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Is It Simpler to Be Rich? - The Simpler Life

Written by Andrei Codrescu

Isn't Rich Simpler?

Everyone I knew, if they didn't have the good taste to die young, went on to pile up complexity, and to dream, simultaneously, of simplicity. The older I got, the more connected I became, and the more disconnected I wished to be.making decisions 

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The direct proportion of reality to desire didn't vary. Some of my acquaintances, shoved by circumstances and shrewdness to the top of the good life, actually took off for the woods, the country and the monasteries, and endured blessed and selfish simplicity until either boredom or a phone call recalled them to the real world.

Take Stanley, poster-child of American affluence. In the late '60s and early '70s he followed several Indian gurus who appeared to him to have the answers to his existential and spiritual restlessness.

He quickly rose to the top of each guru's organization, edited the newsletter, set up the school, streamlined the holdings, and got the dining room in order.

When he was done with the gurus, he founded one of the first Silicon Valley companies to go public in its second year. His company persuaded him to retire shortly thereafter because his creative restlessness got in the way of business. He took his $1 million or so yearly payoff and brooded for six months on a houseboat in Sausalito.

As soon as he could stand the simple life no longer, he founded another company, hit it big again and was retired once more. He then went to medical school and studied alternative medicine at the same time.

Now he lives on an estate in Mendocino County and has no telephone or computer in his octagonal glass library, where he sees selected patients scheduled by one of his three (nearly) invisible secretaries.

His patients arrive by private plane or helicopter at a discreet little airport he has had built 10 miles from the house. I visited him once and he actually asked me:

"What are you doing to simplify your life?"

"Stanley," I said, "with my salary, I can't afford to simplify anything."

Neither can he, apparently. Not totally, anyway. He still has patients.

The only man I know (but not very well) who has managed to create a lovely island of simplicity in his life is a billionaire I'll call Jed.

Jed is one of the most cheerfully idiotic human beings I have ever encountered. He's more gleeful than the university president, more blithe than Louis, and certainly much richer than Stanley.

Jed has reduced the complexities of his life and empire to the point where he can spend six hours a day shooting potatoes. Yes, he stands on the parapets of his mansion and wields a heavy-duty potato shooter that can hurl sacks of Idaho potatoes into the serene lake that stretches from his manse into the distant mountains.

"Jed," I asked him, "how many potatoes a day can you shoot?"

"On a good day," he said, with all (or the same) seriousness that had doubtlessly aided him in making $3 billion, "I can shoot up to two sacks."

I had a conversation once with an engineer who makes microprocessors.

"Isn't it wonderful," I said, "how much more elegant and simple our technologies are getting?"

"Yes," he said, "but the technologies needed to make these simple and elegant technologies are getting more and more complex."

Indeed. With the exception of youth, for which simplicity comes as easily as breathing, the technologies needed to make us simpler are getting mind-numbingly complex. It takes a whole village one year to provide a dippy with an hour of sheer, unmediated idiocy. ("Dippy?" digital hippie.)

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Andrei Codrescu (The Road Scholar) publishes the online cultural journal, Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Letters & Life, from his English gardens in the Deep South.