Social justice, consumer society and voluntary simplicity

- through Francois Leclercq

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What if we returned to more voluntary simplicity, both happy and altruistic, to reduce the gap between rich and poor, to fight selfish, individualistic reflexes, and all the scourges of the XNUMXst century?

As social malaise manifests itself in various ways around the world and is acutely expressed in France, it seems desirable to examine the situation at several levels. The most obvious is that of poverty within wealth. This is the fate of a large number of people who find themselves forced into precariousness despite doing their best to lead a decent life. This is obvious every day in poor countries, but it is also a growing problem in so-called “rich” countries due to growing inequalities. Over the past thirty years, inequalities have steadily increased in all OECD member countries (the more affluent countries). One figure, among many others, recently quoted by OXFAM, can only challenge us: the 25 richest billionaires have as much money as half of humanity. In France, 8 billionaires own as much as the poorest 30%. Such a situation is absurd, indecent and unacceptable. It reveals major flaws in the system that currently prevails. We also know that the so-called "trickle down" of wealth never really happened. It is therefore important to work with discernment and determination towards a more fair.

Coimmoderate sumerism and excessive individualism

What follows does not apply to those who find it very difficult to sustain themselves. This concerns all those – there are many of them – who have more than they need for housing, food, clothing, looking after their health, being educated and ensuring the education of their children. What do we do with the "extra"? Nobody needs an incentive to get what he really needs. The essence of advertising and marketing, on the other hand, is to make us want what we don't need.

Not so long ago, in a major American city, I came across a half-mile-long line of several hundred people waiting for a store to open two hours later. where branded scarves were going to be sold for 200 dollars instead of 600! The image of a long line of Nepalese women waiting motionless, in the early morning, to be able to buy a few liters of kerosene to cook with came to my mind. Admittedly, many Westerners and French people will never have the means to buy such a scarf, even with such a reduction. Admittedly, misery can be hidden among us, and everything must be done to eradicate it. But in India or in Nepal where I live a good part of the time, there is neither social security, nor family allowances, nor assistance with unemployment. If you are ill and cannot prepay some of your medical expenses, you stay at the hospital gate.

The American psychologist Tim Kasser and his colleagues at the University of Rochester have highlighted the high cost of materialistic values ​​(see his book The High Price of Materialism). Through studies spanning twenty years, they have demonstrated that within a representative sample of the population, individuals who focus their existence on material goods, image, social status and other materialistic values ​​promoted by the consumer society, are less satisfied with their existence. Centered on themselves, they prefer competition to cooperation, contribute less to the general interest and are little concerned with ecological issues. Their social ties are weakened and, if they have a lot of connections, they have fewer real friends. They show less empathy and compassion towards those who suffer and tend to instrumentalize others according to their interests. This immoderate consumerism is closely linked to excessive individualism.

Rich versus poor and every man for himself

Moreover, the rich countries, which benefit the most from the exploitation of natural resources, do not want to reduce their standard of living. Yet they are the main culprits of climate change and other scourges (increase in diseases sensitive to climate change, malaria for example, which spreads to new regions or to higher altitudes as soon as the minimum temperature increases), which cruelly affect the poorest countries, those whose contribution to these upheavals is the most insignificant. An Afghan produces two thousand five hundred times less CO2 than a Qatari and a thousand times less than an American. American tycoon Stephen Forbes said on a conservative television channel (Fox News), about rising sea levels: “To change our behavior because something is going to happen in a hundred years is, I would say, profoundly bizarre. Isn't it really such a statement that is absurd? The boss of the largest meat syndicate in the United States, meanwhile, is even more openly cynical: “What matters, he says, is that we sell our meat. What will happen in fifty years is none of our business. »

“Civilization in the true sense of the word is not about multiplying desires, but about reducing them voluntarily. This alone establishes true happiness and contentment while increasing our ability to serve. » Gandhi

However, all of this concerns us, our children, our loved ones and our descendants, as well as all beings, humans and animals, now and in the future. Focusing our efforts only on ourselves and our loved ones, and on the short term, is one of the unfortunate manifestations of self-centeredness.

Individualism, on its good sides, can promote the spirit of initiative, creativity and freedom from outdated and restrictive norms and dogmas, but it can also very quickly degenerate into irresponsible selfishness and galloping narcissism, to the detriment the well-being of all. Selfishness is at the heart of most of the problems we face today: the growing gap between rich and poor, the growing "every man for himself" attitude, and the indifference towards future generations.

Volontary simplicity

Why not follow Gandhi's good advice: "Civilization in the truest sense of the word is not to multiply desires, but to reduce them voluntarily." This alone establishes true happiness and contentment while increasing our ability to serve. »

To simplify our existence is to have the intelligence to examine what we usually consider to be essential pleasures and to check whether they bring genuine well-being. Voluntary simplicity can be felt as a liberating act. It therefore does not imply living in poverty, but in sobriety. It is not the solution to all problems, but it can certainly contribute to them.

The writer and thinker Pierre Rabhi, one of the pioneers of agroecology, believes that the time has come to establish a policy and a culture based on the power of a "happy sobriety" to which one has freely consented, by deciding to moderate their needs, to break with the anthropophagous tensions of the consumer society and to put the human being back at the heart of their concerns. Such a choice then turns out to be deeply liberating.

The current crisis has many aspects. First of all, there is a human drama, that of the poorest populations who are suffering hard from financial crises and growing inequality, while the rich are little affected and even take advantage of it to enrich themselves further. But there is also the inexhaustible quest for the superfluous. The luxury industry mobilizes fortunes while being perfectly useless to the true well-being of human beings.

Voluntary simplicity is both happy and altruistic. Happy that she is not constantly tormented by the thirst for "more"; altruistic, because it does not encourage the concentration in a few hands of disproportionate resources which, distributed otherwise, would considerably improve the lives of those who are deprived of the necessary.

Voluntary simplicity is also matched by wisdom : not aspiring to the unreasonable, we constantly keep in the field of our conscience the fate of those who today are in need as well as the well-being of future generations

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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