What most distinguishes human beings from the rest of nature is a unique form of consciousness that promotes “rational” thought. Rational thought enables us to plan ahead, to evaluate choices and to envision the future before we create it. Rational thought has propelled us forward unlike any species before, but it has also provided us with a precarious sense of specialness – an arrogance of self-importance.
Our self-importance convinces us that we are complex beings with complex problems that require complex solutions. We complicate our lives with special diets and exercise programs, sophisticated financial management techniques and extensive webs of electronic relationships. We use time management tools not to provide us with more free time, but to squeeze more appointments and tasks into the little amount of time that we do have. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called this “ineffectual activism.”
Needless and endless complexity leaves us with little more than anxiety, and a constant nagging feeling of unsatisfactoriness – a malaise, an ennui. Inside, there is a feeling that something is not quite right, or that something is missing. We dedicate much of our lives to what we consider to be our responsibilities and obligations, leaving little time for what we believe is truly important. We perceive our lives as “out of control” and deem ourselves powerless to change our situation.
Our lives are not out of control, they are out of balance. We are not powerless; we have a choice. With increasing complexity and limited time, we choose to focus on certain areas of our lives and leave other areas unfulfilled. We choose to control, to advance, to excel. We pursue absolute perfection. We are human.
The remedy for our silent agitation is to be more inhuman — not in the sense that we become callous or indifferent, but in the sense of being “otherworldly,” apart from a society of infinite variations and intricate machinations. We need to follow the advice of Thoreau to “Simplify! Simplify!”
Simplification doesn’t mean living primitively or sacrificing our goals. It means removing layers of ineffective complexity, employing tools that save us time rather than just rearranging it, and focusing on what we, not others, consider to be important. It means resisting the human propensity to complicate our lives by accomplishing whatever we need to in the most simple manner possible. By becoming more inhuman we can nurture a whole life – one that is in balance, one that is significant, one that replaces a nagging unease with an underlying contentment.