Irrational Exuberance!

Starting Again, Keeping It Simple

September 27, 2008. Filed under reflection

A year ago I was sitting on tatami mats in Kamioka. Five years ago I was hiding in a dorm room in Kentucky. Nine years ago I was hiding in a smaller dorm room in Asheville. Today I'm in New Jersey.

I'll be here for a year or three, and then the wanderlust will continue. For a while I've been thinking California, which sometimes feels like my Rome; the place where all my roads lead.

Still, I faintly yearn for a future in another country. I don't hate America, or even dislike America. For better or for worse, I am a little slice of America, and it would be more than a bit insincere to pretend otherwise for a cocktail trick.

But I do miss being in a different culture, speaking in a different language, learning because you really need to get groceries or pay the electric bill.

In America, as most everywhere else these days, we've gotten so caught up in chasing success. We're working smarter, harder, faster, wiser, buzz-wordier. The Puritan work ethic fused with capitalism to breed a mindset that replaces work-to-live and live-to-work with a simpler equation: work-is-life.

One my favorite phrases I've heard recently is there is a certain mathematical elegance to ~. I find it hard to resist the phrase, so I'll indulge once; there is a certain mathematical elegance to this tireless quest for efficiency. If we just keep working more, the increasing levels of production will solve everything.

But at some point, a wider selection of pre-torn jeans or dorm furniture doesn't seem to be on the verge of solving our important problems. The problem isn't just that we're creating crap. It isn't that we're creating things without Quality.

The problem is we're creating things without Value.

I think this is the mistake in the current economy, and also the mistake when we look down on third world countries. I mean, damn, who wouldn't pity a country that focuses on producing food, and didn't produce a single Hummer last year?

So the issue is that we need to realign ourselves and our economy towards producing Value. How can we do that? Free markets were supposed to solve that problem, but were circumvented when mass advertising began to tamper with our priorities.

As long as producers are exerting such strong forces on consumers, we can't pretend that all is well with supply and demand parading as our benevolent dictator.

I haven't figured this one out either, but here are some guidelines I think lead in the right direction.

  1. Buy as little as possible and of high quality.
  2. Prefer items that consolidate things you already own.
  3. Understand how actions fit into larger patterns. (Not only for consumption, but also for work.)
  4. Splurge on good food.
  5. Save as much as possible. Use it to invest in yourself, your family, your friends, your community and your values.
  6. Work at things you believe matter.

People are the good life. Minimalism is the good life. Simple is the good life.