Thursday, May 1, 2008

Voluntary Simplicity- Responding to Consumer Culture by Amitai Etzioni

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?


Leonard Nevarez said...

Greetings from Poughkeepsie, NY.   I'm sure you were surprised to find your blog linked to my Quality of Life course syllabus at Vassar College.   The surprise was returned when one of my students showed me today that we were the subject of your blog.   The class read through your blog, and I've encouraged students to take you up on your request, incorporate your ideas in their coming paper assignments or otherwise address them to you, and send you the relevant essays.
I found your blog on Google when I was searching on "communitarianism" to find something to show-and-tell the class in my April 22 lecture, not as an example of voluntary simplicity (although we found the contrast you made with Amitai Etzioni's version very instructive) but to underscore the communitarian theme that is not explicitly addressed in his book. Wow, did I find just the right source with your blog and the Anti-Communitarian Manifesto!
The course doesn't endorse a particular vision of quality of life, for what it's worth. There's simply too many possible visions, probably as many as there are people, and it would be authoritarian and anti-intellectual of me to dismiss some of them as unworthy of consideration. Instead, the course is an exercise in the sociology of knowledge, as we try to think about the social contexts in which certain ideas and perspectives – in this case, quality of life" in all its variations – become popular.   That's an issue that I wrestle with in my own thinking, so I focus on giving students the tools to think about it for themselves.
That said, I am increasingly persuaded by the argument by Robert Bellah et al. in Habits of the Heart , which suggest that what's common to both sides of the debate between communitarians (New Urbanism, the so-called voluntary simplicity movement, etc.) and libertarians (illustrated in our class by Randal O'Toole's book, The Best Laid Plans ) is – surprise! – an underlying framework of individualism. And as these dueling perspectives increasingly shape the debate, what gets lost is the classic republican tradition that asks citizens to temper their self-interest with “civic virtue,” which requires genuine consideration of and engagement with people's different interests. The basis for Bellah's argument can be gleaned here, but obviously more could be said.
I don't even know how I feel about the decline of the republican tradition. It may be part and parcel of modern life, so maybe not much can be done about.   And Bellah's examples of the republican tradition come from religion, something I personally am not too keen on.   But to quote from the course description that you quoted from, this among other things is what is at stake if we subordinate other conceptions of the common good to this most subjective and individualistic of ideas, 'quality of life.'
Back to grading papers! Thanks for the mention.

Anonymous said...

Well this seems like it could potentially be the beginning of a productive engagement with the intellgentsia type community.

I don't know this class, but I find it extremely interesting that the professor refers to 'too many possible visions' and 'all its variations'. But then, I gather, for some sort of intellectual or pedagogical reasons he (apparently) boils the class down to communitarians v. libertarians.

To me that seems like a pretty either/or type arrangement. I don't want to say dialectical, but I have a hard time picturing any course of study where communitarianism and libertarianism would very well represent the philosophical spectrum on an issue.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly right. I often tell people who have a kind of an intellectual desire to go back to nature that they do not even begin to realize what they would be getting themselves in for.

Wait til you pick up a walnut fresh off the tree and the husk is literally bursting with maggots for example. I doubt Etzioni has ever done that.

But the real issue is not back-to-nature-ism or whatever. It is about control. Back-to-nature probably just does well in the focus group surveys as a covering rationale. The point is control and consolidation of power.

S. said...


Your most recent post is raw. It cuts right to the true nature of the issues. I love it.

Etzioni's ideas are not his own. They come from a higher source--a hidden one. Douglas Reed's "Controversy of Zion" completely explains the part of esteemed advisors like ole' Amatai. When he has served his purpose they will cast him aside. They might even make him go by his given name first. It happened to Hertzl, Weizman, and House and it will happen to Werner just as well.

I'm excited to see you gaining exposure to a "higher learning" facility. I must say that I'm dissapointed to see the teacher clings to ideas like "republican tradition", or "communitarianism vs. libertarianism". I'll admit it does not suprise me.

