Saturday, August 7, 2010


Much of what has been lost in recent decades has been achieved by maintaining form and sacrificing substance for price.

Take eggs for instance. There is no question that what you buy in a supermarket qualify as eggs. They were laid by chickens, after all. But it does not follow that all eggs are equivalent. I used a few of these droopy, pale-yellow puddles in a brownie recipe last night and I was almost embarrassed. To hold them next to pastured eggs is a joke, unless you haven't seen pastured eggs.

Furniture is another example. What you may buy at Ikea certainly qualifies as a desk; it has a flat surface and you can put things on it. But no one would call this thing equivalent to a desk which is skillfully made with quality materials. Such things are so rare now that I can hardly conjure a picture of one in my mind.

Sound. My laptop has speakers which can play any song. But play something on speakers owned and modified by my housemate Matthew and you will discover that you hardly knew the music beforehand.

Friendship. Though you can socialize with someone on facebook, it does not compare to the face-to-face.

I do not claim that there is no good reason why in virtually every sphere of life our society has shifted toward hollowed-out shells of its former constituents. The trade-off is between substance and price. My pastured eggs cost ten times more than the cheapest eggs you can buy. The same can be said for furniture, sound equipment, or quality time with friends. This sort of mechanism is responsible for the extension of a high standard of living to much of our society, so that many more can have "eggs" and "desks" and "music" and hundreds of "friends." It is an egalitarianizing process and therefore I understand how it is American.

But this process once unleashed continued unabated, past the point of strict economic utility until we no longer remembered what we had lost and did not wish to get it back even when we could afford it.

We are not a materially poor society. We are destitute not of money but of the good, the true, and the beautiful. It is only logical that we exchange the resource we have in abundance for the resource we lack.

Instead we spare no expense on our isolation and on our glowing screens.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Is your complaint here authenticity, or is it quality? Certainly there is a tradeoff between mass production and both quality and authenticity. The difference is that the quality-quantity tradeoff is in a sense purposeful, while loss of authenticity is an inadverdent byproduct.

This will be a key question in the future as technology continues to make it possible to produce higher quality products are lower cost. For instance, suppose that Ikea figured out how to produce high quality furniture at rock-bottom prices. Would you still prefer the hand-crafted "authentic" variety? Or suppose scientists created synthetic eggs that blew even pastured eggs out of the water, and could be produced for pennies a dozen. Would you still prefer pastured eggs, because they came out of chickens?