Has Leo Babauta Lost His Freaking Mind?

by Stephen Mills on July 13, 2011

I have been a big fan of Leo Babauta for several years now and have said so on this blog.  I think his book THE POWER OF LESS is fantastic.  He was a big inspiration to me and I think he was a very wise man. He probably still is, but I am beginning to wonder.  Lately he has been saying some things that make me go “huh?”.

His latest blog article is a perfect example.  If you cut out just a few sentences, you will have a very wise and reasoned position that I almost completely agree with.  However, he just takes it over the edge by saying some ridiculous things (in my opinion) and ruins his credibility.  I don’t believe he is the superhuman he makes himself out to be.  He is thousands of times more successful than I am.  I’m a pipsqueak and he’s the creator of one of the most successful blogs out there.  I grant all of that for the record.

I’m going to quote extensively from his article, but please read it all here.  He says:

I’ve notice that in the past, like many people, I was always wishing I was doing something different, thinking about what I would do in the future, making plans for my life to come, reading (with jealousy) about cool things other people were doing.

It’s a fool’s game.

Many of us do this, but if you get into the mindset of thinking about what you *could* be doing, you’ll never be happy doing what you actually *are* doing. You’ll compare what you’re doing with what other people (on Facebook and Twitter, perhaps?) are doing. You’ll wish your life were better. You’ll never be satisfied, because there’s *always* something better to do.

Amen brother Leo!

Washing dishes can be as great as anything else, if you decide to see it that way. You’re in solitude, which is a beautiful thing. If you do it mindfully, washing dishes can be pleasant as you feel the suds and water in your hands, pay attention to the dish and its texture, notice your breathing and thoughts. It’s meditation, it’s quiet, it’s lovely.

Well maybe not “as great as anything else”, but we get the point.  Make something good out of it since you are doing it anyway.  You can make it “pleasant”.

You can say the same of anything. Driving to work? Enjoy the solitude, the chance to be alone with your thoughts, or to listen to music you love, to see the world around you. In a meeting with co-workers? Pay attention to how people talk and interact, learn about the human mind, see yourself in everyone around you, learn to love anyone no matter who they are, practice giving up expectations of who people should be or what this meeting should be like.

Make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in. Learn something positive from every thing you do.  Give up expectations, etc.  Sure good advice when you find yourself doing something that actually isn’t “as great as anything else”.

Life will suck if you are always wishing you’re doing something else.

I couldn’t agree more.

I’m always where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing.

I don’t believe that for one second.

Instead, I’ve adopted the mindset that whatever I’m doing right now is perfect.

I call bullshit on that.

There’s nothing I’m ever doing that isn’t the most incredible thing on Earth.

Bullshit to the power of 10.

If everything was the most incredible thing you wouldn’t know it because you wouldn’t have anything to compare it to that was less than “the most incredible thing on earth”.  Think about it.

There is wisdom in this article if you just leave out the hyperbole about everything is always perfect.

Dear Leo,

Sometimes life does suck and it’s OK.  You don’t have to dwell on it.  You can experience the suckiness and then quickly move on.  You can try to draw a lesson  out of it.  Life is messier than you pretend.  I say “pretend” in all seriousness because I frankly don’t believe what you say. I believe you believe it sort of, but what you are doing and what you are saying aren’t the same thing.  Get real Leo, it’s OK.  You’re a human being and your life isn’t perfect or the most incredible thing on earth – even to you.  You can admit that sometimes what happens and what you are doing sucks. Please give us the good stuff in the future and leave out the nonsense.

Best Regards from a long-time admirer,

Stephen

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August 10, 2011 at 12:36 pm

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia July 14, 2011 at 6:42 am

You pointed him great 😉 Anyway i like his book too.
Julia´s last blog post ..Tramadol for dogs and side effects after i used it

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Stephen Mills July 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Hi Julia, thanks for your comment!

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Jacq July 14, 2011 at 8:06 am

Smells like Enlightenment? I never got on the fascination train with zenhabits but I do come across him peripherally in other blogs I read where others like his writing – or don’t:
http://huntgatherlove.com/content/zen-habits-stupid-about-soy

My guess is that he’s just getting over enamored with the goal free stuff. When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I also flipped through the Power of Less in the library when it came out. Nothing earth-shattering there. If you want a good book on focus and attention, I’d try Lucy Jo Palladino’s “Find Your Focus Zone”.
Jacq´s last blog post ..Oops, almost forgot about Father’s Day

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Stephen Mills July 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Hi Jacq,

I’ve read “Find Your Focus Zone” and thought it was very good, much better than Leo’s “Focus” book.

