Why Simple Living as a Political Act Is Wrong

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Activist and Utne Visionary Derrick Jensen has never been the sentimental type. I’d go so far as to call him pathologically unsentimental. In his essay “Forget Shorter Showers,” published in Orion, he takes on the activist phenomenon of simple living as a political act.

Simple living as a political act, he writes, “accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers”:

By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.

“The endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act,” he adds, “is suicide”:

If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.

So what do we do? Jensen never signs off without a call to revolutionary action:

We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned–Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States–who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

Source: Orion

Image by Robert Shetterly.

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