Monday, December 12, 2011
THE RELIGION OF CONVENIENCE
More on this picture below.
I am going to propose a different perspective on our society today that I have not come across before. It has been an idea in the back of my mind for a lot of years now. It is the concept of the progress of western civilization and probably most of the world toward personal convenience.
It appears to me that most people are very happy to have much more convenience, which is in reality, less physical expenditure for a given goal. I realize that I indulge in this myself. There are several ramifications to this. Less physical and/or mental output for any desired goal means one more step toward physical atrophy and in many cases, mental atrophy.
Let’s examine the mental atrophy first.
When I was doing my practice teaching at the university, I noticed that the classrooms were filled with students happily punching in 2 + 2 into hand held calculators to get an answer, literally. Frankly, I was appalled. When I had my chance, I asked the classroom how many people thought that every time they punched in a request for an answer to an arithmetic problem that what the calculator told them in the readout was to always be assumed to be correct. Every one of them affirmed that it was always correct. At the time I was fresh out of classes engaged in all kinds of math problems and it was so long ago that I don’t remember the examples I used to show them that it wasn’t always true. I do remember asking them to give me an absolute number for pi. Of course this is not possible. For most hand held calculators, you get only 8 or so numbers that represent pi. I got some varied responses to this.
But, one of the results of students at the grade school level using calculators was that very simple arithmetic problems, (like multiplication) were seemingly beyond their abilities, same with simple addition, subtraction and division. I am forced to call this a form of mental atrophy.
Further, I found this to be true in other areas. Discernment, critical thinking, and logic were lacking, even at the university level of study. The convenience of calculators, computers and experts’ pronouncements on anything were accepted at face value rather than expend the mental energy to determine a truth for oneself. This mental atrophy can show up in some of the most obtuse areas. When we moved here to north central Oregon the “experts” told us that raising our own food was impossible, don’t bother to even try. Well, we found out that wasn’t a true statement, but most of the residents accepted it at face value. We and a very few others had to demonstrate that it was not a true statement and call attention to that fact. In the last couple of years, there has been a flurry of gardens and greenhouses in the area and the raising of small livestock for food.
I am sure that all of us can point to physical atrophy through convenient tools and gizmos that reduce our physical expenditures of energy. Otherwise there would be no reason to have workout gyms or home workout gadgets. Interesting, that sports do not fall into the concept of convenience but most of our daily lives do. It’s as if we are encouraged to make up for the convenience of daily life functions by being very extreme in our inconvenience of non-productive physical exertions. We are constantly being admonished to get off the convenient sofa and walk, run, go to the gym, whatever. And of course, there is the age thing to deal with; as we age, the ability to engage in non-convenience diminishes. I find interesting the proliferation of extreme sports activities that in actuality are quite dangerous. It’s as if the extreme convenience of modern life for most of us has to be compensated for by risking life and limb on dangerous sports.
In my younger days I participated very little in dangerous sports. Not that I wasn’t fascinated by them and wanted to, it just seemed that I never had the time or the money to participate. I was too wrapped up in expending energy on just living. Things like making money cutting, splitting, hauling and stacking firewood for the folks that would never be bothered with doing that. Or the making of things by hand for sale.
One of the themes running through the Archdruid posts is that convenience entails complexity, and that appears to be true to me. He further asserts that complexity also entails fragility, which also appears true to me. Complex technology has increased rather dramatically, in the last 200 years, the convenience of daily living. It would take very little to completely interrupt this technology and convenience. If a person has no idea how to make things, or how to maintain simple technology, and the complex technology is interrupted from whatever source, how would that person have a chance to survive? Examples; what percentage of our adult population knows how to either produce their own food or to even prepare it if they had it? Prepared boxed food that is tossed into the microwave or heated in a pan on the complex technology in the modern kitchen is the norm. I lived for a while in a city where almost without exception; the people I knew didn’t even have food in the refrigerator since they ate out at every meal.
IMO, we have carried the technology of convenience to such an extent that any interruption of this technology means a distinct lack of survival for most. It has also promoted the mental attitude of dependence and disdain for those that chose to not live that way. I’m a lazy old cuss, I want to find the easiest way to solve problems, and I have to admit that if I had the money to compensate, I probably would indulge in complex technology more than I do. You know, the bigger, better, more powerful machinery to accomplish a given task or to hire it done. I have to ask though; are we actually better off for it?
Let’s take a look at just one example of what is lost from a hi tech society with lots of convenience.
Only a few generations ago, we were predominantly an agrarian society wherein most families produced their own food. The extended family normally lived fairly close by. In the fall when the harvest came in, everyone got together and helped in the harvest and also got to share in the harvest. Also, fall was when the butchering of animals took place to supply winter meat, the steer, the hog, the rabbits the goose, etc. Everyone from toddlers to the oldsters took part. This is a far cry from going to the grocery store (the convenience) to doing it yourself. Without even touching on the quality of food difference, it did make the extended family all have skin in the game. In this only one example, convenience has an impact on social structure. I am sure all of you could come up with other examples that illustrate how convenience has affected social structure.
This also applies to the broader society, not just those in an extended family. The Amish are a good example of this cooperation between the whole community in projects that benefit everyone in the community and that group certainly cannot be accused of living with a whole bunch of technology to make their lives more convenient.
The top photo of a log building that encloses our wellhead is a personal example. We had loaned some money to a couple that were just flat out desperate. They reciprocated by helping us build that building. Now we could have bought sized lumber that probably would have been a lot easier to build, or even bought a pre-made small building and just had someone drop it on a rough foundation, a lot more convenient. But I had the small logs on hand taken off the property several years ago and a pretty good pile of reject lumber and roofing. I figure we have forged a much more lasting relationship doing it the less convenient hard way. Now believe me, I understand that our modern day life of long work hours to make the money to buy the convenience gizmos is the standard today. I spent a lot of years on that treadmill.
For the most part, it sure appears to me that the convenient life style has encouraged divisions between the populace rather than closeness and cooperation. I also think it has made our society a lot less resilient. Cripes sake, I live in a community of several thousands of people but yet there is only maybe a couple of dozen or so that I see face to face to exchange ideas and thoughts and to help each other out when there is a need. Depending on what value system you hold close to your heart, you can answer the question; are we better off?