Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Moderationist

I am a moderationist

Is 'moderationist' even an actual word? Neither do the Cambridge nor Oxford dictionaries seem to think so. But heck, what do they know?

A moderationist is simply a person who lives life in moderation. It's not a religion. It's a life philosophy. It doesn't have - and need to have - a stone tablet emblazoned with fixed commandments, nor a pocket-sized handbook sitting pretty in the international bestseller section. It merely requires a mixture of common sense and discipline.

Temptations, Trials and Tribulations

The journey of a moderationist is not without temptations. To live in the real world where temptations are in abundance - that's what separates a moderationist from, say, a hermit up on a mountain.

A moderationist does not simply denounce all material things. Instead, he analyses them, taste them, and chooses what to keep and what to reject. It's a conscious exercise, built up over years of trial and error. His needs may change through time. He may crave for sweet things as a kid. But as he grows weary of their novelty and mindful of the health risks, he gradually learns to cut down on ice-cream and chocolate.

Take two of the greatest spiritual leaders - Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ. Their sojourns were rife with trials and tribulations. Sitting under a tree for as long as 49 days, Lord Buddha was assailed by demons as he meditated in search for enlightenment. As Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert, Satan appeared, promising him world domination if he knelt down and worshiped Satan.

My own path towards moderation was strewn with trouble. I learnt things the hard way.

Once a Thief

I was once a thief. Not in a big way, like jabbing knives against the back of strangers in a darkened alley. A petty thief, but still a thief.

I was about seven or eight years old - I don't remember when exactly. As both my parents were working full-time, I stayed at my aunt's place in the mornings. During school recess, I would munch on the bread my mother had packed for me, gazing forlornly at the other students queuing up excitedly to buy food from the school canteen.

My aunt kept a stash of small change in a small tin, resting on an altar by the wall. Above the altar was a portrait of Jesus Christ, surrounded by a shining halo and white angels. If there was a specific intention of the tin's placement, it was lost on me. One day, when my aunt was busy in the kitchen, I stood on a stool, reached for the tin, and took a couple of coins.

For once in my life, I had money in my pockets. It felt like magic. I was proudly downing Coke during recess. My fellow classmates flocked to my side. Their eyes glinted with new found respect. I basked in the limelight.

It didn't take long for my aunt to realise something was amiss, and to catch me red-handed. She reported my mischief to my parents. They pelted me with a few stern words, yet understanding enough to offer me some pocket money from that day onward.

The embarrassing affair changed me forever. A few lessons, I learnt. Yes, stealing is wrong. But more importantly, I realised that the key to eliminating sins is to eliminate unnecessary desires.

Stealing under the nose of this man is like Level 99 of Badassery

Control Through Conditioning

Today, I am no longer a thief. Nevertheless, there are other temptations aplenty, for a young man still maturing and exploring like me - partying, gaming, cars, luxurious goods, and so on. To a large extent, I have managed to keep those urges under control.

I have tried smoking and drinking. Both are equally tempting, making me torn between protecting my lungs or liver. Eventually, I chose alcohol over tobacco, on the basis that alcohol consumption is more controllable and gives me more satisfaction.

Presently, I do not own a watch. My last one - a sparkly, silver Guess watch - broke barely after two years. I did not bother to repair it, nor intend to spend a bomb to invest in an expensive one. My mobile phone is by my side, almost at all times. I simply glance at it, whenever I need to tell the time.

Speaking of which, my current mobile phone is an iPhone 4s. I haven't updated its software for more than a year, hence it still runs on iOS 5.1.1 (which, happily enough, supports the Google Maps app). Mainly, I use my phone for text communication via Whatsapp and Facebook, to the extent I don't even fully utilise my monthly free 50 minutes talk-time. The only game I have ever downloaded was 'Words With Friends', which I deleted after a few weeks.

How do I live this way? It's all about conditioning. I do like sweet things, the smell of a good smoke mingled with alcohol, and the glitter of a Swiss hand-made watch. But it's only because our minds are conditioned to like such things - by personal habit and peer pressure.

