Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Simplicity ain't what it used to be

Lillian Gish, I believe in D.W. Griffith's Orphans of the Storm (1921).
David Brooks writes, "The Evolution of Simplicity", November 3 2015:
We are raised in this country to head for the all-you-can-eat buffet of experience, and load up our trays with everything that's on offer; as M. Scott Peck has put it, we are expected to "Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience -- to appreciate the fact that life is complex."
On the other hand, there has always been a parallel urge to simplify everything and look for formulas and easy answers. Thus Benjamin Franklin famously wore a simple fur cap instead of a normal wig when he was the US ambassador to France, to show how simple and unaffected he was, so that French people would understand that Americans were more than just wealthy publishers, annoying moralists, and distinguished physicists; and Shakers argued that it is a gift to be simple and a gift to be free.
Advocates of complexity like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. insisted, "The chief work of civilization is just that it makes the means of living more complex. Because more complex and intense intellectual efforts mean a fuller and richer life. That means more life. Life is an end to itself and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it." On the other hand there were thinkers like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who proclaimed, "The only simplicity for which I would give a straw is that which is on the other side of the complex—not that which never has divined it." Although some writers assert that he would give a fig, or his right arm, or his life.
Which just goes to show that simplicity can be a very complex thing.
Simplicity has evolved in recent years to the point where Thoreau's more spiritual ideal of simplicity has given way to the concept of cleaning out your email inbox and decluttering your apartment, with its overstuffed shoe closets, as exemplified by Marie Kondo's best-selling "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up". This is clearly one of those comical bobo fads I used to describe so wryly before I simplified my own mind and became a very serious person. At the same time it is very clarifying to throw all your books on the floor and reshelve only those you truly value, even though it is upsetting for the housekeeper.
There's an element there of self-discovery, of learning who and what you are today, especially if you use bookplates so that your name and address are right there on the inside front cover.
In conclusion, in today's world of rampant hedonism and declining spirituality, many people are attaining self-knowledge by putting things in the garbage. You literally are what you toss. Or what you don't toss, or figuratively, as the case may be. Gently used clothing can be taken to the Goodwill or other charitable enterprises.

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