Personally I am a republican-communitarian-libertarian. But I'm voting for Hillary and Obama.

Did you see that Ron Paul wrote a book called "Revolution: A Manifesto"...? If that title does not wake some people up: I guess they are truly brain dead.

I hope all is well with you and yours. The photos are great. The new puppy was so cute I didn't even notice Freddy behind him!

Yall take it easy now.


Devvy Kidd is an associate the Power Hour! Don't trust her based on nomenclature!! :D

Anonymous said...

You are the best.

the tent lady said...

Professor Naverez, thank you for taking the time to respond to my post and for explaining how we ended up in your class. I think it's fantastic that professors use the internet to find and include alternative opinions about such important topics as the libertarian/communitarian divide.

I'm looking forward to reading any essays that address my theory about the representative sides. I disagree with Bellah. I think the underlying common ground between the sides is they're ultimate communitarians. I don't think the debate between them is authentic because my research has shown me that they both promote the ultimate goals laid out in Agenda 21.

Quality of life is not only a vague term that has many different meanings. As with all communitarian phrases it's also a term used to define changes to public policy in countries across the globe. The Seattle Police Department rewrote their number one mission statement to promote quality of life. The same term was used repeatedly by Seattle public officials when explaining their drastic police activities in my neighborhood. The Director of the Department of Neighborhoods defended SWAT teams serving health warrants and taking 13 rental tennants as hostages as "sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the common good."

I suppose I really don't approach this work as an academic because I don't think about the social contexts where these ideas are popular. My only concern is where these ideas are dangerous.

My conception of the "common good" is that it is a Hegelian term that loosely defines a system of legalized tyranny.

If Hegel designed his dialectic to help bring on the world spirit, and his Idea of spirit can only evolve after everyone agrees to be a slave to the world state, then is it not possible that any "new" theory of government based in Hegelian thinking is also a theory promoting slavery to the state? Are American scoiology students taught the history of Etzioni's communitarian theory? Does anyone in academia actually believe his claim that the whole idea for it just came into his head one day during lunch?

I'm not quite sure how to keep this dialogue going, but I would like to encourage anyone to comment who has an opinion on this topic. Thanks to the visitors who already did, and yes, I too am interested in a productive engagement with the intelligentsia. I've been writing professors on and off for so many years and now that one has found me on his own I'm not sure where to go next. I don't really want to debate yet because I don't know where our argument stands in this debate. The students papers will help a lot in this respect, so I do hope they'll honor us with their views.

And yes, I agree, it is all about consolidation of power and control over everyone. How do we get upper academia to consider that in a class? Maybe they'll be willing to do it here instead. We'll see.

S - The new puppy is golden lab and wolf/malemute. Nice mutt, mellow, a perfect first dog for Fred. What's a republican-communitarian-libertarian? :)

Bobby said...

Students in higher academia in 2008 were first processed through the public education system. As such, it is a near certainty that they have already become firm believers in moral relativism. In that environment, no one has ever been able to tell them they were wrong about anything. For example, sex is harmless if you use a condom. No child left behind means that none are allowed to excel. Since preschool, they have been told that their own opinions and ideas must submit to the group of peers. What masquerades as free thought among them is merely contrived debate and a facilitated consensus.

Therefore, they will have no qualms about defining "quality of life". There may be disagreement among them, but they know what it is, and when they come to consensus, they will not hesitate to apply it, such as you witnessed in Seattle by the generation of their parents.

Niki, when you place your argument within the framework of a debate, you will have agreed to the rules of debate, and you will be forced to accept the consensus produced by the debate. Your argument so swept aside will never need to be taken seriously again in any intellectual discussions.

These are the cold hard facts as understood by one who has studied the methods and processes of deception.

Anonymous said...

