The Good Life

The Good Life

It’s been a busy few months, and in a “new years resolution” sort of mood I thought I’d try to use this space again. No promises regarding my ability to sustain it. I’m trying to work out better habits, and get more done than I usually manage to.

One of the things I miss most about the stresses of these past months is reading; another thing is writing. I’m trying some self-assignment type things to help improve the situation.

The first book I assigned myself was The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing.

The modern edition contains two books, the first published in 1952 and then its sequel from 1970. One of the tenets of the Nearing approach is budgeting your time to “bread labor” and also budgeting time for study and relaxation. I like that a lot.

In the first book, the division is firm between “bread labor” and the activities that make life worth living, like music and reading and such. The Nearings suggest limiting ourselves to four hours of each. In the later book, this is refined a bit to three four hour segments– bread labor, self labor, and then community labors. The sort of good life they’re aiming for is simply subsistence— aiming to avoid any sort of profit or surplus. This of course runs counter to a capitalist lifestyle.

Needless to say, the Nearings were political radicals, but there is relatively little of that in this book. It’s a bit like Walden, which the dust-jacket blurb compares it to, wherein they account their modes of living for a much longer span of time. I liked it better myself, because it was more pragmatic, longer term, and less dependent on borrowings from others. (living in Emerson’s back yard, using only borrowed tools, etc.).

Reading it reminded me a lot of the books I read as a teenager, including B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two and the usual suspects of hippie culture. But this goes back further, deeper, and is in most ways richer than most of those books. Perhaps I’m working toward my fiftieth adolescence, or something thereabouts. Looking for something though I’m not sure what.

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