Jul 10, 2008

The Entitlement to Being Able to Do Anything

A LITTLE bit of a whimsical title to this post, couldn't really think of anything better on the spot. It's a rant anyway, so you've been warned. Anyway, Paulo Coelho asked something interesting in his blog/video blog. He basically is making the point that there are many things in life that we never try to do because we've been told that we can't do them: start a business, pursue a hobby, or a lifestyle, go into a career, or whatever.

What I want to talk about here is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum. My main idea is this: how many things in this world are being done an endless number of times, with no thought for the environment in which they are being done? Let me give a few examples: how much paperwork is being generated by people and offices around the world just because paper is cheap and abundant? What resources are being diverted by telecommunications companies in big, underpopulated countries like Canada and Australia to set up network range in remote and uninhabited regions where less than 5% of their subscribers will ever go? I mean, they're incurring all these costs of putting up networks in places where most of their subscribers will never want network coverage, and then passing on these costs to the same people who'll never use the coverage.

Recently there've been reports of rare metals like gallium, indium, hafnium and such being `threatened' in their supply. These metals are highly essential ingredients to a lot of modern technology. Without them, we can say goodbye to modern airplanes, LCD screens, and some more similar tidbits. While they're not imminently about to run out, these metals are limited in supply. Now imagine them being used up to feed rising demand throughout the world ... going into factories, getting put inside the devices rolling off assembly lines at ever-increasing rates, and then staying in these doodads, the majority of which are not being recycled, but just filling--well--landfills.

Of course, the biggest waste that just gets me every time is water. We just use too much of it. Our baths and showers and toilets and sinks and basins all flush water down the drain as if it's a magical never-ending supply. People leave their taps on and go off and play a round of golf. Stuff like that. We desperately need water-saving washing and toilet systems, but right now they're pretty expensive. Let's hope they get cheaper in the future.

Then there are the businesses which are built on taking advantage of cheap gas (gasoline, petrol) prices. Yes, I said today's cheap gas prices. Because if gas was priced at its real value, home delivery companies which deliver to your house in 30 minutes or less, no matter how small the order, would be impossible. And people would actually be forced to get off their couches, turn off the TV, and go outside and get their own pizzas.

A huge case of consumers getting their way no matter what the cost is the current ethanol situation, and world food prices. Check this out: with rising petroleum prices, the developed countries have suddenly decided to ramp up corn ethanol fuel production and introduce laws forcing food ethanol as fuel on the public. And voila, corn supplies drop, and world food prices jump.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. The world today has a culture of entitlement, an expectation of getting whatever it wants, in whatever quantities, and driving up the price of whatever's in short supply--to such dizzying heights that producers almost literally slash and burn anything in their path to fill this demand. There's something wrong with this economics--the economics of entitlement and expectations.

On the bright side, there is something I hugely appreciate about this sense of entitlement by the people of the developed world (I think I appreciate the irony of it). It's the huge advances in medicine that we've made over the past couple of centuries. I know it's a tired cliche, the repeated mantra of how we've eradicated polio and smallpox and malaria and so on, but it bears repeating. And modern medicine, and the expectations and entitlements which drive it, are working on cures to cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's ... the list goes on. Maybe even the cure to ageing. And these cures are slowly but surely getting passed on to the rest of the world.

This actually brings us back to Paulo's question of how much in life we're not able to do simply because we think we can't. What I've been talking about here is how much in life we do and consume just because we think we think we are entitled to them. Ironically, we may end up thinking that we're entitled to the impossible--and then achieving it.

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