from the world's big
Excess is Not a Modern Problem
Consider the story of the wealthy New York banker and the Greek fisherman.
While vacationing in Greece, the banker meets a Greek fisherman and asks him how long it takes him to catch his fish. "Only a little while," the fisherman says. The banker responds: “So how do you spend the rest of your time?” The fisherman replies: "I play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play cards with my friends.”
The banker, a Harvard MBA, scrutinizes the fisherman’s business plan and encourages him to fish longer and sell directly to the processor instead of to the middleman; this way, he can generate more profits and control distribution. “To do so” the banker tells the Greek, “you will need to move to New York to run your enterprise. If all goes well, you will eventually sell your IPO and make millions.”
“Then what?” the fisherman asks.
“Then you can retire so you play with your children, take siestas with your wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening and sip wine and play cards with your friends.”*
This parable—ostensibly a critique of modernity—shows itself in antiquity. Montaigne retells the story of King Pyrrhus, who was planning to march into Italy when his counselor, Cyneas, expounds the inanity of his ambitions.
“Well now, Sire, what end do you propose in planning this great project?” – “To make myself master of Italy,” came his swift reply. “And when that is done?” – “I will cross into Gaul and Spain.” – “And then?” – “I will go and subjugate Africa.” – “And in the end?” – “When I have brought the whole world under my subjection, I shall seek my repose, living happily at my ease.” Cyneas then returned to the attack: “Then by God tell me, Sire, if that is what you want, what is keeping you from doing it at once? Why do you not place yourself now where you say you aspire to be, and so spare yourself all the toil and risk that you are putting between you and it?”
Let’s translate. It only takes one taste of success to feel vulnerable. You can spend a lifetime traveling in economy, but one trip in business class and you’ll wonder how you endured those tiny seats. Get one professional massage and you’ll start thinking you have chronic back problems. Start paying for taxis and walking a few blocks will seem like hiking a few miles. Drink a “nice” bottle of wine and suddenly “cheap” wine will taste bad, even though research demonstrates zero correlation between price and taste (this includes studies with so-called wine tasting experts). The more you have, the more you have to lose.
As Seneca advised:
Once… prosperity begins to carry us off course, we are no more capable even of bringing the ship to a standstill than of going down with the consolation that she has been held on her course, or of going down once and for all; fortune does not just capsize the boat: she hurls it headlong on the rocks and dashes it to pieces. Cling, therefore, to this sound and wholesome plan of life: indulge the body just so far as suffices for good health.
Psychologists coined the word “habituation” to describe our tendency to adapt to a repeated stimulus. Economists coined an even more cumbersome term—“the law of diminishing returns”—to capture the same idea in financial terms. But Seneca and Cyneas remind us that this proclivity is an enduring theme—present in all milieus.
“If a man does not give himself time to get thirsty, he will never enjoy drinking,” declaimed the fourth-century (B.C.) historian Xenophon, perhaps starting a tradition in Western thought about the perils of abundance. Writing in the 16th century, Montaigne traces a number of expressions, from Tibullus (“If your stomach, lungs and feet are all right, then a king’s treasure can offer you no more.”) to Horace (“Those who want much, lack much”) concluding, wisely, that “nothing cloys and impedes like abundance” and “all things are subject to… moderation.”
Barry Schwartz’ The Paradox of Choice wisely advocates a less-is-more approach, but decision making books that outline choice overload wrongfully blame modernity. The authors of these books deploy cute anecdotal stories (usually manufactured in hindsight) about strolling the aisles of a convenience store and becoming overwhelmed with choice. There are too many brands of Cherries, toothpaste, jeans, ketchup—high school graduates have too many colleges to choose from; menus have too many options. Abundance is of course a hallmark of modernity and it often strains the conscious mind.
But would the ancients be surprised?
Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons
* I borrowed portions of this story from here.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.