Ancient Futures


I’ve just finished Ancient Futures, by Helena Norberg-Hodge, a truly magical snapshot of a culture that has, until recently, lived in almost perfect symbiosis with its surroundings. It is a true manifesto for simple living, demonstrating how simplicity can and has brought about happiness in communities. It describes the balance needed to afford contentment and poignantly reminds us of the mistakes the capitalistic, western world make.

Here are a few of my observations and highlights:

•    In the West, we offer a dream, but very rarely does that dream translate to reality. Our lives are focused on the ideal rather than the actual. Additionally, our Western values are often bolstered by knowledge that when others are exposed to our lifestyles, they are desperate to adopt them. We only have to look at the gentrification of the world to feel secure that we’ve made the right choice.

•    Helena points out that the exposure people get to our culture comes through the heavily airbrushed, carefully managed world of television and advertising. The Western world does and excellent job of displaying itself in the fairest light and a very poor job of advertising the negatives – those of stress, loneliness, the fear of growing old, insecurity etc. Do those who strive for our lifestyles actually get a fair indication of the true nature? Would they make the same choices if so?

•    Many ‘archaic’ societies are more sustainable than our own and their patterns of living more conducive to psychological balance.

•    Modern technologies that rely on capital and fossil fuels might appear to enable society, but they also result in significant specialization, centralization and stresses far from their action. A diesel powered mill in Ladakh speeds grinding, but the resulting effects on the interconnected aspects of life are negative when diesel must be bought, parts replaced, pollution is caused, people are put out of work.

•    As we specialize, society becomes more and more intricate, but has less structure. It becomes more organized, but less orderly. We suffer from the ‘problem of many’ hands, which diminishes personal, organizational and even national accountability.

•    Frugality in the West conjures up negative connotations. In Ladakh, using limited resources in a careful way is frugality in its original meaning of “fruitfulness” or getting more out of little.

•    Development causes artificial scarcity. Using western yardsticks for development can be extremely misleading.

•    Helena states that, ‘The incredible vitality and joy that I experienced in the villages was almost certainly connected to the fact that the excitement of life was in the here and now.’ Back in the Western world, the idealized lifestyles, stars and celebrities focus on the future and being somewhere else.

•    Why do we focus on longevity if we are often cut off from our families?

•    Helena sees simplicity as a connectedness with nature and one-another. Although the interlinking relations might be complicated, simplicity means a less abrasive lifestyle.

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