Last April I became vegetarian, because of the horror of scale. Eating meat at a global scale necessarily implies raising and killing and processing animals at scale, and there is no way to do this that feels either moral or sane to me. There are also carbon emissions consequences, of course. It’s all been thoroughly documented elsewhere.
I am a hypocrite, because I am still eating eggs and dairy and oysters, but that still adds up to a pretty good bit of beef and pork and lamb and venison and fish and chicken not eaten by me. So I guess that’s good.
But is all scale bad? I think not. The Romans came up with a way to make government scale (vast oversimplification, yes, but still valid I think). The resulting period of freedom from chaos brought great learning and improved the lives of many. I’m woefully underschooled in Chinese history but I suspect similar things can be said about China.
Then there is the Internet. Interconnectedness has made us all scale in truly amazing ways — we all I think derive great benefit from the ability to contact each other and find and transfer knowledge instantly. On the other hand it has also brought great pain and threatens to destroy open society because we can’t tell who to trust anymore.
(The above isn’t so much a failing of the Internet itself as much as it is our early failure to recognize the importance of real authentication in a connected world… but I digress.)
What’s important I think is that we start thinking in terms of scale when we do things. Should I change my plastic containers for glass ones? People say it’s a good idea… but is there a paper anywhere on the implications at scale? Probably there is, and I can find it on the Internet… hopefully an authenticated version.
UPDATE: Just ran across this article on farming sustainably. Whether the author is correct or not, the article illustrates the difficulty of making choices that have implications at scale. It is hardly ever obvious what the “right thing” to do is.