“Simplicity is the essence of universality.”, Gandhi. In this age of consumerism and creature comforts, austerity is a concept that is often not even comprehended. Gandhi proved that Living a simple life has it benefits because it keeps you focused on your purpose.
As a child growing up in small town in India, I remember my mother sending me a shop to buy loose grocery from the local shop. We will have to go carry our containers to carry it back. We have a milk delivered every twice in a day by a milk man on a bicycle. He would have two large containers on each side and he will deliver the milk in our containers. We will have recyclable items such as papers, clothes collected from our house and in return my mother will receive a small utensil or a pan while person collecting will be able to sell this to local recycling shop in exchange for money. Left over food would be either collected in the evening or my mother would send us to nearby farm to feed it to cows or dogs. Size of the bin in our house of four was less than 5 litters and that would go to the nearby farm which will use it as a compost. Plastic bags were considered precious and would never make it to the bin and there was hardly any packaging for the items bought from the shop.
Fast forward this today, my basic need for family of four in London has not changed much, compared to the needs my parents. I could walk out of the supermarket with the handful of bags with lots of things (many I could have managed without). In the Friedman fuelled economy, where organisation’s sole purpose is to increase it’s profits, consumption is good indicator for growth. Even before Friedman, economics was driven by Homo Economics and ‘Utility function” that can mathematically express the preference of the invisible Economic Man what he wants.
In the book Nudge, Thaler and Sunstein claims that our brains are dichotomous. Too often, our impulsive, myopic, unreflective reptile half seizes the levers of choice from our resolute, farsighted, thoughtful human half. The upshot: we are more Homer Economicus than Homo Economicus. And, since Homer Economicus fails systematically, can be manipulated. Movie houses, for example, could insert a fleeting ‘‘Eat popcorn’’ message and boost popcorn sales without moviegoers even knowing they were being manipulated. Except now, the science of manipulation is more sophisticated.
Kahneman and Tversky explained dichotomy between two modes of thought which they called System 1 – fast, automatic, intuitive and System 2 – slow and analytical where reasons dominates the thinking. Due to these differences and conflicts between these systems, people are often subject to making mistakes that are the result of widely occurring biases, heuristics, and fallacies such as Anchoring – putting too much emphasis on one piece of information, Availability Heuristic – tendency of relying on recent and readily available information, Representative Heuristic – underestimating or overestimating random processes or as Nicols Taleb refers it as fooled by randomness, Unrealistic Optimism – could be good and bad, Loss Aversion – people feel bad about the loss than they feel good about the win, State of Arousal(mood) – when feeling very hungry food could taste better than feeling less hungry, Peer Pressure – This could be negative or positive.
Being aware and setting up a ‘nudge’ has made positive difference in many scenarios. One of the data suggests that in England plastic bag usage dropped 85% since introduction of 5p charge. As a result of various ‘nudges’ on recycling, over last twenty years in the UK, recycling rates have gone up from 12% in 2001 to 39% in 2013.
So, why should I care ? Well, for me answer is summed up in one formula. According to WWF, in 2017 we have used 1.7 planets equivalent of resources bringing forward overshoot day to 2nd August meaning rest of the year would be on credit. (overshootday.org)
Personally, I have started the journey (to focus on my purpose) and go back to the same level as my parents if not exceed by a applying ‘nudge’. my expense bank account which asks the question every time I make a transaction, ‘ Do I really need it ?’
May be Gandhi’s “simple living and high thinking” philosophy is what sustainability is all about and I need to continue my journey on that path.