Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Beware of the Simplicity Institute

The Simplicity Institute, which appears to include some people who are ostensibly Christians, also seems mostly composed of woolly-headed idealists and hippies who turned off their alarm clocks in the '70s, and get their lunch by squeezing it out of their beards. I agree with them to the extent that it's not necessary to live an affluent lifestyle, but these are the kind people who know little or nothing about economics, and are always talking about distribution of wealth, but not about production of wealth, which is necessary in order for distribution to take place.

They go on about how economic growth is bad for the environment, but don't mention that it's the countries with the most productive economies that have the cleanest environments and healthiest people. Their "Charter of Sufficiency" is a masterpiece of vagueness, with no careful definitions of anything (link in original):

The following ‘Charter of Sufficiency’ is a vision statement for a sufficiency economy, which is intended to provoke thought about the contours of a just and sustainable society. (It is adapted from the ‘Charter of the Deep Future’ found in Chapter Five of Entropia: Life beyond Industrial Civilisation).
_______________________________________

CHARTER OF SUFFICIENCY

Enough, for everyone, forever

We affirm that providing ‘enough, for everyone, forever’ is the defining objective of a just and sustainable economy, which we seek to achieve by working together in free association.

We affirm that everyone should be free to create the meaning of their own lives, while acknowledging that this freedom legitimately extends only so far as others can have the same freedom. Freedom thus implies restraint.

We affirm that an inclusive democracy must not discriminate on such grounds as race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, politics, or faith.

We affirm that generations into the deep future are entitled to the same freedoms as present generations.

We affirm that respecting the deep future requires maintaining a healthy environment.

We affirm that technology can help to protect our environment only if it is governed by an ethics of sufficiency, not an ethics of growth. Efficiency without sufficiency is lost.

We affirm that maintaining a healthy environment requires creating a sufficiency economy that operates within environmental and energy limits.

We affirm that a sufficiency economy means stabilising consumption and population, transitioning to renewable sources of energy, and adapting to a very moderate energy supply.

We affirm that strict limits on material accumulation are required if a sufficiency economy is to maintain a just distribution of resources and avoid corrosive inequalities.

We affirm that property rights are justifiable only to the extent they serve the common good, including the overriding interests of humanitarian and ecological justice.

We affirm that a sufficiency economy depends on a culture that embraces lifestyles of material sufficiency and rejects lifestyles of material affluence.

We affirm that material sufficiency in a free society provides the conditions for an infinite variety of meaningful, happy, and fulfilling lives.


It's hard not to notice that for SI's promotion of "degrowth," its leader are content to live in countries that practice economic growth. Let's see the SI leaders move to countries that practice "degrowth," and I might be more inclined to take them seriously. They talk about voluntary simplicity, but experience shows that if enough people won't go along voluntarily, compulsion will follow. I highly recommend Thomas Dixon's novel Comrades (1909), about a utopian socialist community created off the coast of California that quickly becomes a total disaster. It's similar to Animal Farm , but is much funnier, and is available for free download.

The perceptive reader will notice that SI's homepage positively quotes New Ager Buckminster Fuller, which is par for the course for SI. Other than the Charter of Sufficiency, the only SI publication I've read is Mark A. Burch's report Mindfulness: The Doorway to Simple Living (2012), but that was enough for me to recognize him as a false teacher:

Mindfulness, or Right Mindfulness, is one precept drawn from a set of interdependent precepts called The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. (p. 3)

Formal mindfulness practice consists of sitting meditation with attention focused on one’s breathing, either by counting breaths or by silently witnessing the act of breathing, to the exclusion of all other internal or external distractions...

...Practices that specifically develop stable states of mindful awareness often entail formal meditation or contemplation. In Buddhist Vipassana (mindfulness of breathing) practice, for example, attention is focused on the breath with the intention of slowly developing concentration, cultivating inner stillness and eventually an ever deepening insight into the activities and dynamics of one’s own conscious awareness ...

...Christian “Centering Prayer,” while differing from Buddhist Vipassana in its intention, is nearly indistinguishable in its method. The Buddhist is intent on liberation from suffering and growing in compassion whereas the Christian practitioner of centering prayer is intent on cultivating a state of inner stillness and spiritual receptivity to the action of the Holy Spirit. The Buddhist “anchors” attention on the breath while the Christian anchors it on a “prayer word,” not unlike a mantra, expressing the contemplative’s intention to open themselves to intimacy with God (Keating, 1998). But otherwise, all the physical postures, preparation, attitudes and activities that one brings to the practice are nearly identical.
(pp. 4-5).

The reader will notice that Mr. Burch admits that mindfulness comes from Buddhism, and that Christian "Centering Prayer" is indistinguishable, in practice, from the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. The inevitable conclusion for those who indulge in such practices is that since the experiences are similar regardless of one's religious tradition, they must derive from the same source, leading the practitioner toward universalism. Why is Mr. Burch, a supposed Christian, engaging in and recommending a pagan practice?

Another thing I noticed was that Mr. Burch cites James Lovelock's belief on evolution (on page 21), without mentioning that he was the man who gave us the Gaia hypothesis, which states that the Earth is itself a living being--the natural spiritual result being nature worship. Right under that, Mr. Burch praises Carl Jung as a "great Viennese depth psychologist." Carl Jung is popular with New Agers--especially those who claim to be Christians--but was a man whose "wisdom" came from a "spirit guide," i.e., demon, named Philemon. For more on Carl Jung, see PsychoHeresy: C. G. Jung's Legacy to the Church.

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