The Complexity of Simplicity

There are many people who say that they want to live a simpler life–away from the desk, spending days with the birds and and in the gardens, breathing fresh air, “living off the land”, etc.. That part is easy and, ultimately, means nothing.  We can say anything we want–talk is cheap.  The actual transition and realization of this desire is the only reality and what I find is that there are two different groups of people who talk about “the simple life”.

The first, and more common, group are people who are having a hard time doing well in the world.  They aren’t doing very well in business, don’t have much money, are bored, don’t have many good friends, and don’t have much influence anywhere. These people love to talk about “the simple life” because they imagine that in this other life, they would be successful.

They can be identified by a few key marks.  First, they repeat all the things that can be read in all of the popular “simple life” books, magazines and websites.  They talk about issues that are of interest to people reading books, but not those running real farms.  They talk about wanting to be “debt free”, wanting to “spend more time with their families”, wanting to “calm down”, etc..  The women are known by their talk of canning before they have grown any food, their shopping for cheese-making equipment before they’ve ever owned or milked a cow.  But the easiest way to identify them is by their talk about selling things from their farms.  These folks have no idea of how strenuous daily farm life is–and how much MORE difficult it is to run a farm than to make a decent living in the modern market.  For them, the grass simply looks greener on the other side of the fence, and they have never sat down and actually drawn up a mature, real-world business plan for how they would start and operate their household in such a situation.  These people will be raising backyard chickens and nothing more.  They really just don’t get it.

The other group, for the most part, has proven that it can play the world’s game and do very well with relative ease.  It has won the world’s awards, has been to the great schools, has lived in nice houses, has had lots of friends, and has many opportunities for worldly success open to it.  However, these people have tasted the world’s riches and pleasures and simply want something different–and for good reasons.  They are concerned about being the founders of great families that will stay together geographically and personally for several generations.  They are concerned about evangelization and living without dependence of the world’s injustices and social sins.  They are not afraid of spending lots of time, money and effort to accomplish something that will change their families’ lives forever.  They are not afraid of working MORE than they ever have before to make the transition.  they are not afraid of the complexity of simplicity in the modern world.

People poke fun at the Amish all the time, but none of them can do what the Amish do.  The life that Amish families are living in the face of modern America is just incredible.  I admit that I’m a friend and admirer of the Amish, and find them to be examples of heroic virtue.  They are not simpletons who “don’t use electricity”.  They manage hundreds of thousands of acres of the most productive farm land you will find anywhere in America.  Ever think about how they’re buying all that land?  Yeah, they’re no simpletons.  The reality is that they are extraordinarily good at managing the complexity of simplicity.

What I mean by this term “complexity of simplicity” is the complexity of transitioning from the modern way of life (which depends on many unjust and immoral elements in secular society) to ancient simplicity because we must successfully manage BOTH lives at the same time as we move out from one world and into another.

I have seen men try to “make the leap” without realizing that  “the leap” is a fantasy, and no reality.  All they do is destroy their lives and end up miserable.  there is no “leap” to be made.  There are two lives to be lived simultaneously because there are responsibilities we must fulfill TODAY that cannot be brushed aside.  For example, it is not for a wife and children to sacrifice everything so that a lazy husband can pursue “the simple life”.  That’s not the simple life, bro.  That’s being a dead beat Dad in overalls.

As I stand in the midst of this transition, I can’t imagine trying to handle the daily tasks (praying, cooking, cleaning, teaching, ploughing, feeding, weeding, herding, etc..) without an extraordinary wife who is willing to work until 2am every day, and children who are healthy and strong and eager to help us work–and neighbors who are generous and always eager to help in any way they can.  I can’t imagine handling the financial pressure of buying land, building facilities, buying livestock, buying farm equipment (trailers, fencing supplies, ploughs, handtools, etc..), buying supplies (feed, fertilizer, hay, fuel, etc.), covering all of the real-world expenses (hazard insurance, property taxes, mortgage interest, etc..) required to do these things without having a deep sense of God’s goodness and help in our family’s business.  There are many, many problems and difficulties that come day after day like waves, crashing against everything we’re doing and we have to overcome them and keep moving forward.

To think that it’s going to be easy once one “makes the leap” is just childish nonsense.  It’s going to be terribly, terribly difficult for many years because what you’re doing is heroic and very, very rare.  Such a family is not merely resisting the current of this world, but successfully marching against the stream back top the top of the mountain and starting a new life THAT NONE OF THE PEOPLE  GOING DOWNSTREAM CAN.

Yes, I know that many of the people in the river are TALKING about “simplicity” and “Self-sufficiency”, but the only thing that matters is who is DOING it.  The DOING of it is seen in the work of transitioning–and it is NOT for the faint-hearted.

Don’t listen to any of the talk you hear.  Seek out the people who have made the transition or are making it and listen only to them.  Simplicity is way more complex than it appears, which is why it has always been possessed by the wisest and best men in history.


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2 Responses to The Complexity of Simplicity

  1. Ziggy says:

    This post is amazing. First time I think I have ever seen someone explain it so bluntly and accurately.

  2. Devin Rose says:

    One thing (among many) the Amish have on the new Catholic land movement is that they band together to form communities. They help each other, work together, etc. The nearest Catholic family with similar ideas as us live 3 miles away, and we are lucky to even have them. We are not interdependent.

    I think trying to span the chasm of living in the modern world and living more simply is difficult because, among other things, we have modern world conveniences and tools and securities that cost a lot of money: air conditioning, gas furnaces, cheap food, automobiles, inflated land prices, insurance (life, auto, etc.). So making a living off the land is incredibly hard. It means you have to make a profit and have enough volume as well.

    For my part, I am taking things slowly with the transition, because I have to. We have small children. They take up most of our time. The rest of it I work on one thing at a time: working with cows, working on the pond, cutting wood for winter, building berms, accumulating needed equipment (tools, hay buggy, etc.). My hope is that I can give a good life to my family, a different life, and help in the restoration of Catholic culture.

    God bless,

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