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The Diseconomy of Scale

Throughout the course of our lives, we adjust perpetually to our circumstances – those of us faced with adversity grow accustomed to it; those of us blessed with good fortune in turn come to expect the frictionless existences which we lead. Neural pathways are flexed and forged and, to our eternal peril, obstacles scale accordingly. As such, things that might seem a trifle to us can send those inculcated to comfort into a tailspin. 

And, dangerously, vice-versa. 

It’s fair to say that if you’re reading this, you’re likely somewhere in the middle, having the immense good fortune to be an English-speaker, in the West, able to afford a computer or cell phone. Congratulations, you’re extraordinarily lucky, as am I. But it doesn’t always feel that way. Without vigilance and gratitude, our relatively lightweight problems will fill to the space you allow them, and before you know it, molehills become unfathomable mountains. Leaving you, when the time comes that you’re faced with some real shit, hopelessly underprepared. 

Unlike my DevSoc comrade who recently wrote of sipping an Espresso in a cheery London cafe, I’m writing this in a Coffee Bean (an American chain) somewhere in mid-city Los Angeles, whiling away the time it takes for my vehicle’s alignment to get done. As auto shops don’t typically occupy LA’s most desirable zip codes, suffice it to say the crowd here is a bit more varied than my esteemed colleague’s London bistro. To my left, there’s a maybe-homeless, 60-something African American woman in a blue wig who orders, simply, hot water. To her left is a mentally-disabled woman of about 35, compulsively eating chewing gum. I feel saddened, but not existentially moved. I do what any of us does – avert my gaze, tuck into my laptop, and try to ignore the smells of unwashed bodies.

It’s only after another, more affluent woman comes in, exits, and returns that I’m reminded of something seismic, something I’d paved over with years of banal existential ease. She approaches the counter, her frappa-whatever in an outstretched hand, as though carrying a full diaper. “Did you guys put the vanilla powder in this?” she inquires, with the same suspicion and disgust as someone asking if they’d swapped the whipped cream with horse jizz. “Um, no, we just use the regular mix,” comes the obvious answer. “Well it doesn’t taste like it. You guys clearly have no idea what you’re doing,” she spits, before letting out a disgusted Ugh, leaving the drink on the counter, and storming out, her day clearly rattled by something as preposterously insignificant as a $5 coffee milkshake being too sweet. 

OK, now I get it. The pungent aroma of the homeless lady near me becomes all the more acrid in the void the affluent young woman has left. The absurdity of comparative misfortune crystallizes, and I realize, this lady’s whole fucking day has changed because of a coffee. She didn’t even ask politely if they could re-make it. She just stormed out, quivering with righteous indignation. Clearly absurd, right? 

But then I realize, holy shit – what similarly indefensible transgressions have I made in the course of the last week? How comfortable have I gotten, and how disproportionately have my problems scaled? What minutia have I gotten far too upset about? The service was too slow at the restaurant? Traffic sucked a little more than usual? I missed happy hour? I was suddenly horrified.

Then I flashed back to my life 5 years ago, when my problems carried the weight of life and death, and I was awash with a beautiful clarity. I used to have a fairly high-stakes occupation, the nature of which I can’t disclose on an open forum, but whose day-to-day operations carried a near-perpetual threat of physical violence and robbery. As such, smaller problems became just that – small. Wondrously, magnificently, insignificantly small. When I went back to the world of normies, I was perpetually puzzled by the shit people got upset about. And yet, years later, the siren song of bitching about trivia calls as sweetly as ever. 

As many veterans of combat arms can attest, when you’re dealing in extremes, when you’re gambling with your life and the lives of others, when the consequences are about as high stakes as they can get, the little shit doesn’t matter. You think that homeless lady with the blue wig gives a fuck if her frapp arrives a little too sweet? You think a dude who’s spent ten hours in a dick-dragger of a gunfight, trying to guide close air support while 7.62 rounds pepper the walls around him gives a rat’s ass if the beer isn’t cold when he gets back? 

The answer is, almost without exception, “Fuck No.”

It’s only when we become used to the soft, easy lives that we’re so easily seduced by that these trifles become grave. And God help you when some real shit goes down. If that lady was at an 8 out of 10 because of a coffee, imagine what she’d be at if she got mugged, or had a family member get sick, or got fired, or if any one of a litany of real problems came her way. 

Imagine what number you’d be at. Hopefully not as high as Ms. Frappuccino, but would you stay as wavy as Mrs. Blue Hair or Johnny JTAC? Probably not.

So what can we learn? What action can we take to inoculate ourselves from the disease that is the overabundance comfort? Gratitude and hardship. One of the core tenets of DEVSOC is, “Get Humbled.” Do some shit that makes you feel small. Lift weights ‘til you throw up. Feed the homeless. Climb a mountain. Test your mettle against something you’re genuinely unsure about your ability to navigate and prevail. 

The other component, I’d humbly submit, is an expression of gratitude. Whether it’s mentally, to a journal, as part of a meditation, take time to reflect on the blessings in your life, no matter how fundamental or basic they seem. You’re not in the street. You’re not taking IDF (at least, not right now, if you’re reading this). You’re alive, and you’re here. Whatever struggles you’ve got pale in comparison to those of the  blue-haired homeless lady, or a Yazidi being rounded up by ISIS, or a Kurd getting rat-fucked by our Cheeto-In-Chief, or any of the millions of people whose problems dwarf yours. Keep that shit in perspective. Weigh the obstacles against the globe’s as a whole, and ask yourself – is this worth my energy to stress over? Your problems will seem far, far less daunting, and far more actionable. And the good shit will seem all the better by comparison. And if for whatever reason your circumstances aren’t what you’d like them to be, remember, we humans are blessed with the infinite possibility for change. 

So keep calm, give thanks, get humbled, and enjoy your fucking Frappuccino. 

– Dirtbag Actual

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  • Jeeeezus… this was a good read… made me smile… there’s been a few times I’ve had the same reaction “Really? You’re losing your shit over ‘this’… seriously”.

    Many thanks for the smile, and the reminder… Stay Wavy

    Steve Mac

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