December 12, 2012
I've run across a couple of posts lately describing different philosophies of how to choose the things you buy: The Best by Dustin Curtis, and The Worst by Moxie Marlinspike. I want to talk about the latter.
In summary, you'll have greater peace of mind if you buy crappy things because you won't be worried about them getting damaged, destroyed, or stolen.
In the author's own words:
The basic premise of the worst is that both ideas and material possessions should be tools that serve us, rather than things we live in service to.
He goes on to talk about how much you can learn from taking "a series of hare-brained cross-country motorcycle trips on a bike that barely runs" by fixing your "constantly breaking bike along the way". To me, that sounds like the embodiment of living in service to a material thing, but OK.
Partisans of the worst won’t give a shit if someone drops a dish while people are hanging out in the kitchen. They can push their crappy bicycle to the limit without worrying if it gets scratched — without even being too concerned about it getting stolen. They can play a spontaneous game of tag in the park without worrying about their clothes getting messed up, or go for an impromptu hike without worrying about their shoes getting scuffed or dirty.
When searching for "the best" products, durability and longevity are never considered? That's a bit hard to swallow in general, and impossible in this case, when you see that Curtis explicitly says "the long term durability of each utensil is also important".
I'll concede that, when buying nice things, there's one unavoidable concern: People like Mr. Marlinspike might try to use, or even take our shit. (See below.) But if I'm burning hours of my life worrying about that, it means you're an asshole.
Boasting expensive material possessions isn’t really anything new, but Dustin Curtis does it while framing his pursuit of these things as some admirable combination of special skill and uncompromising hardship.
The inability to plan, save, or control your own impulses is nothing new either, but Moxie Marlinspike frames these shortcomings as some admirable form of enlightenment. Which is more of a stretch?
And where is this alleged boasting? It's about getting "the best", not "the most expensive".
Conflating Price and Cost
In a sense, the best gives a nod to this by suggesting that getting the very best of everything will somehow make those things invisible to us. That if we can blindly trust them, we won’t have to think about them. But the worst counters that if we’d like to de-emphasize things that we don’t want to be the focus of our life, we probably shouldn’t start by obsessing over them.
Just because something has a lower price doesn't mean it costs less. And just because you spent less time thinking about something before you bought it doesn't mean it will consume less of your time in the end.
If your bike breaks, you might not care about the financial loss, but you still need a bike. And if you need it now, to get to safety or keep a promise, the financial savings will be little comfort. It might take little money to replace your dishes, but if your friends are over for dinner, you need them then and there. Does taking time away from your friends to go get more dishes cost you nothing?
Planning & saving comes with a cost. So does repairing & replacing. You can move the costs around, but in the end, you can't get rid of them. Different people have different priorities, and that should be fine. Live and let live, right? But only one of us sees it that way…
Between the Lines
People like this (who claim their stuff doesn't matter) are full of shit.
This is the thought process:
- My stuff doesn't matter to me.
- You shouldn't care so much about your stuff.
- Actually, your stuff doesn't matter either. You just don't get it.
- It's alright for me to use, or even take, your stuff.
No one really likes the initial premise regarding their own stuff. It's just something these people have to tell themselves in order to freeload with a clear conscience. That's what readers should take away1 from Moxie's post.
To the Tyler Durden wannabes of the world who want to be all "relaxed" and spontaneous, have at it, but keep these things in mind:
- If a squirrel can emulate your lifestyle, it probably doesn't mean you're onto something the rest of us are just too bourgeois to comprehend.
- Don't assume your attitude works for everyone.
- Recognize that others aren't obligated to bail you out of a mistake.
- Your attitude toward your own property does not diminish the property rights of others in any way. If you want to use it and it doesn't belong to you, then your opinions on what material things mean or how they should be treated are irrelevant.
Lest you accuse me of projecting or putting words in anyone's mouth, look no further than the post in question for examples of trespassing. And there are numerous other examples of depending on the property of others, with or without their permission, spread around the site. ↩