Sometimes I despair that some of my favorite books - the Daodejing and Zhuangzi - seem wholly irrelevant to the materialism and competitiveness of contemporary American life. And then along comes an article like this: Living With Less. A Lot Less. In it, Graham Hill (no, not that Graham Hill, whom I remember from my childhood; this Graham Hill) writes:
We live in a world of surfeit stuff, of big-box stores and 24-hour online shopping opportunities. Members of every socioeconomic bracket can and do deluge themselves with products.
There isn’t any indication that any of these things makes anyone any happier; in fact it seems the reverse may be true.
He goes on to argue that his life has improved since he has pared down his possessions. He lives in a 420 square foot studio apartment. The last line of his piece captures a Daoist-like sensibility, though he quotes no Daoist texts: "My space is small. My life is big." Indeed, it brings passage 9 of the DDJ to mind (Hinton's translation):
Forcing it fuller and fuller can't compare with just enough, and honed sharper and sharper means it won't keep for long.
Once it's full of jade and gold your house will never be safe. Proud of wealth and renown you bring on your own ruin.
Just do what you do, and then leave: such is the Way of heaven.
Hill is a Canadian, but he is speaking to Americans, North Americans, more generally. Indeed, he is speaking to the modern world, for the fetishism of commodities is embedded in global capitalism. And, in that, he is showing, without explicitly meaning to, that Daoism certainly has something to say to all of us now.
Indeed, this message might be more apt than ever, at least in the US in the aftermath of economic crisis. The economy is obviously bad. Many talented people don't have jobs. Most of us have to do with less than might have been the case a few years ago before the 2008 crash. But maybe that is OK. Or, as passage 22 of the DDJ states:
In little is contentment. In much is confusion.