‘The Nostalgic Appeal of Simplicity’

simplicity-leafFrom The Nostalgic Appeal of Simplicity, by Emrys Westacott:

‘The nostalgic component that generally seems to be present in any “back to basics” movement invites the criticism that the philosophical outlook associated with it a) rests on a rose-tinted view of the past, and b) is unsuited to the modern world. This distrust of the nostalgic sensibility is understandable. While it’s undoubtedly true that modern lifestyles produce various forms of alienation—for instance, from nature, work, tradition, and community—another kind of alienation is to be estranged from one’s own time and the culture one lives in. We recognize this readily in some spheres. To be an engaged scientist is to be au fait with the most recent theories, discoveries, and technologies. The most important artists and writers of today participate in some sort of dialogue with their contemporaries, and their work speaks to contemporary issues. Few people would think it particularly admirable for a person to read books while refusing to watch films, or to listen to classical music while remaining ignorant of more recently evolved musical genres. But analogous arguments can be made with respect to lifestyle. To live “off the grid,” metaphorically speaking, may limit our understanding of and ability to participate in the world we happens to have been thrust into.

‘On the other hand, champions of simple living can respond to this criticism with the well-taken point that it is no bad thing to be alienated from the worst aspects of contemporary culture—materialism, consumerism, individualism, technology-fetishism, shallow hedonism, or the cult of celebrity. The fact that the internet this afternoon is humming with the latest gossip about Kim Kardashian’s cosmetic surgery is and should be of supreme indifference to anyone who has a life worth living. The fact that millions eat junk food, watch junk TV, buy lots of unnecessary stuff, and waste inordinate amounts of time messing about with their smart phones to no great purpose, is not a reason to do the same. From the perspective of the simplifiers, what they are embracing is not an outmoded philosophy sunk in nostalgia but a reorientation of values that, if adopted, will help people live happier and more meaningful lives.’

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