Consumption vs Production - Self-Sufficiency as a Virtue
[This post was originally published on Medium.com]
Consumption is a trap. You think you will be satisfied with one more tv show, one more online article, one more sports game. But you never are. The same is true of food. We need food to survive, but we are never satisfied with a meal for more than a couple hours. Consumption is a trap because it promises satisfaction, but never fully delivers on its promise.
Production is different. Producing something brings a special kind of satisfaction to the soul. It is not an eternal kind of satisfaction, but it certainly lasts longer than the ‘consumption’ variety satisfaction. I can attest to this because of my business. I worked hard to launch new physical products this summer, and now they are paying off. That brings a nice sense of satisfaction — knowing that I produced something and was rewarded for my efforts.
I would like to produce other things as well. Like writing. I think producing writing that other people find beneficial would add some satisfaction to my life. It won’t be eternal, forever-lasting satisfaction, but it does give a special kind of high that can be sought again through hard work and risk-taking.
Consumption is a trap because it promises satisfaction, but never fully delivers on its promise.
Producing something for a reward, whether tangible or intangible, is part of what we were created for as humans. It drives a positive feedback system that in turn incentivizes us to produce more of the same. If I write a good article, and someone asks me to write another, I am more likely to do it than if no one had mentioned anything. Similarly, if I experiment in gardening and reap the reward of a home-grown harvest, I am more likely to repeat that behavior based on my positive experience. Positive feedback loops are essential to incentivizing healthy productive behavior in people.
I think this is part of the reason I haven’t really desired to take many vacations this year. I am enjoying too much the process of living in our town — working on our home, working in the garden, running the airbnb, etc. Producing is a lot of fun when it aligns with your values and what you naturally enjoy doing. I don’t feel the need to ‘escape’ and consume food/travel/accommodation in some other random place. I would rather stay local, consume what I need to sustain myself, and work during the time that is available to me. I think that this is a good gift from God. Ecclesiastes says something to that same effect.
Producing something for a reward, whether tangible or intangible, is part of what we were created for as humans.
Even something as simple as making my own salsa. I really enjoy that and I love consuming it as well. It is a positive feedback loop that motivates me to continue making more good salsa to enjoy and consume. This kind of consumption is beneficial, when not done in excess.
Another example would be learning a new skill in fixing something around the house or in the yard. If I don’t know how to do something, but take the time to research and learn how to do it, I am more likely to appreciate the end result than if I were to simply hire out a particular job, or worse leave it incomplete. Not only have I achieved a completed job, but I have also learned something new and gained a new skill in the process. This is a multi-tiered satisfaction loop, it provides more benefits than just the desired end result. A completed project gives me new knowledge and experience that I can then apply to future challenges I’ve yet to encounter.
I think that is a good for man to become self-sufficient. Not self-sufficient in the sense that you never need anyone and live like an emotional hermit. That’s unhealthy. But self-sufficient meaning that you have honed the skill of trying new things, even when you don’t know exactly how to do them. This is mainly rooted in confidence and self-assurance — do I trust that I can most likely accomplish this new task or challenge on my own, without immediately doubting my abilities and second-guessing myself?
Obviously there are limits to this principle. I should probably never attempt to clear large tree limbs away from active power lines, because in that case the reward is not worth the potential risk. Also, society will most likely pay me NOT to do something like that, in the form of supplying city services that will come and safely remove the tree limbs for me at little to no cost. Another example would be air travel — I am much better off paying a professionally trained pilot to operate a jet liner with me inside of it, rather than attempting to take off, fly, and land the thing myself. Specialization of labor is an extremely important economic concept that underlies much of the wealth enjoyed by modern capitalist societies.
And yet, there is a balance between relying too much and too little on specialization of labor. Even though I shouldn’t attempt to clear those tree limbs, perhaps I should attempt to read my home furnace’s instruction manual, search a few youtube videos, and see if I can troubleshoot the issue myself rather than rushing to call the HVAC company for a $100+ house call. Perhaps I should spend a few minutes learning how to switch out my windshield wiper blades, rather than just purchasing the marked up ones from the oil change shop, just because they say I need new ones.
And it’s not only financial aspects to consider, as we discussed earlier. The more often I learn how to produce something I previously did not know how to do, the more likely I am in the future to solve problems on my own without ‘expert’ help. This tends to produce a snowball effect, where you eventually get to the point where only the most technical and time-intensive tasks are outsourced, while you can tackle everything else efficiently and with relative ease.
Thus, self-sufficiency is a virtue, if you are diligent enough to steward the confidence in your own ability to learn and try unfamiliar things.