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Minimalism, freedom, and The Dawn of Everything

08 December 2021

I read The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Rengrow. The book is excellent. What I like most about the book is that it gives a template for what freedom is that I find helpful.

Freedom. It's a nebulous term that gets thrown around a lot. We argue about it without really nailing down what it means. In The Dawn of Everything the authors give three things that need to be fulfilled in order for the condition of freedom to be present: the ability to move, the ability to disobey, and the ability to form relationships.

Minimalism, having only what is necessary, gives you these abilities.

When you don't have a lot of stuff you can move more easily. Moving won't be an ordeal. You just throw your things into your car, suitcase, or backpack and go. If you're healthier (and thus not as reliant on the medical industry - an industry nobody likes dealing with) you become capable of going more places without the help of expensive and resource intensive machines. You'll have more money and time left over after you take care of your necessities, allowing you to take advantage of opportunities when they come up.

With minimalism, it's easier to disobey. You're more able to say no to people when you don't need what they offer to survive.

When you can move and disobey, you can then enter into new relationships with others. Those relationships will better align with your goals and values.

I've lived this. When I moved to Chile, I took only what I could carry. Everything else got tossed. I could move to airports, apartments, and hostels with minimal assistance. I had money saved from working in the United States beforehand so I could pay for the expenses related to going there. I said no to the conventional path of hanging around Washington DC, working my way up the political industrial complex. In that sense I disobeyed. Thanks to this I could create the relationships I wanted to create. And I could do something I wanted to do for a while, live abroad teaching English.

I'm back in the United States. I also did more in Chile than just teach English. But had I been bogged down by stuff, I wouldn't have been able to exercise the freedoms I needed to in order to take my life and career in the direction I wanted to take them. I'd have never left.

I think minimalism is more than a buzzword, but the foundation upon which thriving societies are built. We get the governments we deserve. If we're beset by problems from having too much, we won't make the best choices regarding how to govern ourselves. Minimalism goes against the grain of American culture, which prizes the accumulation of stuff. But by connecting it to freedom, something Americans hold in high regard, I think more people could get on board.

At the end of the book, The Dawn of Everything asks its readers to ask better questions. In that spirit, I'll end with open questions I have about this topic. Feel free to share any answers, or questions of your own that you have.