Friday, July 23, 2010

My belongings

Due to recent circumstances, I've had to sell or begin selling the majority of my possessions, and mostly likely, by the time I'm through, all I that I will have left are my philosophy books (to many notes to replace; except for my pop culture series ones, those have already been sold), enough clothes to dress comfortably for both winter and summer including professional outfits, and basic hygiene supplies (toothbrush, shaving kit, etc).

If I can afford to carry it around, my rice cooker too. Because that thing is awesome.

I'm fairly torn on the whole thing. While I've been meaning to reduce my belongings, I hadn't initially expected to get this bare bones about it. Some things I'm glad to be getting rid of: I've sold off a ton of books I don't read any more, and I got rid of my DVDs as well. I don't own a TV or DVD player, so it's not a great loss, especially when I can watch them online. Others are harder to get rid of: my little DJ good luck Buddhas, and my Hunter: the Reckoning and Demon: the Fallen books, which took me years to collect and for which I received no where near their value in return. And of course, some items are eliciting both emotions: e.g., the engagement ring that my former partner never accepted.

In order to help deal with the whole thing, I've been trying to think of this as a means to live as an ascetic without necessarily adapting into a whole religious paradigm. Because I love the sense of freedom that I'm gaining with the loss of my things; as someone who hasn't lived in a very stable environment since I was very young, I've tended to move at least twice a year, every year. And as I part with my items, I can recall all the times when I had to pack and move and unpack them. And some of those bastards are just heavy. So, overall, I'm glad to be rid of them, to have relieved myself of the burden they represent, both in terms of limiting my options for travel (can't move all that stuff easily), and for the attachments to people and places that I might not want to remember (e.g., the ring, or a CD from a time when I was more of a whiny, angsty teenager that I can't stand anymore).

I'm fairly familiar with Indian and Chinese concepts of the ascetic, particularly Buddhist ones, but also Hindu and Daoist ones as well. I'm less familiar with Christian asceticism, but I have read Theresa of Avila and some scholarship on early Christian ascetic practices. However, like I said above, I don't necessarily want to wholeheartedly embrace any strictly religious conceptions of asceticism mostly because I don't believe in the majority of religious belief systems as being epistemically, metaphysically, or spiritually true. And for what beliefs I do have at this point in my life, I'm not exactly in a position to just entirely discard everything and live as a monk in nature (my student loans aren't going to pay themselves off, and it would be terribly unethical to saddle my cosigners with that debt).

I was hoping that there is some scholarly work out there that defines a secular asceticism; something that acknowledges the inherent meaningless value of stuff (i.e., the everyday clutter of life that tends to accumulate around us that is neither necessary to live nor essential to defining the human spirit) while not advocating a total removal from the material world and that doesn't require the acceptance of any transcendent metaphysical claims. I don't think that Marxism quite reaches the level I'm talking about here, because of its focus on society and history. Maybe something closer to what Peter Singer advocates for in "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," but without necessarily having to be done for others' benefits (I don't mind if others benefit from my newfound lack of stuff, but that's neither the end or the majority of the means here).

I've already been made aware of some of Max Weber's critiques of asceticism in the modern world, and so maybe what I'm attempting to do is metacritique Weber's position. I don't know. We'll see.

If anyone has any ideas of where to go, whether for places to live or sources to read on secular asceticism, I'd appreciate them.


  1. Christian, you should move to Spokane and we could have fun parties all the time!!! (I speak mostly in jest; I have no knowledge of the job market in Spokane although I know that EWU is growing quickly and that their Philosophy department has great faculty and is generally held in very high regard, if that makes any difference. Although, I am looking for a roommate who would not provoke me into wild fits of roommate-strangulation...)

    I don't think I can give you much advice on secular asceticism, except that I've been reading quite a bit of Greek (translated) recently and it seems to me that it is heavily implied in Epictetus (who IIRC doesn't have a lot of love for God or gods). I also find it in my reading of Marcus Aurelius, though I suppose the secularity of that work is up for debate.

  2. Piffle on Asceticism.

    You have cut down to a bare minimum, from which you will almost certainly rebuild. The ways that the previous stuff defined you will be replaced, now, with newly considered bits.

    I suggest that the challenge is not to embrace the *lack*, but to consider what follows after.

    There is no sofa pattern, and no job, that will fully define you as a person. But you do say something different to yourself, about yourself, if your furniture is hello kitty or army surplus.

  3. (Of course, given my blog, I *would* say that, wouldn't I?)

  4. I think if you want to commit to asceticism, you're going to need more of a reason than merely losing your stuff at the moment. I mean, I'm sympathetic and that's definitely something that could *prompt* the move toward a discourse of nonmaterial normative values, but I think Levi is correct to say that you need a positive/productive reason to embrace ascetism.

    My personal advice, from a nontheoretic perspective, would be to economize the things you're attached to, at a level consistent with your intellectual beliefs and social means, without abandoning an essentially hedonic/material conception of reality.

    I suppose that wasn't really nontheoretic.

  5. You know I really need to check this thing more often; I didn't realize that people actually read this thing.

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. Certainly food for thought.