In this context, the choice to live simply becomes an act of sharing. Sharing is the alternative to growth. A cynic might say that the emphasis placed on growth by economists is merely a way of trying to avoid or delay sharing. If the total economic pie can be made to grow, then I don’t have to share my piece with you. We can make your piece bigger.
Sharing means that if you are to have more, I must have less. When what I think I am is mostly defined by what I have, sharing is a particularly threatening prospect. Offering to share what I own becomes “giving up” what I am. Sharing one’s material possessions is then a partial or total loss of identity, power, privilege and self.
Expressing it this way emphasizes what an absurd cul-de-sac we have engineered. Having does not define being, as ten seconds of introspection reveals. But market economies teach us to associate the consumption of goods and services closely with? non-material states of consciousness and feeling that do define being. It takes a considerable act of self-awareness to disentangle the two. The result is that the idea of having less, no matter how just the cause, feels to us like being less.
Simplicity offers a way of redefining the self that confers a great freedom from this anxiety. The choice for simplicity only requires “giving up” in order to share in the first stages of the transition from affluence to simplicity. Little is needed when we define our character and presence in the world in other ways than through material acquisition. Sharing is difficult for those who already think they have much and must relinquish what they have. For the one who has and needs little, there is always abundance of what is needed and in this abundance, a measureless sense of security.
Because simplicity is the choice to live lightly in the world, it forgoes the use of resources, which then become available to help meet the needs of others. Non-use of material things is an indirect but extremely effective way of sharing that is within the immediate power of every individual. Living in material simplicity also frees time and energy that otherwise would have been devoted to the acquisition, maintenance and disposal of possessions. One is at liberty to take pleasure in life, friendships, and in pursuing goals that are intrinsically rewarding.
Advocates of economic growth will say this argument is naïve. They will point to the synergies in technological and economic development that aims at growth. They will argue that it is precisely because we have had a growth-oriented economic system that encourages individuals to increase personal gain that discoveries have been multiplied and the overall economic and social good has increased. Many of these same people will argue that growth in military production is also good because the defense industry has often been responsible for technical innovations that have eventually found their way into civilian production. As if human beings simply lose their inclination to create unless driven by threats of invasion or by the lust for nationalistic self-aggrandizement!