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Xifeng July 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm

I call BS on the old saw that we have to have shitty things to know that awesome things are awesome. I’m having a wonderful week. Am I having a better week than last week? I don’t know! I don’t even remember last week! Is what I’m doing right now more fun than the walk I took yesterday? It’s totally different. The walk was hot and muggy, long and I had Sigur Ros in my ears the whole way. Now I’m writing about something I care about. Can you even compare the two?

You can have what he’s offering, it’s real. When you stop comparing, you can enjoy anything for what it is. It’s very hard to stop comparing though, I won’t pretend I’ve mastered it, but I’ve experienced it, and that’s enough to know I want more.
Xifeng´s last blog post ..Watchtower version 4

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Stephen Mills July 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Hello xifeng,

“I call BS on the old saw that we have to have shitty things to know that awesome things are awesome”.

I didn’t say any such thing. But I did say if EVERYTHING was the most incredible thing every you wouldn’t know the difference and I’m sticking to that.

As I said in my article I think his advice is wise but the hyperbole of everything is the most incredible thing is the world is complete bullshit and I stick by that. If you disagree that’s fine, but I don’t believe you either.

Finally, I want to remember my experiences. They are what make me who I am. You seem to enjoy not even knowing what you did “last week”.

Thanks for your thoughts.

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Amenda Winter July 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Hey,…thanks for the post here…Great job!!!
Amenda Winter´s last blog post ..software for affiliate marketing

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Stephen Mills July 16, 2011 at 5:44 am

Hi Amenda, thanks for posting your comments!

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Leo July 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Stephen … what makes things suck, other than our minds?
Leo´s last blog post ..Do One Thing Well

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Stephen Mills July 16, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Well hello Leo! I’m quite surprised you ended up here. I guess I’m a little honored.

Let’s focus on your question first. If you believe you have 100% control of your own mind (which I don’t) then technically you could lie to yourself 100% of the time that everything was perfect and the most incredible thing on earth. You could be holding your 6 year-old daughter’s hand as her insides are being eaten away by cancer and telling yourself this is the most incredible thing on earth. My mind would be saying “This sucks”. I frankly disbelieve you would be thinking this is the most incredible thing on earth no matter what you claim.

I don’t think responding to your comment sucks. I’m reasonably content right now, sitting in my recliner and even a little bit happy that you actually posted a comment. But this is most assuredly not the most incredible experience on earth; no offense to you intended, but I actually would be more thrilled with some other people 🙂

Like I repeatedly have said I agree with the vast majority of your article. I think it is great advice. I think that guiding our response to whatever circumstances we are in at the moment may be the very best tool we have to living a life of peaceful well-being. No argument from me on that.

However, I think that life will always serve up a variety of challenges and situations and that it is NATURAL and HEALTHY to acknowledge your automatic (the evidence of their initial automatic nature is overwhelming) emotional responses. Don’t dwell on them, move on and try to find something good in it, etc. All the things you said in your article. But your extreme claims like I highlighted are I believe not healthy and quite frankly not possible. I still don’t believe you unless you are a superhuman unlike anyone I have ever met.

I believe claims like that make you less effective in communicating your otherwise valuable advice. There are surely others out there who will simply say “bullshit” and ignore the rest (the good stuff).

And just in case it got lost let me repeat what I said early in my article:

“If you cut out just a few sentences, you will have a very wise and reasoned position that I almost completely agree with.”

So while I don’t expect you to agree with my assessment of your article, I hold out the tiniest hope that it might have made you possibly reconsider some of the more extreme claims you made therein.

BTW, thanks for commenting. I still read all of your articles 🙂

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Leo July 16, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I’m not sure you answered my question — you defended your points and said that I could lie to myself 100% of the time, but didn’t directly answer the question:

What makes something suck, other than our minds?
Leo´s last blog post ..Do One Thing Well

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Stephen Mills July 16, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Well I think I did actually, but obviously did not make it clear enough. Yes our minds (run by the brain) is what gives us any subjective conscious experience we have. That includes everything on the continuum from agony to ecstasy. I thought that was pretty clear with my “100% control” but since it obviously wasn’t there it is explicitly.

