Thursday, April 14, 2005

How much is enough?

Recently Half Changed World has been talking with her son about toys, and how to resist them. All of a sudden, in the couple days since then, everything I read seems to be related. A good friend recently gave us the funny book Better Off, about a young Boston couple's year on a farm in an Amish-like community. On my commute, I have been reading Citizenship Papers, a fairly recent book of essays by the stubborn rural essayist Wendell Berry. He writes:
What actually do we need? We might say that, at a minimum, we need food, clothing, and shelter. And, if we are wise, we might hasten to add that we don't want to live a minimal life; we would also count comfort, pleasure, health, and beauty as necessities. And then, ...
Further reflection leads Berry to think we need historical artifacts, towns, clean air, wholesome food, countryside, parks, and so forth. But he starts to consider the hazards of too long a list of needs. So:
How do we know when we have passed from needs to wants, from necessity to frivolity? That is an extremely difficult and troubling question, which is why it is also an extremely interesting question and one that we should not cease to ask.
And that, in turn, reminds me to ask, "Hey, who borrowed my copy of Alan Durning's 'How Much is Enough' and didn't return it?" Don't worry. It is a mere possession anyway. You can keep it, and profit from it. None of this is new thinking anyway. Here is our local boy Henry Thoreau. No, wait. That's not yet well-seasoned thinking. Here is something older still:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"
Now there's a truly crazy line of thought.

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