Is your life built well?

This is the age of shoddy craftsmanship. And it’s ruining our lives.

Imagine you’re living in the year 447 BC in ancient Athens. You have to build a temple — the Parthenon — to honour your city’s Goddess. She’s not a picky Goddess but you would like to impress her; after all, she is Athena and she gave you the freaking olive tree, so the least you can do is build her a temple.

The temple needs to be big. Eight by seventeen columns big (that’s a whole lot of marble). Did I mention you have to build this temple atop a rocky plateau that threatens death to all who dare climb it? Oh yeah, and just about every civilization in the Mediterranean tries to invade you every other Tuesday.

So, how do you manage to accomplish all this?

As the Ancient Greek Goddess, Nike, says (prior to becoming an athletic footwear corporation) — “Just do it.” And you do it. In nine years. You do this because you’re an Ancient Greek, which means you’re pretty much unstoppable in any endeavour that you pursue (unless, perhaps, the Persians invade you, but that’s a different story) and you’ll pursue it like a badass.

Now imagine you’re a developer in New York, and you need some condos to spring up from the concrete so you can make a few million. You design the building and hand it to someone who knows what they’re doing, and before you know it, another complex of steel and glass casts a shadow over the city that didn’t exist a year ago. You’re pretty impressed with yourself; and you should be — it takes a lot of work to build skyscrapers.

But how impressed will you be when the structures implode in a century-and-a-half?

The fact is, today’s collective mindset of efficiency leads us to create without sustainable intentions. We’re making and consuming increasing amounts of everything, as the line between want and need blurs; and when we want something (which is often), we tend to want it now. If both the amount of products and the speed at which they are produced must increase, then something must be compromised.

The first thing to go: quality.

Quality is no longer valued in society; at least not in the way, Ancient Greeks for instance, valued it. Things used to be made to last successive generations — today, you’d be hard pressed to find a multi-generational pair of pants that isn’t threadbare. It seems that the philosophy of creating for efficacy has been traded in for the shinier, newer philosophy of creating for efficiency. Of course the two philosophies could be applied together, and they should be (refer to the Parthenon as a distinguished example) — but this rarely happens today.

Whether concerning the production of buildings, cars, cell phones, or furniture — products are designed and manufactured solely with efficiency in mind; of course, efficiency in this case is equivalent to profit.

“How fast can I make this unnecessary thing without making total trash?” is the question at play here, paired well with “How can I convince people that this near-trash is necessary?”.

We see the result of these questions in our phones that cease to function (at least to the standards of consumers) and become obsolete a few years after they were purchased; or in our headphones and chargers that seem to have shorter lifespans than mosquitoes; or in our fast food that lengthens our doctor’s appointments and shortens our lives. Efficiency is not always the answer; especially when removed from it’s neglected cousin, efficacy.

But it’s not just in physical products that we see this: the way we plan our lives has become infested with the modern plague of rationality. Logic provides us with a coherent sense of the world and our place in it, and that is a necessary knowledge; all Ancient Greek thought and society was based on the logic of their philosophy — and they turned out pretty well. However, they used logic in order to free themselves from falsehoods.

We, on the other hand, are using logic to confine ourselves with falsehoods.

Is it logical to spend 4 years (or more) of your life jamming your brain with textbook factoids and droning lectures at hallowed universities? To find a 9 to 5 sitting in a cubicle, typing away about nothing of importance and getting payed handsomely? To find someone to procreate with and passively wait out the time until your partner and you have amassed enough paychecks to afford a subdued retired life? If one’s view of success lies in these interests (the interests of most, at least Western, individuals), then of course it is logical to want success!

In the case of modern success, logic is being used as the confirmation of worn out values — values of an efficacy-dry society. This guised logic drives our lives to the point where everything must adhere to the plan of “success” (i.e. education, work, family), and anything that does not is illogical. If you’ve ever heard something similar to “but you can’t be a musician/dancer/actor, that’s not a career!”, then you’ve seen this thought process firsthand. Their arguments may pertain to financial issues that arise from having an artistic profession, or perhaps the potential inability to support a family — all which demand that the status quo logic be followed.

By adhering to the ‘logical plan’, efficacy is again compromised, just as in consumer products. Yes, a life spent studying, then working, marrying, and having children is an efficient way to live; it can be achieved quickly and provides comfort (theoretically) to most individuals who seek it. But, life can be lived a thousand times more effectively, which is to say it can be enjoyed a whole heck of a lot more.

I can share a mouthful of anecdotes all about people dissatisfied with the bleakness and unfulfilling nature of modern life. Some individuals attempt to escape their lacklustre realities through travel or art or hallucinogenic drugs — some being successful in this, others not. Nevertheless, there is an awareness that ‘something’ is missing, though the ‘something’ may not totally be identifiable.

The something that’s missing is efficacy, and many of us are searching for it. Alongside this search lies the escape from efficiency, which tries to condense efficacy into a life of bullet-points, instructing us how to reach success quickly.

Perhaps our machinated minds are too set on efficiency that any attempt at efficacy would seem a waste of time and deviation from ‘the plan’. Or, in our search for efficacy we may find only unfulfilling Hedonism — and go down the same road of disappointment that efficacy presents.

If we learn to appreciate quality again, in life and every thing that composes it, then we’ll reap the benefits as a society. Looking to the Parthenon, which still stands after 2,500 years, let’s model our lives with the same efficacy. There’s no reason to plan our lives like they’re skyscrapers; only to tumble at the end of their short lifespans. Rather, if we build our dreams with the pillars of temples, then we’ll surely soar as high as skyscrapers.

Photo by Sean Pollock

I am a stupid, ineffectual fool. So are you, and that's okay. Join me in discovering the world - one flaw at a time.

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