Monthly Archives: June 2005

The Poverty of Plenty

After a long hiatus, I have to open the newest entry with an expression of the utter futility of human activity. I sit here now engaged in a commercial activity that while relaxing in a Zen sort of way I have to question the logic of. For over an hour tonight I have perched myself here entering items for sale into my beckett.com marketplace but logically speaking there’s no point to it whatsoever. At last count, I had 85,943 different items for sale there, all entered by hand over the course of a little over two years. The reasoning for all this effort is a straightforward one: Money. Everyone wants a little extra money in their life but in my case it’s become obvious that I spend so much time acquiring the money in question that I don’t really have any time left to enjoy it. My mindless hobby has become a slave driver as every night I find myself trudging upstairs to mail out someone’s order. I could make more money in less time working at McDonalds but would they let me watch Dr. Who while I was making cheeseburgers?

When I was younger, this was all much less contradictory. I had a piddling allowance and more importantly nowhere to shop. For most of my life, I had access to one bookshop (and by bookshop I mean a junk shop that had shelf upon shelf of old dusty books from the 30s and 40s) so when the freak coincidences of ‘having the money for’ and ‘actually finding something worth buying’ occurred it was a MAJOR event. Even more significant, however, was the fact that when this major event occurred I actually went home and READ the book in question. When I waded through the hundreds of ancient arithmetic books and finally found a good calculus book I actually sat down and learned calculus. In relative terms, I had next to nothing but somehow it counted for more.

Now I can freely convert free time into cash and almost every book ever published is at my fingertips but in most significant ways I have lost ground. Before, I concentrated on a topic out of necessity. If I had a Latin textbook then I was bound to it by the virtue of its uniqueness in my library. It was either study the new Latin textbook or something I’d already read so the choice was simple. Today, in the glut of availability I have too many distractions. Which subject do I choose for my purposeless studies? Spanish? Latin? French? Russian? Botany? Mathematics? Literature? Writing? And once I get involved in one thing or another, I start to feel guilty about neglecting the others and am invariably pulled away. Because I have access to so much, everything I have is without value. I have a huge library covering all manner of topics from the sciences to languages yet do I speak any of these languages? Have I acquired any new skills? Hell no. I’ve wasted a lot of time and money acquiring these possessions but be damned if anything positive has actually come of it.

The same applies to my larger work life. Why should I work at a job I find relatively dissatisfying just so my family can have a larger and more expensive house than they really absolutely need? Would they not be equally happy if I were working in a library or science lab somewhere at one third my current salary? One might even argue that they would in fact be happier with less. When one has more, one tends to need more. The more I do to satiate the needs of those around me the more necessary it becomes to increase the dosage to maintain the same level of happiness. In the long term, this is not maintainable. In an odd way, the more you have at the beginning the sooner you are doomed to feel dissatisfied with your existence.

Clearly, in the game of the human condition, less is more. People in poverty find joy in things that the rest of us take for granted. Long gone are the days when an orange was considered a delicacy. The whole world is oranges; bring on the cocaine.

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