I started writing this after the last natural farming article I wrote. The previous "just enough" article was inspired by this entry.
Abundance and "Just Enough"
Here on the homestead (and in other permaculture circles I've been a part of), abundance seems to be a major goal that we are working toward. More food, more diversity, more biological material, etc. There seems to be nothing inherently wrong with that, in fact its awesome. But, I've been struggling with this approach since I also associate it to the mentality of modern industrial and consumer culture: More and more stuff. More stuff usually means more waste, and we do that as a regular practice in modern life. And sometimes it is not so much the apparent element (like water) we are wasting, but the energy that is associated to that resource. I like what I read in the Humanure Handbook, something like "there is no waste in nature, only human nature."
Abundance often means we don't need to be as conscious of how we use things. Particularly if we have no feedback loop to keep us in check. If we have a faucet with endless water, we can let it go into the drain without ever using most of it, or even being aware of it. Think about how most modern dwellers wash dishes, take showers, brush teeth, urinate in a toilet full of fresh water, etc. Including myself. In Costa Rica when we were carrying our water over a small hill, we would use it preciously. For example, we wash the corn nesquesado (a preparation to make tortillas) and collect that water to wash our dishes with it, then collect it and water specific plants. 3 uses out of a small amount of water. We were able to do this because we had a strong intention to put our values into practice and because we had to carry this water, and water is heavy stuff. We had an effective feedback loop in the form of physical energy exerted. I think the danger largely lies when the feedback loop is not working. I've been a lot more conscious around my use and misuse of food, water, and energy. But, there are definitely certain behaviors/habits that are hard to transform.
I believe scarcity and limits help us to be more conscious of our consumption and use. It helps us moderate our consumption habits and look deeper into the relationship of what we need and what we want in the short-term. Growing up in Japan, and spending time in rural Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Cuba in addition to what I learned about wartime and postwar Japan really helped me understand the effects (positive and challenging) of scarcity and limits. Reading Donella Meadows further reinforced my understanding of this phenomena from a systems-thinking point of view. If you've never read "Places to Intervene in a System" I highly recommend this short piece.
*Especially for people who want to make social change and make this world a better place.
Meadows is also the author of "Limits to Growth" and "Systems Thinking: A Primer" that I am reading.
I remember a documentary I watched in a psychology class where a lottery winner destroyed his life after he received the winnings. He was probably working or middle class, then became a millionaire, and after a year he was homeless. I think about the many aid projects in developing countries or devastated areas spending hug sums of money on inappropriate foods/infrastructure/technologies that don't benefit the intended population. Or when people indulge in foods that are good for them only in moderation or maybe not even good for them at all. My weakness is for freshly baked bread, especially croissants and sour dough bread. Oh and Mont Blanc (sweet chestnut cream) cake. If there is a bunch of these, I will always eat more. I have a very hard time moderating my consumption of these foods among many others. But, perhaps the most pungent experience of over-consumption facilitated by abundance is that of energy and products produced from fossil fuels. Transportation, heating, food production, plastic, war, etc.
I guess this thought has gone long enough for today, but I think I need to both appreciate the experience of abundance while looking critically at how we interact with it. Maybe balance, as natural farmers teach, is what we should be aiming for.
Living in a way to appreciate and be creative with limits and scarcity.