To me, you are not living outside the dialectic, you are a victim of it. Victim, in the sense, that you only delve so far with it, you need to go deeper. Don't even worry that some professor and his students at Vassar are reading you. Its validation, but what kind of validation is it? Like Bobby says do you actually think some kid at Vassar is going to get it? A professor at Vassar he doesn't get it. Why should his students?

Don't waste your time with that. Just keep going deeper. You can be a scholarly, intellectual spiritual person. You are the shaman. Be the shaman, go deep deep deep Niki.

I love you very much.

Bobby said...

Voluntary Simplicity is a self manifest fraud. We don't need to read the book to prove it. Just reading the table of contents and preface is enough. Using the "pious simplicity" of the Quakers and Puritans as an example of a model for the future is very telling in that it presents us with a contradiction which they would have us either ignore or accept their justification for it. That justified contradiction is the only basis of support for their intended facilitated consensus derived model for voluntary simplicity.

The Quakers and Puritans grew out of a social movement known as The Reformation. The same movement which produced the Baptists, Methodists and all the other protestant religions. Like all movements the Reformation had its leaders and entourage of believers who presumably all volunteered. The basis for that volunteerism was the generally widespread recognition of individual freedom to choose from among the various options. That kind of voluntarism is contradicted by the communitarian facilitated consensus method of achieving voluntary simplicity. A simplicity which offers no choices or other expressions of individualism, but subjects the individual to the will of the imaginary "group mind". And they presume to tell us what the group mind is.

The communitarian trend is the diametrical opposite of the reformation movement, heading backward into a servitude not unlike that imposed by the Roman Catholic Church, except that it will be enforced globally.

Etzioni would apparently have us believe that the "politics of consumption" came from a grassroots social movement demanding ever more material things. That is yet another strawman which was specifically constructed by an earlier generation (the 1960's counter-culture) for a public burning ceremony at the appropriate time (now). This is only one of the many ties which binds the Post-Modern, New Age, Communitarian culture to the anti-establishment counter-culture of some 40 odd years ago. In their own words, "The 1960's counter-culture, the environmental movement, ever larger corporations and bureaucracies, an ever shrinking globe - these factors all influenced the movement that Elgin and Mitchell reported on [the counter-culture], a movement they in turn helped to shape [the New Age Movement]." All of it is a product of the very same movement set in motion by the channeled writings of Alice A. Bailey which Aldus Huxley (one of the "Masters" who received her secret manuscripts) understood to be a Brave New World.

Consumerism and materialism were foisted upon a gullible but otherwise innocent and oppressed public through the New Deal politics of Franklin D. Roosevelt and later enhanced by the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson. Depriving people of the necessity of individual effort in obtaining the necessities of life is a socialist ploy guaranteed to produce lazy but useful materialistic idiots, which are then used to "prove" that society cannot exist without their watchful guardianship. The consequential rising prices of goods and services provide further grist for the propaganda machine tending to prove that we cannot make it without their assistance. This fraudulently produced "evidence" also stands as a contradiction to centuries of historical evidence to the contrary.

In a similar vein, they use "turbo capitalism" (another one of their bogus creations) to cast doubt on an economic model of rational humans which was constructed from the patterns developed under a society organized around hard working traditional individual and family values. Comparing apples to oranges, again to "prove" that our benevolent protectors are indispensable to the general welfare.

Bobby said...

Niki, You may have already done this, but a Google search as usual produces amazing results.

Google: Quality of Life", "Vassar College", nevarez
Quality of Life main page.
The Quality of life course description begins with the sentence: "In a world of cultural diversity, global inequality, and political conflict, enhancing quality of life is arguably the unifying principle in our ambitions for social planning and personal lifestyle."

Mind you that the "world of cultural diversity, global inequality, and political conflict" is a custom made strawman created by the very organizations supporting and funding this study. They are now trying to light the fire to burn it down.

The phrase "our ambitions for social planning" is designed to bring the students into the scheme, thereby making them complicit in the action.

