The Superficial Asceticism of Silicon Valley

An excellent article by Vlad Chituc published at Religion Dispatches that details the superficial asceticism of Silicon Valley:

This new brand of technologically-enhanced asceticism, however, is based less on minimalism than it is on outsourcing, by building a simple life on the backs of sweatshop laborers and the unregulated sharing economy.

[Rob] Rhinehart isn’t self-sufficient in the same way Thoreau was. Thoreau planted his own food, made his own clothes, and built his own house. Rhinehart outsources. He doesn’t have a car because he takes Uber. He doesn’t go grocery shopping because he buys his “staple food online like a civilized person.” He doesn’t go to the liquor store, because a company called Saucey delivers him wine. Opting out of owning a wasteful washing machine, Rhinehart has his clothing “custom made in China for prices you would not believe” and shipped to him regularly. After a few wears, he donates his “used garments.”

This is an astonishing admission, in part because it clearly highlights the inconsistency in Rhinehart’s brand of asceticism. Surely he can’t imagine that donating his clothes and buying new ones is more sustainable than keeping and washing them himself. Even more, he describes grocery shopping as a “multisensory living nightmare,” and explains that he doesn’t use grocery shopping services because he “cannot in good conscience force a fellow soul through this gauntlet.” If Rhinehart thinks paying others to grocery shop for him is unethical, I wonder how he imagines those clothes in China are made so cheaply, and whether an industrial factory qualifies as a gauntlet.

If Rhinehart washed his clothes himself, however, he would need a washing machine, which takes energy, and he couldn’t say he lived on a battery anymore. A commenter on Rhinehart’s post aptly called this brand of asceticism “consumption laundering”; because Rinehart doesn’t do the consumption himself, it doesn’t count. It doesn’t use up his solar-powered battery, so it’s not real. The feeling of minimalism is bought by offloading consumption onto others.

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