We all have desires. But not all desires adds value to our lives. Lord Buddha was right - humans commit wrong deeds because we chase after wrong desires. Eradicate those desires, and we liberate ourselves from inflicting unnecessary hardship upon ourselves, and others.

That's all the apps I have on my iPhone 4s. Yes, seriously.

Minimalism v Moderationism

Doesn't a 'moderationist' mean the same thing as a 'minimalist' - which both the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries already recognise as a word? Isn't it ironic for one who strives for simplicity in life to create a new word for a term that already exist?

Nevertheless, I feel there is a subtle, yet fundamental difference between minimalism and moderationism. On the surface, the difference lies in semantics. The term 'minimalism' suggest two things: firstly, the act of keeping things at the bare minimum; secondly, the act of minimising things. Beneath the semantics, lies a deeper, underlying philosophy - that people have an abundance of desires and things to fulfill those desires, yet they must strive to minimise the desires and things that they possess to a certain level of moderation.

Those who describe themselves as 'minimalist' are often Westerners, and justifiably so. After all, they are mostly born from privileged backgrounds, blessed with the whole spectrum of needs - security, health, freedom and education - that the rest of the world can only dream of. Hence, to live in moderation inevitably requires them to 'minimise' things considerably.

In contrast, moderationism has a different starting point. A moderationist is born with few luxuries. His life is an uphill struggle to accumulate things and successes to even reach to the level of moderation. Sometimes, due to sheer skill, hard work and good luck, he outperforms his potential so much that he overshoots the mark. To which he then needs to 'minimise' his desires and things, to scale down his life back to moderation.

Both are constantly striving to accumulate necessary things, and reducing unnecessary things. Generally, however, a moderationist tends to focus more on the former, whilst a minimalist on the latter. This has all to do with the fact that they start at different levels in life. Yet, whether you are more of a moderationist or minimalist, the goal remains the same - to desire, to pursue, to attain and to keep things that is truly valuable to one's life.

The Way Of The Moderationist

So how does one become a moderationist?

As pointed out right from the start, moderationism is not a religion. There are no strict rules or rituals. My habits of moderation are almost intuitive. I don't need to spell them out on a checklist to remind me to stay on the right track. Of course, with enough time and thought, I am confident of listing down some general guiding principles, or even perhaps pen a handbook. But right now, it's not something I feel the need to. Maybe later, once I'm older, wiser and freer, I will put my mind to it.

Neither do I religiously read up on the subject. As mentioned earlier, a moderationist is nothing like a hermit. Yet they both share something in common on the aspect of learning. In his Discworld novel 'Small Gods', Terry Pratchett wittily debunked the notion of apprenticeship amongst hermits: "You can't find a hermit to teach you herming, because of course that rather spoils the whole thing". Likewise, there's only so much one moderationist can teach another. Moderationism is a deeply personal thing, involving a lot of soul-searching.

That being said, I do have a few reference points. I hesitate to call them as 'role models', since I'm not exactly aspiring to model my life to theirs, nor are they the type who want anyone to do that anyway. I check out their writings simply out of idle curiosity and mild admiration. They also make an interesting read for anyone who's keen to know more on the subject of minimalism:

There's also this other person I should mention. Although he doesn't write much on the subject at all, his legendary persona alone mesmerises me. For all those who think minimalism is only for Shaolin monks and hipsters who live in beat-up trailers, think again. For one of the greatest modern minimalist happens to be a billionaire and the founder of Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg.

Eliminating desires that don't matter since 1984

I, Moderationist

Some of my own previous articles have been influenced with shades of moderationism, even though I don't spell the word out expressly. From lessening consumption to reforming the housing regime, moderationism is a philosophy that pervades throughout my habits and ideas.

For once you truly embrace the spirit of moderationism, it will shine through every aspect of your life. Is this even a good thing? Well, it might not improve every aspect of your life, but it will definitely improve your life as a whole.

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but that's good enough for me.

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