Midlife Ruminations

Scarcity does not build character

Benjamin Franklin on scarcity and worth. | Spirituality & Health

Scarcity was fun when I was growing up in Asia many moons ago. Power cuts meant candles, no homework and neighbours congregating in streets to share food, drink and what snippets of information they had about the power cut. The gossip mill went into overdrive about the reasons for the cut and when it would be restored. Every word uttered was guess work but that didn’t stop the conversations.

Power cuts would occur without notice, freeing us from the humdrum of routine evenings. Water cuts were another thing altogether. These were no fun especially if you were in the middle of shampooing your hair.

Somewhere in those years of power cuts I learnt about scarcity. The ultra-rich invested in private power generators as these were rolled out over the years. Burglaries started to happen when blackouts occurred. Scarcity was resulting in societal division. Fun during blackouts was reserved for those who lived in safe neighbourhoods – the affluent middle class living behind gated properties.

Last weekend I messaged my sister via WhatsApp, ‘Do you have enough petrol?’. She is a GP and has a child who needs regular hospital check ups. I walked past my local petrol station later in the day. There were no queues because the pumps were dry. The supply had run out, I was told, by early morning.

There were calls on social media like Twitter and Facebook to invoke the spirit of the war and to ‘calm down’, not be ‘selfish’ and for people to think of others. All very naive, in my opinion. Look what happened with the loo paper fiasco pre-lockdown in 2020. Suggest a shortage and people will go bonkers, understandably.

In midlife, I live, as you do, in a world of plenty. We pick up our phones and place orders with delivery companies. The world of plenty has bred consumers who expect choices and not shortages.

Scarcity isn’t something that we are used to in the 21st century. Those messages calling on older people (which includes midlifers) to grin and bear fuel shortage is entirely misplaced. Just because people have memories of the ‘Winter of Discontent’ doesn’t mean that anyone wants to reprise it. ‘Winter of discontent’ sounds like a Dickensian novel and one best experienced as a literary sensation rather than a physical reality.

Freezing my a..e off in my lounge or, even worse, in the bathroom doesn’t seem like a character building exercise.

We don’t need to wait for the well to dry to know the worth of water because we already know the worth of everyday essentials. Hence the outcry against the foreign aid cut to countries where wells do dry up regularly.

In this political age which strongly advocates for individualism expecting people to bandy together over the shortage of essentials like fuel and energy is barmy. Telling people to ‘calm down’ and not to be ‘selfish’ are no more than vacuous slogans.

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