Posted by: jackslife | March 26, 2009

Count the Cost

Sharon Astyk has a great post on her blog about honestly evaluating the costs and benefits of living a simpler life.  Astyk is a liberal (I believe that is how she would describe herself), Jewish farmer, who I find I agree with more often than not.  Although there are a number of issues that we would disagree on, I find that there is something authentically conservative, but not in the Rush Limbaugh sense, about some of her ideas.  This post makes some excellent points about examining what we give up for our progress, and what we can gain from our sacrifice.  I may get a little off her specific topic below, but I think the points are related.

Our society is one that is driven towards an ideal that may not exist.  We are driven by the ethereal notion of “progress”.  Progress, and it’s sister “the future”,  are always seen as an absolute good.  Those standing in the way of progress are backwards Luddites.  Never is it acknowledged by most that some, or possibly all of us, might be worse off for some elements of this “progress”.  Seldom is much thought given to the deeper significance of our technologies.  I remember reading the philospher Soren Kierkegaard’s essay on the opera Don Giovani.  He wrote extensively about the various details of the opera and how it moved him.  In a lecture on that work, a speaker mentioned that Kierkegaard may have only heard the work 4 or 5 times in his entire life, as the only way he would have heard it would be to attend the actual performance of the opera.  I was struck by how amazing it was that he could have such a vivid recolection, and experience such joy, at this piece of music that he had only heard a few times.  This lead me to wonder whether my capacity for joy had been diminished by my IPod.  Sure, it has allowed me to instantly experience whatever music I want, but is my enjoyment of that music tainted by excess?  The irony of this question is that this is pretty close to what Kierkegaard himself was asking about the character of Don Juan in Either/Or.

My point in saying all of this is not to say that progress or technology are bad, but that we generally don’t give enough thought to what is being lost or gained by our technologies or life choices.  As Neil Postman said in Technopoly, “Technology giveth and technology taketh away, and not always in equal measure.”  We should examine our own lives to determine what we have gained from our technologies, things, and lifestyle choices and what those same things are taking away from us.



  1. Really enjoying the blog Ben, keep up the great work!

  2. I enjoyed this post, Ben. I am reading the book “Margin” by Richard Swenson and he discusses how progress has taken the margins out of our life, rather broadening them. Reminds me of a song…

    • That book looks interesting. I may have to check it out. I definitely think that we could use a little more margin in our lives.

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