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Pay the Price

You gotta pay the price, because nothing valuable is free.

I’ve been realizing that more and more as I think about both institutions and individuals.  It seems true for both.  If you disagree, please provide some counter-examples below.

What about human institutional progress?  Here are four major examples that are widely considered to be paradigms of our progress.

Did we have to pay the price for the industrial revolution?  Even limiting ourselves to considering the development of factories (mechanized manufactories) just in the west in just the last two centuries, it’s difficult even to imagine the cost in terms of treasure, time, and health paid by the millions of humans who created and worked in them.

Did we have to pay the price for the agricultural revolution?  Where would civilization be without farmers?  We’ve been deliberately exploiting plants for over 10,000 years—and if you don’t think that growing plants well doesn’t involve sheer physical toil you’ve never even had a successful garden.  Cereals provide most of the calories consumed by humans today—wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, rye, sorghum, and several kinds of millet.  Without them, how could we feed our human billions?

Did we have to pay the price for the domestication of animals?  We began with domesticating dogs, but think of the labor involved domesticating what Jared Diamond calls the “Big Five,” namely, sheep, goats, pigs, cows, and horses.  What kind of civilization could we have had without the toil required for domesticating and training those animals to serve us?

Did we have to pay the price for developing language?  Only a few thinkers seem to realize the enormous cost we have paid for language.  Yes, as with my first three examples there are often cited advantages we have gained, but the price we have paid, particularly once we developed writing, continues to be high.  The truth is that written language enables us to live most of our lives cut off from the natural world!  While not the chief cause of our pain, my view is that that is the chief cause of suffering.

What about individual progress?  Do I even need to cite any examples?

If you are fat and fail to improve your dietary and exercise habits, do you really think that your percentage of body fat will spontaneously decrease itself?

If you are broke and fail to understand what others want, how you could help them get it, and then implement your plan, do you really think you are going to become a millionaire?

If you are ignorant and fail to improve your daily reading and other educational habits, are you suddenly going to wake up one morning with a vastly improved understanding of how the world works?

If you are dissatisfied because your mind is out of control and you fail to pay the price in terms of disciplining it, are you ever going to live as well as a sage?

Everything we value has a cost.

I just returned from a camping vacation in my favorite place, namely, Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park.  I genuinely enjoyed it, but I certainly had to pay the price for that enjoyment.  For example, I had to obtain all the camping and fishing gear.  I had to learn how to use it properly.  I had to provide myself with suitable food and potable water.  I had to move everything by myself to and from a well-selected campsite.  I had to learn how to protect myself from biting insects as well as the occasional raccoon or bear.  And so on.  My education on how to do well in the bush has continued for years.  In fact, such a trip involves such a high cost that few people do it regularly.  (Once you own most of the equipment, though, the financial cost is quite modest.)

Would you value a great love affair if it were easy to create and sustain one?  Would you value artistic masterpieces if they didn’t involve great talent and sustained, intense effort?  Would you value spiritual liberation if it were not difficult to obtain?

The world just is the way it is.  If you want something, be willing to pay the price for it.

Please don’t complain about it.  Just do it—or forget about it.

Posted in intellectual well-being

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