Sometimes I wonder if scarcity doesn’t contain its own form of wisdom, in how it effectively focuses in on what really matters. Whereas, with novelty and excess, it’s almost as if we lose that “line” between what we truly need and everything else that’s on offer.
Isn’t there a sense of indulgence to being in a position of “plenty” in that we’re free to make quite frivolous, unnecessary choices? Once essential needs have been met, aren’t we – almost by definition – in the world of excess? Living in that space, how are we to decide which non-essential items we want most? What sort of yardstick do we use for that?
Could it genuinely be true that less is more? That choosing what matters is better than chasing what doesn’t. Of course, seeing what matters isn’t always easy: we all have interests, desires, and expectations of what’s going to make us feel our life’s worthwhile, admirable or otherwise satisfying. What are we ever looking for in the things we seek to own? (Notes One)
Somehow, it also seems that the more we have the less we appreciate it. As if acquisition itself only makes us desire more. Do we become desensitised to the value of things, chasing instead the thrill of wanting, pursuing and attaining the next? Maybe, having many things, we’ve too little time to recognise their worth, or the stress of managing them starts outweighing any pleasure they give.
Strange maths is surely going on here? This balance of desire, attention, distraction, fear of loss, and the never-ending search for more, newer, better… How are we to judge what we truly need out of “all this” if, in all honesty, we don’t really “need” any of it? It seems an odd sort of basis for society, this unfettered pursuit of whatever our hearts desire (Notes Two). Aren’t we notoriously insecure and suggestible?
The calculations behind society may be fascinating to consider but impossible to unpick. To what extent is the West actually built on the pursuit of more? More knowledge, more understanding, more skilful realisation of laudable aims may be justifiable; but “more stuff” seems a pretty questionable foundation. What’s the social, psychological and environment cost to that? (Notes Three)
What if, with all our freedom and choice, we’re missing the point of where value lies? In a world of scarcity, we’d likely value our belongings quite highly – those resources and assets that serve us in building, maintaining and shoring up what truly matters in life. Moving out of that world, how do we re-establish a sense for what’s really needed? If we just follow our heart, where does it lead?
Perhaps what I’m asking there is: what guides us? Can we recreate wisdom in the world of plenty and somehow re-discover that “edge” where our choices are, again, necessary and constructive? Rather than chase whatever we’re after, could we engage with the freedom markets offer to act wisely for the good of society in all the ways that’s conceivable?
Notes and References:
Note 1: What’s not essential
Note 1: The insatiable desire for more
Note 1: Attacks on our humanity
Note 2: “Small is Beautiful”
Note 2: One thing leads to another
Note 2: Social starting points for modern ways
Note 2: Life’s never been simpler…
Note 3: Problems & the thought that created them
Note 3: Things with life have to be maintained
Note 3: At what cost, for humans & for nature