"Quality of Life is defined as an overall general well-being which comprises objective descriptors and subjective evaluations of physical, material, social and emotional well-being together with the extent of personal development and purposeful activity all weighted by a personal set of values."

We could surmise that "objective descriptors": might include:
1. The patient is terminally ill.
2. His insurance is inadequate.
2. Both parents have to work two jobs and have little time for the children.

While "subjective evaluations": could be:
1. His "quality of life is poor.
2. The family is under a lot of stress.
3. The children will be better served in foster care.

This is not a study to discern the factual truths of the contemporary social condition or its cause, but rather a social engineering training exercise in preparation for achieving the final dialectical synthesis. "personal development", "purposeful activity" and "personal values" are some of the subjective criterion which will be among the determining factors in whether one lives or is "sacrificed" for the greater good.

the tent lady said...

Bobby, no, I didn't realize the Vassar sociologists defined the unifying principles for their ambitions. I assumed from what Professor Nevarez said about there being as many definitions as people to mean they had no definition. How can there be a unifying principle for something that has no definition?

And while I'm certain I will never be a shaman, I am very interested now in going "deeper" into the religious aspects of the Plan. We just got another box of books from Jason (THANKS!!!) and one gives a VERY different history of the U.S. than I've EVER read. Starts out with the popularity of witchcraft and masonry in early American colonies and moves to the evidence for the theory that there were ancient civilizations living across the country that wrote in ancient Phonecian, Celtic and Hebrew scripts, which ties into Joeseph Smith's background. The idea of witches and covens has not been included in my research.. I was trying to stay with "facts" only. What an interesting revelation to learn the history of witchcraft in the USA is full of facts. I didn't relaize that metaphysical education was routine for educated elites and that there was such a thing as the "Christian Caballah." I really didn't know that the founder of the Mormon church was a practicing witch and a mason! (To be fair I've also been studying the ancient fish gods and the Catholics and the history of Islam.. all of which have so much more going on than I ever imagined.)

But right now I need to learn a lot more about the Wiccan Communitarian Church of Vermont! Somehow I've got to find time to file a PDA with the state, they appear to be the only place existing that may have any records on the church and its members. Can't get anything from the seminary that ordains them.

Anonymous said...

I would not entertain debate with people like Nevarez. Don't waste your time. I hate to slip into ad hominems, but in my opinion the students and professors at the elite colleges and universities are some of the dumbest people on the planet. In fact, they are where they are because they have excelled at creatively regurgitating and couldn't honestly think their way out of a paper bag. Yet they are all the more convinced that they are right. Mostly because they fail to take any real position that can be logically challenged. It's very, very frightening. And they have our kids.

Bobby said...

Funny you should mention ancient languages. I just received an email this morning concerning the earliest language. There is a link to the source, but the site appears to be having difficulties. Its very long but here is a segment:
> If we were to trace the footsteps of the first migration wave, we would discover that it has left its traces in just ONE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE.
> This fact that the whole world once spoke the same language survives in the racial memory of many peoples.
> A fragmentary Sumerian tablet copied by the Oxford cuneiformist Oliver Gurney speaks of a time when “the whole universe” spoke “in one tongue.”
> The epic myth of Enmerker and the Lord of Araita, published by Professor S.N. Kramer, of the University of Pennsylvania, records that all mankind spoke one and the same language until Enki, the > Sumerian god of wisdom, confounded their speech.
> The idea that there was a time when all men spoke the same language is found also in ancient Egyptian and Indian writings.
> Likewise, the Popul Vuh, a book of the Central American Maya, records that “those who gazed at the rising of the sun [the ancestors who formerly lived eastward of the Americas]… had but one language… > before going west.”
> These testimonies support the biblical book of Genesis statement that “all the earth was of one language, and of one speech.” (Genesis 11:1)"

Meanwhile a quick search turned up this;
First Tongue: An Ancient Global Language

While I have no reason to doubt the validity of this First Tongue discovery, I cannot help but be concerned about the "unity" spin being applied to it.