However, I’m going to say right up front that is just trivial and obvious. Because our minds (at least what I consider “mind”) gives us all of our experiences, that doesn’t take your point past the starting gate.

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Leo July 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

My point is that if we believe something sucks, we’ve chosen to do so — consciously or not. You can’t control your mind 100% of the time, but you can become more conscious of these decisions. If I start to think something sucks, I can decide to be grateful for the miracle of being able to experience it.

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Stephen Mills July 16, 2011 at 7:11 pm

“My point is that if we believe something sucks, we’ve chosen to do so — consciously or not. You can’t control your mind 100% of the time, but you can become more conscious of these decisions. ”

I don’t disagree with that. In fact I think that is great advice. Like I said, most of what you wrote is wise advice.

“If I start to think something sucks, I can decide to be grateful for the miracle of being able to experience it.”

Maybe some if not most of the time that is true especially for the lesser sucks. That “may” even be possible at some point in the cancer example I gave. Grateful I experienced her life. Grateful I could hold her hand. Grateful she had a few years. Still saying the cancer experience sucked and then moving on.

However I contend that is not at all the all the same thing you said in your article. As an example:

“There’s nothing I’m ever doing that isn’t the most incredible thing on Earth.”

If you had written an article made up of those three sentences, then my article would have never been written.

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Leo July 16, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I stand by that statement. I don’t expect anyone to agree or even believe me. I’ve found it to be true, though, and it works for me.

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Leo July 16, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I should add, for clarity, that the miracle of being alive *is* the most incredible thing on Earth, in my mind.

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Stephen Mills July 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm

These aren’t threading anymore but I agree with the “being alive” part. However that’s also different than what you said in your article. You specifically referenced particular experiences not just “being alive”. Saying that is also trivial in my opinion so it doesn’t do much for me either. I don’t think you will find a whole lot of disagreement (although obviously some).

Stephen Mills July 16, 2011 at 7:21 pm

I didn’t expect you to change your position. Almost nobody ever does including me. My point was it takes away from your article. That’s my advice and I stand by it.

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Stephen Mills July 16, 2011 at 7:34 pm

BTW, I will face facetiously acknowledge this opportunity to have provided you with experiencing the “most incredible thing on earth”. I don’t have that affect on most people. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

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Leo July 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm

It was truly incredible. Thanks Stephen.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills July 16, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I love it when two honest, intelligent people can volley a point with conviction and still be respectful and courteous. This was invigorating! I solute you both.
Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog post ..Creating Your own Pain and Pleasure Paradigms

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Lionel July 17, 2011 at 11:45 am

I agree with that Jonathan. There should be more examples of intelligent, respectful disagreement on the web.

I also think as Stephen painstakingly repeats that there is essential wisdom in Leo’s article AND his hyperbole subtracts. Noticing when my mind decides that something “sucks” because it violates a reasonable construct to my value system (e.g. wanting my daughter to live) is a useful internal mechanism that exists in conjunction with “choice” to help me navigate my purpose, sweeten the moments I chose to call “sweet” and motivate me to change what I can. Learning how to appreciate that in this moment, I AM holding her hand and she is alive NOW, despite her health reality is the grace I aspire to and am learning about.

Thank you Stephen for providing this forum.

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Big Zen July 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I’ve stumbled on quite an interesting debate here. It reminded me of the film Zen Noir. The wise old monk recounts the story of when he was eating an orange and he was brought news of a great tragedy in his village. For him it was the ‘worst day of his life, but the best orange he ever ate’. The clip is below if you’re interested.

http://big-zen.blogspot.com/2010/11/worst-day-of-life-but-best-orange-i.html
Big Zen´s last blog post ..Giving Thanks

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Yann July 18, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Very instructive debate. The simplicity Lea Babauta is showing is close to zen awareness. Like koans it can be puzzling.

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jonathanfigaro July 18, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Our mindset is the key to our success. If we have minds that are built upon creating greatness, changing the world and cultivating life changing and influential products from our souls, then we will. Its about being happy with who you are and moving toward the direction of progression! Your life only sucks if YOU do.

