do that has to be done as soon as you wake up, and then for the rest of the day you can be happy it's over." When it's fourty below outside and the fire's out and there's no wood in the box, it's easy to lay in a warm sleeping bag and hope somebody else will get up and start the fire.
I'd like to see Etzioni live all winter in a gertee in interior Alaska, as a "volunteer ACL student" of course. Would he do what we've done in order to study OUR thesis? Would you?