The Right Dose

“There is beauty in simplicity.” Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. And on the other side, “Things are never what they seem”; quantum physics, philosophy and the female mind tend to battle the idea that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

It seems to be human nature to find explanations that we can actually understand. Therefore, Occam’s Razor and other heuristic tools seem reasonable and appeal to our sensibilities. If you think about it, even the belief that “things are more complicated than they seem”, that simple solutions don’t actually solve anything, is itself a simplification that stem’s from ones worldview.

What I mean by “The Right Dose” is that, lately I’ve been realizing that every community (and by community I mean pretty much everything, because even an individual human being has a body that depends on countless interactions between ‘members’ to survive) has an ideal level of simplicity or complexity at which it thrives; and any attempt to move it away from that point, be it towards more simplicity or more complexity, will be detrimental to its health.

The more I think about it the more I believe that today’s society has got it all wrong. Our culture seeks simplicity where things need to be complex, and over complicates where it needs to simplify. In the financial sector, we’ve (and I use the term ‘we’ in it’s loosest definition) created securities and financial tools that are so complex and tangled up that we (here I use to term ‘we’ all inclusively) really have no idea what’s going on in our economy, or how to fix it. In the big picture, that is Life, we have messed up in both directions. In our social lives we have often chosen a superficial complexity (I can now know what 1000 people did last weekend!) over deep, substantial and wholesome friendships. Our material lives are almost hopelessly complicated as we strive for more and more (even though we know that “mo’ money, mo’ problems”) even as we neglect to feed our spiritual lives, since the need doesn’t seem as pressing, and the spiritual is, by definition, less tangible.

A pretty clear example of how the wrong level on the simplicity/complexity scale can lead to movements away from the ideal level of simplicity/complexity in other communities is in the relationship between our current eating habits, the food industry and the way we treat our land. Oversimplified eating habits, in the form of diet fads, fast and processed foods, and our general lack of food traditions combined with a super complex and worldwide food industry has had wide ranging effects on our relationship with the organism (the land) on which we depend for our livelihood.

“There is beauty in complexity”

As a rule, ecosystems thrive on biodiversity. The problem with modern agriculture is that in exchange for gains in efficiency through use of machinery, pretty much all of the huge industrial farms grow in monoculture (that is one, usually annual crop like soybeans or corn). The resulting problem that stems from having thousands and thousands of acres of corn is that the fields become a haven/heaven for any sort of creature that enjoys feeding on corn; enter pesticides.

In nature, the pest problem would be combated through biodiversity. For one, all of the attractive plant would not be concentrated in one place, making the area less ideal for huge masses of the pest to thrive. Also, having diverse habitats and other plants nearby would attract other insects and animals, like birds and bats, that would control the pest population.

Other negative effects of monoculture include the need to use artificial fertilizers, constant plowing of fields and the resulting loss of topsoil (which is a result of poor soil conditions and lack of soil cover in fallow seasons). All of these problems have solutions in biodiversity, which can be adapted for use in crop farming, even though that might mean dismantling the gargantuan industrial farms currently in existence. But the main problem with our current farming practices is that, for all the efficiency gains touted by technology and monocrops, they aren’t very efficient at all. It is estimated that ‘primitive’ farming practices produced about twenty to fifty times as much energy as they required (not including sunlight of course, which is basically unlimited), depending on the practice; whereas modern day practices actually produce less energy than they require, counting energy inputs and food transportation.

The interesting conclusion is that if we as a society were content to live more simply, we could allow our land to remain complex, a situation that is arguably good for both.


~ by justinhong on March 22, 2009.

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