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dee July 19, 2011 at 12:22 am

I haven’t heard of Leo Babauta before… and that’s too bad for me because that would mean that i just missed half of my life. reading this article makes me want to know more about his greatness. i am truly inspired with this post thank you so much for sharing this one.
dee´s last blog post ..LESBIAN DATING SITES

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brain July 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm

true, people lose their minds sometimes..and at times..they sound so weird..someone unlikely…..and perhaps leo is just on this stage in his life wherein he could not express his true feelings or maybe he is expressing it in such a weird way?
brain´s last blog post ..– Internet Dating Sites

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga July 20, 2011 at 12:56 am

What a wonderfully bold post, Stephen! I see the validity in both your and Leo’s perspectives. For starters, of course, I understand that you agree with Leo on many points. Also, I agree with you that sometimes things simply suck and we experience it as such. Now, to the contrary, I also believe that there are people who are exceptions to this.

I believe in enlightenment and the ability to find peace in everything. I believe that this is attainable, but I also believe that the numbers of people who reach that point in this lifetime are few. Is Leo Babauta one of them? Is he another Buddha, Jesus or great master of some sort? That’s what I believe it takes to experience death, loss, mourning and pain in the same way others experience pleasure. I can’t quite say that I believe Leo is there, but I think it’s wonderful to aspire to reach that place. If I had to bet on the truth, I’d put my money on the guess that Leo is a more normal guy than the person he hopes for the world to see. He knows a lot about mindfulness and zen living, but I would bet he doesn’t live it 100% of the time as his writing often implies.

Lastly, let me say that I don’t think Leo set out to bullshit the world, but it is difficult for some people to admit that they haven’t reached the levels they feel are ideal. That’s especially true for people who have hundreds, thousands or millions of others looking to them for inspiration. Leo is a talented and knowledgeable guy who is probably more like you, me and everyone else than he admits. I’d still recommend his site to others because it offers a great deal of quality content, but the degree of authenticity will remain a mystery.
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog post ..Inspirational Thoughts: Let Your Gratitude Muscles Pick You Up

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Hanna July 23, 2011 at 1:50 am

i am glad that i found this post for me i never heard about Leo Babauta before.I think that guiding our response to whatever circumstances we are in at the moment may be the very best tool we have to living a life of peaceful well-being. No argument from me on that.I also believe that the numbers of people who reach that point in this lifetime are few.thanks
Hanna´s last blog post ..Guilty To Spend?

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Ashley July 24, 2011 at 5:02 am

I don’t know Leo Babuta but you actually nailed him here. Great post.
Ashley´s last blog post ..cheap car insurance

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Kevin July 25, 2011 at 1:35 am

Wow, Interesting debate. Both present such good points. I think Stephen really admire Leo and he is happy they are finally talking.
Kevin´s last blog post ..How To Pick Up A Girl

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Kristine July 30, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Interesting books Leo Babauta wrote.
You nailed leo babauta here.
anyway , great post and interesting debate.
Kristine´s last blog post ..angry birds

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Robert August 8, 2011 at 8:20 am

I have been thinking Leo has lost his freaking mind too! I think the success has gone to his head and he forgot how he got there. He could have never got where he is now with the strategies he is advocating now.

He has taken minimalism to it’s extreme, for him it’s a lifestyle and no longer a tool. He has lost sight of what really matters and keeps on endlessly cutting away everything. I think there will be trouble down this road.

The same with mindfulness. Mindfulness is though and certainly doesn’t revolve around feeling good. Being mindful doing the dishes is great, but you don’t have to feel it’s the greatest thing in the world. Do you think the buddha 2500 years ago said “when doing the dishes you have to feel like it’s the greatest thing in the world”. Doesn’t really sound like him does it?

The same with his vegan-ism and running. Hearing him talk about it you get the idea he has lost all contact with reality. From what I have seen of him he doesn’t look like the epitome of health. He looks too skinny. Instead of running and vegan-ism he should lift some heavy weights and eat some steak.

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Nelly August 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Quoting Robert: “Do you think the buddha 2500 years ago said “when doing the dishes you have to feel like it’s the greatest thing in the world”. Doesn’t really sound like him does it?”

Yes, it actually does sound like him. Check out more about Buddha’s teachings and you’ll see.

