To progress, one has to have no other choice. To have no other choice, one must reach the brink. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close…
In Caring Is Sparing Nada – Part 1 I mentioned my tendency not to bag the last items on the shelf, leaving at least one behind for another shopper, a tendency which I’ve been breaking lately, and which I discussed with a guy versed in the grocery business.
We were at the pub, having drinks, and this guy explained that bagging the last item would lead to grocery shelves getting restocked faster, then he ordered another round of beers without waiting for the slower drinkers in our party to finish their pints.
I gulped down my fresh beer in anger. I’d been played by a surprisingly eloquent speaker of dubious qualities. I wanted my blood back.
Bingeing on my drink felt the right way of going about it.
It wasn’t. I was playing right into his argument.
The guy leaned in with a smirk.
‘Seems to me that your glass is half-empty. Of course you’re going to say it’s half-full. I guess it depends on your outlook. But the truth is – the bitter truth … I mean it doesn’t bloody matter, does it? What matters is, do you want another drink or not?’
I didn’t answer.
So he answered his own question.
‘I guess it depends on how you see yourself: half-drunk and in need of more alcohol or half- sober and in need of a rest? Meanwhile, I’ll be having one more – across the street. Cheers! I’m off.’
He kept talking to me while gathering his stuff.
‘You say you care about other shoppers? Good for you. I believe you – for what it’s worth. But listen to this. What’s more important to you: your precious little conscience or the bigger picture?’
With that he took off.
And I started thinking.
So Far, So Good… So What?
Necessity begets action. No necessity, no transformation. No leaps. No progress of any kind. No real or lasting change.
See, my natural impulse to immediately extrapolate what I’d just heard about the restocking habits of grocery stores made me apply it to other situations and goodies, like oil, gold, copper, salt, wheat, bananas, livestock, timber, water, other consumables and tradeables.
I wanted to see if the insight had any bearing on these commodities.
We’re Not Done Yet
Our materialism is mindless and out of control, depleting the resources of the planet at an unsustainable rate, all the while injecting our air, water and soil with toxic and corrosive substances…
Commodities and the environment. We obtain the former at the expense of the latter. We mine and cultivate what’s around us to create a world of our own making, an upgraded reality that befits our increasingly technical and refined knowledge.
Were we tapping our resources mindfully and with a strategy, there wouldn’t be any problems.
But, as everyone and their grandmother knows, we’ve gone berserk. Our materialism is mindless and out of control, exploiting the resources of the planet at an unsustainable rate, all the while injecting our air, water and soil with toxic and corrosive substances.
It’s a dead-end scenario.
Or is it?
Let’s apply the grocery store insight and see…
Isle Earth Has Not Been Stripped Clean Yet
According to the beer-guzzling, grocery store guy who trampled all over my altruistic impulses, employees take better and more decisive action when their hand is forced by the situation at hand, replenishing stocks more promptly and efficiently when said items run out, not when they’re ‘almost finished,’ or ‘not quite sold yet.’
In other words, necessity is the mother of action/innovation/invention/initiative.
Great cliché, resounding truth.
One look around and we see how this is an undeniable, universal principle, one which is especially prevalent in cases where there are too many cooks – where decisions are made by many people, on a number of levels, leading to diffusion of responsibility, in systems that operate on varying degrees of organization.
Take Feudalism. An initially productive system, feudalism turned bad and ugly over the years, and took centuries to overthrow and substitute. People had to be brought to the absolute brink before rising up to claim their independence from the rule of feudal law.
And the Nazis, the notorious madmen and women of 20th-century Europe, took by force a lot of European real estate before getting confronted by their neighbors. The entire continent of Europe and much of North Africa had to be taken over by them and millions of people had to be destroyed before the rest of the world took a stand against their psychotic vision.
How about money for AIDS research? It was pumped in the system only after an HIV epidemic hit the globe — nay, until the West was afflicted by it, leading to meaningful (re)action.
