Surplus

Surplus is an essential part of life. Imagine a gazelle on a plain of poor grass that barely offered enough nutrition as long as the gazelle ate constantly. It’d have no time to watch for predators, couldn’t afford to expend the time or energy to run from one even if it spotted one, and don’t even mention breeding and raring offspring. This applies to all life great and small, and it applies to humans and societies.

We humans have the ability, above and beyond that of other animals, to spend surplus time and energy on lasting improvements to ourselves, our tools and our societies, to the benefit of ourselves and our descendants. Sure, there are animals that can be said to do similar things, but we alone can chose and plan our efforts. That’s where the luxury of modern society comes from and it consists of. Our ancestors worked to improve their tools and their societies and we reap the fruits by having even more surplus time and energy.

But, again above and beyond that of the other animals, we have the freedom to chose to spend our surplus on ourselves, with no benefit to either or own or our society’s future. I’ll call that frivolities from now on in the text, biased as that choice of term may be. You may be thinking, if this post so far has made you think at all, that there are examples in the animal kingdom of this, but you’re probably wrong. Take for instance the lazy lions spending lots of time just laying about the savannah. Aren’t they just enjoying themselves and frivolously ignoring their future? I think not. What would a lion do if it wasn’t laying about? Go hunt? And then what? I suppose it’s theoretically possible for a lion shaped creature to butcher meat and make air dried jerky as a reserve in case of emergencies. But even if that wasn’t impossible for a lion brained creature, what would be the point beyond surviving lean times? What would a lion do next when it had a full belly and a good store of jerked gazelle?

Sorry! That might have been an unnecessarily long tangent on non-existent inventive lions and you might be thinking, “I never thought lions should make gazelle jerky, what kind of stupid straw man argument is that?” The point was, of course, that I think any example of animals being frivolous will be stupid, but if you have an example of animals that could, without ridiculously increased inventiveness and mental faculties, spend their time more wisely, I’ll be happy to learn of it, but I’m fairly sure none exist. Humans and human societies however, can spend an inordinate fraction of their surplus on frivolities. In fact individual societies and the global network of societies are currently set up so that individuals and whole societies have available, not only their own surplus, but that of other individuals or societies as well. Them that’s got shall get. Them that’s not shall lose.

Now some may not see that as a problem, but I can only assume such people are either ignorant of reality or selfish beasts. If you’re a selfish beast you can just fuck off right now. I’m not interested in discussing your rationalisations of your egotism. But if you agree that the problem exists, or you are open to the possibility that you’ve been ignorant of it and might agree once you’ve thought it through, you should feel free to stick around.

At this point I must admit I’m part of the privileged minority commanding more than my fair share of humanity’s surplus sense and that I’m no saint wisely spending all that surplus on righting the imbalances in the world. The hours I’ve played Bejeweled 3 (some of them only this weekend) for instance, could have been spent more wisely, and the monetary support I’ve given the Bejeweled 3 developers, insignificant thought it may be to me, would make a real difference to those at the other end of the privilege scale, but a very important step is acknowledging there’s a problem and identifying what it is. And if at this point you’ve not realised the problem consists of a) the uneven distribution of power over humanity’s surplus, combined with b) the irresponsible utilisation of that surplus, I’ll be happy to educate you further in future posts, or in devastatingly clever replies to any comment you may have.

NB! If you want to argue about having been told to fuck off, you’ll have to wait until a later post.

Posted on August 28, 2011, in Humanism, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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