That which one has no use of by definition befits waste. Our ends are seemingly to be as wasteful as it is humanly possible: the more wasteful, the more respectable, the more civilized, the highly, we think of ourselves. The ends, as evident, are about occupying or employing oneself for the sake of entitlement, barely about putting entitlements into proper use. Besides, after occupying oneself thus, one has neither time nor energy for such noble undertakings. “I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.” (Thoreau, Walden) That man, least wasteful, who appears to make use of that which he has and not merely to have more, in the language of our philosophy is poor, a savage, primitive, uncivilized. Him, we deem backwards and we can’t help but seek to enroll him, by all means necessary to our way of life, even if it means enlisting our gods to the task.
Entitlement for its own sake
We are very much at it, competing with the Joneses.
Every apartment in these highrises has a balcony; a space barely used but dearly paid for. The summer season is 3 to 4 months long. At most, for half of that period, the weather may be good enough for one to busk on the balcony. Summer is also the time when we most want to be outdoors, for various outdoor sports and activities, on holiday, simply away from home. So if you made the point of observing balcony occupancy in the season, it may be as high as 10%, with the 90% appearing to pay for a space that they do not put into use. Well, some use it as a storage space, for their bikes, garbage, extra furniture. Those who appear to use it best put up a flower garden. Smokers may yet be the most frequent users, even though smoking on the balcony has been outlawed.
Moreover, the majority have a month long holiday per year, and for the most, their balcony sits in the shadow in the afternoon. Besides, if the sun is out in full force, after a day’s work, a happy hour on the terrace is more appealing. On the weekend, a picnic, or the beach, even better. At home, one has other things to do, if they are so compelled: clean, cook, study or through the tube host those inexplicable strangers, whose power to distract and smother has become a necessity. One barely steps on the balcony even for a breath of fresh air, even though for highrises in the concrete jungle, there is none to be had. All however, work to pay for a space they barely use, as if the economy had no better way to take that extra money from our pockets, or nothing useful to offer, except making that which is unused a standard feature for which without exception all have to pay. It is not worth to mention the energy and time taken to produce the materials and to construct. Wasted! Veblen viewed it as a wholesale waste of time, effort, and resources.
Across the board, the quest is to have more and more, especially of what is never put into proper use even in its least allotment. The driving force behind productivity – the appearance of doing more in less time – is an unconscious quest to save time, as if there was a shortage thereof. By itself, productivity or time saving is not concerned with whether what is done is necessary, right and honest.
The question of what one is to do with saved time somehow eludes consciousness. Even with the natural allocation thereof, we are yet to determine how to best put it into use. Our fundamental understanding and utility of time is clearly expressed in common knowledge: time is money. We are yet to transcend such mechanical notions and as a result are unable to allocate it to higher purposes. Consequently, the majority of waking hours for a human are chiefly spent at making money and exhibiting the fact that one has indeed (used time as understood) made money: conspicuous consumption. What is produced and then consumed, beyond what is needed for sustenance, as long as time is money, scantily addresses a need. It is wasteful.
An abundance of time does not in itself guarantee proper, right and honest use. It is not due to a shortage of time that evil is done. Or as Thoreau had it in Walden “in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter.” The fact would not be any different if immortality befell someone so that they got themselves more time or all the time. Even then, as now, unless they made a conscious choice to do right, they may not transcend the philosophy of equating time to money and thus might spend an eternity unwisely. Not because they were short of time to do right but that they did not mean to. “We never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is.” (Bennett, How to live on twenty-four hours a day) It is a miracle, he claims, which you cannot buy a minute more of.
But if such is the state of things, we ought not be perturbed by wealth inequality, to be precise wasteful inequality.
After attaining some level of accomplishment, in having more than is necessary – being wasteful – we are cajoled into redistributing our wastefulness or a change thereof so that others who have not been fortunate in their efforts of being wasteful, or better yet have not been bothered thus, can have for themselves a taste of wastefulness, in return that we may earn respect for actions that are truly of no respect: being wasteful and instilling such ideologies onto others. In actuality, we do not merely give whatever it is we think we are giving, we also ask others, even oblige them, to conform their way of life to ours, their education, their finance system, their governance, and so on.
In attending a cultural fair, I could not help but notice in various forms the number of efforts, to raise money for different causes which at root are largely about wealth inequality. The concern is this: such philanthropy serves only to maintain wealth inequality; not to resolve it! Philanthropy may be considered an act of selfishness given that the inequality that it primarily sets out to address cannot arise had we in the first place acted with rectitude by not engaging in wastefulness – acquiring more than necessary – and depriving others in the process.
Philanthropy is not love for one’s fellow-man in the broadest sense. It may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. You boast of spending a tenth part of your income in charity; maybe you should spend the nine tenths so, and be done with it. Undeniably, any man of rectitude would be compelled to rid himself or his fellow man of the inequality implied, not prolong it or use it to his own advantage.” (The human experience: Design for optimal engagement)
That wealth inequality is as old as time speaks volumes of the purpose that has been codified into society, the selfishness of man, his disregard for his fellow other, and of misery that must feature in his life as a result. Having more than is necessary or even wanted, precisely, being wasteful while others remain in need underlines the utter stupidity of modern thought. Cases of extreme insufficiency are rare. Even in drought struck regions, it is not that there is shortage of nourishment but that those in need cannot afford it. So a lot has be wasted as long as its provision to them accrues no monetary value or esteem to the wealthy and their clique.
The human machine
We are amateurs at expressing the soul by means of the brain and body – the art of living – according to Bennett in The human machine. Since no attention, scientific or otherwise is dedicated to the real business of living, to the study of the human machine, to the optimization of human experience “we finish our lives amateurishly, as we have begun them.” Thoreau in Life without principle concluded similarly: most men get their living through mere makeshifts and a shirking of the real business of life as they do not mean to make living holiest and honorable, inviting and glorious. Of which they are well capable, we shall add. Thus the human machine, “wonderful beyond all mechanisms in sheds, intricate, delicately adjustable, of astounding and miraculous possibilities, interminably interesting” having been taken for granted, undervalued, neglected, is rarely if ever, put into honest use.
It is wasted. Is it not an intellectual and moral suicide, Thoreau questions, to put to waste the human machine by allowing “idle rumors and incidents of the most insignificant kind to intrude on ground which should be sacred to thought.” And what of that great writer who ejaculated “Give us more brains, Lord!”? (Bennett, The human machine) What were he to do with more brains if he were currently committing intellectual suicide?