Futuribles Journal n° 403

Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement - Société, modes de vie

Voluntary and Involuntary Simplicity

In this contribution, which builds on the study carried out by Futuribles International in 2013-14 entitled “Producing and Consuming in the Era of Ecological Transition”, Christian Arnsperger and Dominique Bourg show how the principle of simplicity has been a central one within traditional civilizations since Antiquity. Only with the arrival of industrial society did this change, the dynamic of that society being based on the accumulation of goods and the accelerated replacement of products to the detriment of the pursuit of human self-improvement.

And yet, argue Arnsperger and Bourg, the race for “ever more” material goods not only cannot be extended to the whole of humanity or sustained ecologically but it is fundamentally destructive of what constitutes the authenticity and dignity of the human species. By forcing us to produce and consume without misusing limited natural resources and with respect for the fragile equilibria of our ecosystem, ecological transition encourages us to rethink the notion of simplicity, not simply as a constraint imposed by the finite nature of our resources but also as the product of a new socio-anthropological ideal.

In this way, simplicity would not solely be an involuntary thing, imposed by the finite nature of resources and the dangers ensuing from the impact of human activity on the ecosystem, but it would also be the product of an anthropological and political critique of a development model that fails to meet the non-material aspirations of our species. Whether voluntary or not, simplicity seems to have become essential if we are to avoid civilizational collapse.

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