Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Deprivation

In my Short Guide to Overextension, I wrote:
Nearly everyone considers themselves busy to the point of overwhelmed, but few truly are at that point, or have ever been near it. The following is a test to see how close you are.

You're in the midst of a horrendously busy day, driving to complete an errand. As you go around a curve, you see that the road far ahead has been closed and a solid mile of immobile vehicles is hopelessly backed up. There's no chance of escaping a delay of an hour or two (and: there is no cell phone service).

In this situation, your response is to:
A. Fret, curse, sweat, and squirm, or...
B. Recline back your seat, smile a beatific smile, and feel a profound sense of joyful well-being wash over you

Most people would answer A. Such people have not yet reached the breaking point. For those truly under-the-gun, traffic jams and post office queues are Cancun. If you've been there (the breaking point, not Mexico), you understand.
Here's a similar thought experiment, this time regarding deprivation:

Say you've spent decades stranded in the Sahara, eventually working out a viable means of scratching out a life for yourself. You've found a small murky water source, discovered places to forage berries and an occasional mouse, and patched together a reasonably safe shelter. You can handle a sandstorm, and scorpions no longer pose a threat. Great resilience and resourcefulness have brought you to the point where you must work hard and do some very unpleasant things, but you know you'll endure. This confidence is an immense gift after years of panic, agony, and regret. You can breathe. You're ok. You've made peace.

Say a Range Rover drives by, full of jolly, champagne-sipping rich swells on vacation. They pull over, and the driver informs you that unfortunately there's no room to fit you and bring you back to civilization, however they were about to picnic and you'd be welcome to join in and quaff caviar and foie gras.

Would you do it? Or would you decline?

To most people, it's a "hell yeah". You'd obviously feel eager - even desperate - to enjoy as much as possible if the opportunity arose. But those who've faced actual deprivation and experienced the grace of acceptance know better. Such a meal would echo for years, thoroughly upsetting hard-won equilibrium. Acceptance and equanimity would have to be rebuilt from scratch. The one meal would do no good at all. It would be 100% downside.

The clich├ęd crazy half-starved hermit who chases away help maybe isn't so crazy after all. Those who've never experienced sustained deprivation simply can't understand.


Deprivation is an interesting and multifaceted topic, though much know-how has been lost in this increasingly affluent world. One of the liabilities of wealth is a highly constricted and simplified view of deprivation, which, ironically, is an enormous deprivation. There's way more to the topic than the weepy catastrophe of losing your Stuff (literal or figurative).

This posting mostly took the current view of deprivation - as unthinkable affliction - but hints that perhaps it's not as simple as it seems; that some greater value lies just over the horizon of the unthinkable. Going further, one of the Slog's most popular entries, "The Monks and the Coffee", offered an elevating example of how deprivation is merely a state of mind...which means other viewpoints are always available. "Lasagna and Depression" explored how to shift viewpoints - i.e. how the coffee-loving monks got that way - as well as the perils of indulging a mindset of deprivation. And "The Inside Story on Asceticism" turns things around entirely, asking whether the appearance of plenty truly appeals in the end, and observing that well-pruned trees grow more fully. Maybe we've had it backwards all along!

Finally, don't miss "The Evolution of a Perspective", which traces all my thinking on this, and starts with this:
Most human dissatisfaction is the result of asking yourself: What's missing? What don't I have? Who or what is not here? How does my current circumstance fail to measure up to expectations? What about the current moment is imperfect? We are princesses constantly scanning for mattress peas.

None of this has anything to do with what's actually happening (what's happening is what's happening!). Instead, it's about indulging a conception of yourself as living in a movie, and viewing your outcomes from the vantage point of an audience, measuring how far circumstances stray from the script as you envisioned it.

It is, quite literally, insane; a narcissistic fantasy world, none of it real. But this is how people with idle time (an unusual human condition found only among the rich) make themselves needlessly miserable.

1 comment:

Display Name said...

Nice. It helps to have fun where you can. Late at night when hitting the atm for a fast twenty or fourty I've been known to scream I won I won! Ideas are everywhere. I'm so trying the elevator bit! http://www.sheldoncomics.com/

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