And NASA, the wonderful, magnificent, awe-inspiring agency with its awe-inspiring vision and its super-cool missions? Was it founded on man’s noble vision to explore the world beyond our atmosphere? No! It was created in order to counter the Soviet claims to outer space, which were driven by a need to outpace the US on all counts of technology and infrastructure. The Soviets wanted to be the one super-power to rule them all, a notion which the USA countered with its own race for achievement and accomplishment, the results of which have often appeared grand, noble and inspired in hindsight.
How about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant? It had to blow up before a moratorium was enforced on nuclear plants in other nations, not to mention the long overdue safety upgrades that were enacted.
And the Arabic and/or Islamic system of government in its many dysfunctional forms? People had to be stoned to death for adultery so that people across the world paid attention to what was happening in Saudi Arabia. People had to set themselves on fire in Tunisia for citizens and subjects across the Muslim world to rise up and say, Enough with this bullshit! Enough!
Ditto for the protests in the West-and-beyond against the corruption of big finance, a force that sucks the world’s resources dry for the benefit of dubious interests, which ordinary people have decided to challenge with increasing rage and force.
And still not much has changed, despite the uprising and anger.
When All Is Said And Done
Until all the oil is pumped out of the ground and the shale rock has been bombed into natural gas and the fresh water reserves have been sucked up and every tree has been cut down and the air is unbreathable and the fish supplies have been used up, we won’t take action
The list is long and revealing. A spectacular, endless array of terrific achievements, momentous policies and inspiring courses of action, all of which were taken in the face of disaster, in the wake of necessity, and not a moment sooner.
It seems that we’re wired not to transcend our limits or excel in our activities until we absolutely have to. It’s a survival instinct, preventing us from taking unnecessary risk. It may be less prominent on the individual level, where individuals make huge leaps consciously – and way before they absolutely have to – but on the whole, as a species, we’re bound to necessity like fire to oxygen.
So why play against the odds and go against everything we know about ourselves? Why pretend we’re going to somehow wise up and save the day before the shit hits the fan? Why not come to terms with the fact that until all the oil is pumped out of the ground and the shale rock has been bombed into natural gas and the fresh water reserves have been sucked up and every tree has been cut down and the air is unbreathable and the fish supplies have been used up, we won’t take action. We may want to, and believe with all our might that we will, convincing ourselves that we’re going to gradually-but-steadily convince others to step up, take the initiative and join the good cause, saving ourselves from ourselves – a nice idea, but the fact of the matter is that we won’t, not unless we reach the stage where necessity forces us into decisive action.
FORCE us into action. Into DECISIVE action, not hopeful agendas. Into action that only a depleted shelf-of-a-planet can INDUCE.
Caring Is Sparing NOTHING
We are wired not to transcend our limits or excel in our activities until we absolutely have to…
So here we are. Depleting our resources is the only realistic, optimistic, objective answer we have. We have to gobble up the entire supply before worrying about the next stock. Until our resources are gone, humanity, as a whole, doesn’t have the need, wish or energy to replenish the shelves.
As a result, people like me, people worried about the ones coming after them, hold back for no reason. The gesture of saving up is noble, but it merely delays the process, prolonging the anguish and torture.
Why prolong the torture? Why not cut to the chase and use everything up as fast as we can? The sooner we burn through the resources we have, the sooner we will be compelled to innovate ourselves out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves in.
Not such a moot point after all. Unnerving and ominous, more like it, but pretty accurate as far as human tendencies go.
If nothing else, it makes one feel better about being a selfish git, pinching the last remaining items off the shelf and consuming electricity, fuel and energy at will, without giving a damn if in doing so we deprive someone else of them.
It makes one feel even better about the fact that we may have not given the matter any consideration in the first place. That we consume things just because.
Please continue. Our transformation depends on it.
From your glaring Spin Doctor,
Mouths open, grind away, for better worlds and brighter days!
Have a nice epiphany!
And remember, caring is sparing nothing at all.
One more round please!