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rolf September 10, 2011 at 2:19 am

I haven t read all the comments on this post-they doesn´t matter me- I can say about Leo that his articles helped me through a bad time of illness and now- I think that he is only thinking about to sell his books and bootcamps- He is right now on the point to be only a businessman, no more anymore. Sadly. I hope he will come back to his blogging roots- then I will read his postings again.
rolf´s last blog post ..Food Comparison

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Mary September 13, 2011 at 3:38 am

This was a great thread. I do marvel at the number of people who think Leo is being less than his authentic self. Who knows what motivates or inspires another, we are all just trying to deal with what is in front of us at any given moment, and that is enough for any one of us. But regarding the original quotes that kept this thread rolling, “whatever I’m doing right now is perfect” and “There’s nothing I’m ever doing that isn’t the most incredible thing on Earth”. What we are doing right now IS perfect, because we are here and we are doing it. The moment that we are in is all that will ever be, we can never not be in the moment, although our mind can, and does, obscure that skillfully. And it CAN be the most incredible thing on Earth, incredible does not exclude something that “sucks”, it only means that you are getting everything out of that moment that is possible, even though it might be something painful. Pain is a valid response in many instances, such as the cancer example, and we will have those experiences and be who we are because of them, and that can be the most incredible thing in the world.

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Lori October 7, 2011 at 1:51 am

Found some interesting discussion here. But, one thing that I know is, “Sometimes life does suck and it’s OK….” Sometimes we fall down then up again, we learn from our mistakes, and … that’s life.
Lori´s last blog post ..Guide to Dating Smart

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Jenny October 7, 2011 at 2:50 am

Great for me that I found your Blog… I just started with my own Blog, can I reference to this post? I want to write something on similiar topic!
Jenny´s last blog post ..I got started to blogging!

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Stephen Mills October 7, 2011 at 6:21 am

Hi Jenny, Certainly you can reference anything here. Good luck!

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Jesnitte38 October 8, 2011 at 5:15 am

Finally i have found some information on this topic, great! Thanks for the reading.

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Derek J. Maak June 18, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Hi Stephen,

I have to agree. I think Leo has some great advice, but I think he takes it too far. I suppose what he’s really trying to say is simply “make the most out of whatever situation you find yourself in”, but to go and say, “I’m always where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing” takes it too far.

In life we have to do things we don’t WANT to do, but when you find yourself in those situations you can CHOOSE to either complain and respond negatively to it or accept it and try to make the most of it.

If I had a child on their death bed I definitely wouldn’t be where I want to be doing what I want to be doing.
Derek J. Maak´s last blog post ..Should I Text Him First?

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Learn Dating Tips October 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm

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my facemicdiggory April 13, 2013 at 10:33 am

No personal disrespect to the Zen community or Leo, But personally i think the minimalist movement is bullshit, he points out that we dont need cars, our own houses, or phones, but how do you know? 2 million years ago we didn’t have any of that stuff, that doesnt mean we should downgrade human civilization to hunter-gatherer times, he also argues that you shouldn’t buy stuff that you want, and you should shop in thrift stores, yet he has an iMac and a macbook that cost thousands of dollars, also technically the only things we need to live are food and water, in that case let’s just all go out and live in wilderness, naked and eat grass until we all get eaten by lions, what the minimalist community fails to realize is that the only reason we exist today is because of STUFF things that aren’t essential for example guns and other weapons that’s the STUFF the whole reason why we are alive today is because of our ability to make incredibly advanced STUFF out of nothing, back then it was guns and weapons to keep ourselves alive today it’s iphones to get up for work or email the boss, back then it was hunting to get food, today Its getting money from work and buying food, minimalists also seem to think that advertisers are evil, what they don’t realize is that the entire world economy and human civilization is based on buying and selling, whether directly or indirectly, for example if you’re working for the government or any other company even if you’re not associated with retail at all you are indirectly a part of this buying and selling cycle, that’s how the world goes around, even Leo has to have a job, for example, I don’t know what he does but whatever he does even if it has nothing to do with retail is probably selling someone something, for example if you work in the city government your job is to keep the city clean and crime free so that people will move to your city, so you’re selling in the form of a clean city, people are paying in the form of taxes. So in conclusion human civilization is based on buying and selling, suggesting that we go minimalist and destroy civilization is crazy talk, I may sound crazy but just think about what would happen if the entire world switched to minimalism we would be backtracked to prehistory and civilization would be destroyed

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