Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I want to go back to the 1950s

About a decade ago, I read an essay that made the thought-experiment: "what if we decided to live with a 1950s standard-of-living, but with modern medicine?" and concluded that this could be achieved with  two days' work per week. I can't find the essay now (will keep looking), but I think it's a great thought. Let's think a little about life in the 1950s (in Australia, anyway -- this was not the case in other countries):
  • One income could house and sustain a family
  • Cars were rarer
  • People generally ate fresh, home-cooked food
  • Community was very important
  • Most people grew at least some of their own food
  • Public transport and cycling was common
  • Lives were simpler and less hectic
  • Our per-capita footprint on the environment was much lower (we weren't destroying our ecological support-systems so quickly)
  • Electricity consumption was much lower, fuel consumption was much lower
  • Most food was organically grown
  • Market gardens and small-holder farms surrounded cities and provided much of the food
  • People ate less meat and fish
  • People owned less stuff, and produced less waste
  • Australia had a manufacturing base, because people were prepared to pay a living wage to people who made things
I could go on.

The point, though, is that in the 1950s the average Australian lived a simple life like that advocated by many environmentalists in response to the current crises that are plaguing our society.

I think that, in many respects, we have regressed from the 50s. Yes, we currently live a much more sophisticated (and more consumptive/wasteful) lifestyle than people did then but I suggest that this will not be sustained. I think that if we keep over-reaching in this way we will end up greatly impoverished and will not even be able to sustain a lifestyle of the 1890s let alone the 1950s. If, however, we can control our consumption now, a 1950s lifestyle could be sustainable.

Why is this so rarely discussed?

I think a big reason this is not mentioned is because of the social issues prevalent in the 1950s. Yes, the 50s were relatively sexist, classist, racist and bigoted. I am in no way advocating a return to those values. But, I think we can maintain modern egalitarian* values with 1950s levels of consumption in a sustainable way.
I think another reason is that we are so obsessed with the idea of Progress, and that we are somehow better than people back then.

My vision

My goal and vision is to live, essentially, with consumption levels of people in the 1950s. I am yet to renounce many modern luxuries (eg. I have a hand-me-down mobile phone, and an old computer with broadband -- and myriad others, of course -- this is an experiment and work-in-progress!). My family owns a car, but I want to act (as much as possible) as though the car is not there. As part of this, I want to embrace the 50s aesthetic. This is not novel (the retro/vintage movement is in, ahem, full swing), but forms a component.

My challenge

Lots of people like to talk about "traditional values" -- I challenge you to embrace the traditional values of thrift, low-consumption, lack-of-pretension and simple living.

The post "I want to go back to the 1950s" was written by Angus Wallace and first appeared at

* an interesting note is that Australian society was actually more egalitarian in the 1950s than today. Today the difference between the wealthy and the poor in Australia is much greater. Like in so many areas, we are better at talking about egalitarian values today -- in the 1950s, people just got on.

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