Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Reasonable Life

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Someone whose blog I read frequently asked for nonfiction book ideas. She's wanting to read something more challenging than the latest romance or thriller. Since we have similar interests, I made a recommendation. The book "A Reasonable Life--Toward A Simpler, Secure, More Humane Existance" by Ferenc Mate is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a long while. If you are interested in simplifying your life, moving to the country or a small town, or just getting out of the rat race and getting a life, you might enjoy it too.

Mr. Mate was born in Hungary, escaped at the age of 11 and has lived all over the world.

Some of the blurbs on the back cover:

"A sane and exciting vision of a happier world."

"The most powerfully damning, inspiring and hopeful call for a fulfilled life you can imagine. Now if only we'd just listen, for the sake of our children." -- Country Journal

"A Reasonable Life is wonderful! This fast-paced book is just what we need to make us slow down and thing.--Pete Seeger

"A masterpiece. Ferenc Mate writes brilliantly with Runyonesque humor and poetic prose. He satirizes our modern society driven by greed and mindlessness, and in its place he recommends the ultimate sanity. I love it. Highly recommended."--Dr. Helen Caldicott

Here's an excerpt that really struck me--enough that I've marked it and come back to it again and again. (This is a bit long, but worth it I think.)

"No one has to tell us about the pleasures of a small town. We know them well, if not from reality then from the old Andy Griffith show, or It's a Wonderful Life. But the small town we know the best is the one deep in our heart, with its elm-shaded streets, little clapboard houses and picket fences,and gnarled fruit trees and run-amok vegetable gardens, where doors are never locked, and where shopkeepers stand in front of their shops and greet you, and the cop greets you, all by name, and you stop and chat with them because what else is life for, and when the bells toll at noon the shops close up, and you all go home for lunch, a nap, then to hoe the melons or to do a little fishing; and everyone you liked in fourth grade is still your friend, and it's a swell place to be a kid and perfect to be a family, and it's a humane place to grow old, and, when you have to go, it's a good place to die.

If such a town doesn't exist, the big question is "Why?" If we all dream about it, if we all long for it--and recent surveys found seven out of ten of us would live there if we could--then where in damnation is it? When all it takes is a few good-natured people; a few to teach school, a few to own the stores, some to farm the land, some to mend the sick and a bar to tend the healthy, then why isn't there such a town behind every tree? I mean only a few of us dream of having missiles, tanks, and bombers, and rockets to the moon, yet the world is littered with them; hardly anyone dreams of pesticides and freeways, yet they're choking us to death; no one dreams of junk mail, yet we're drowning in the stuff; no one I know dreams of stripmalls and fast-food chains, yet there are a hundred to the mile! How the hell did it happen that the things hardly any of us want are burying us all, while the simple town we all dram of we can rarely find?"

This simple argument/question still haunts me. If people truly want this simpler, kinder life, then why aren't they taking the steps to achieve it? Why are we still commuting hours to a life-sucking job where we perform meaningless tasks? Why are we killing ourselves in order to buy the bigger house (that's always empty since we're working to pay for it), the newer car (so we're more comfortable driving hours each day back and forth to the meaningless job), the better clothes so that we can impress the people we work with (people that we might not even like and would never associate with outside of work)?

Does anyone "see" the insanity of this approach to life?


Blogger madcapmum said...

Thanks for the suggestion. You're right, I'm looking for books with a bit of muscle, rather than all bosom and fluttering eyelashes. ;-)

Good question. Why the heck aren't we all moving towards that? I don't know. Our family is, but we have so many friends who say that's what they want, but really what they want is easy, convenient, urban, sophisticated, busy, busy, busy.

They say we're being "impractical", and hint that somehow the fact that we're actually trying to live the dream-life of a sleepy little town means we're selfish. Not "community minded" enough. When asked what community is, basically they describe the little town in this passage, and somehow they truly expect that it's going to come about in their urban utopia.

Must be some kind of societal brainwashing, but I don't understand it at all.

6:55 PM  
Anonymous kiwi said...

Put like that, it's truly mindless! This book certainly sounds like a must-read, so I'm off to the Library to see if they can get it for me. Thanks for the recommendation Lisa.

9:34 PM  
Blogger squire said...

Sounds like a great book.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Yes, isn't it funny how anyone who tries to break out of the mold of materialistic consummerism is branded as "selfish"? It is societal brainwashing--that's a great observation. The marketing machine is so clever that most everyone buys into it. It's a constant battle to override the thousands of messages we receive each day that tell us we have to buy more, make more, dress a certain way, live a certain way, etc. in order to show others that we are a success. What an empty definition of success that is!

7:33 AM  
Blogger clairesgarden said...

that sounds like a good book, I'll put it on my amazon wish list. love the strawberrys, lucky you. Eli looks like a happy cat there.

12:55 PM  
Blogger PJ said...

YOU"VE SAID IT! I ponder the same thing! Thanks for the book suggestion!!!

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Linda said...


Our family broke the mould last year and spent six months on our suburban block with the ambitious aim of not spending a dollar - we didn't make the 6 months without spending a dollar - we ended up spending $300. But hey, it was close. We had a goat, chooks, garden, solar panels, rainwater tanks, bikes and were able to leave our 'lifesucking' jobs behind (well at least I did) - my child also ended up homeschooling, which really helped mend the damage of too many long days in daycare.

We ended up saving 44% of my partners income, losing 17kg between us, having lowered blood pressures, cholesterol etc, having higher iron levels (no meat during the six months, though my partner ate garden snails). We also reduced our reliance on mains power, water and the use of petrol by 95%. We became 'domestically sustainable' as we call it, and were a great deal happier for it.
it sounds like we're not doing it anymore, but have actually embarked on a new adventure, which is replicating the same thing, but in another part of Australia, and we're building a strawbale home and setting up a goat/garden and hopefully bees.

The biggest danger in life is not risking enough, and secure jobs are the biggest risk, that you'll stay in them!

4:13 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...


WOW! What an interesting experiment. Sounds like you're off on another one as well. Good for you. I will check out your book as I simply love reading about such adventures. You inspire me!

6:24 PM  

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