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.
Kim and I are back home from Philadephia having put on an 80th birthday party for Carol, her mother. We rented the special event room at a local Irish pub she likes and invited a whole bunch of friends from her neighborhood and her past. Everyone had a great time, as near as I can tell, and Carol really loved seeing all her friends and so on.
I love parties. I love throwing them and I love going to them. Throwing them is, obviously, much more work, but in a way more rewarding because no one is going to make you leave early. I used to think that the best way to get invited to a lot of parties was to throw good ones. After 20 years of throwing what everybody said were really good parties in Philadelphia, though, and not ever being invited to any, I concluded that the best way to get invited to a lot of parties was to be friends with people who throw parties. Unfortunately for me none of our friends turned out to be those kind of people.
I said I love parties but it’s important to say that I don’t really love loud parties where you can’t hear anything. This makes me sound really old but actually I have always been like this. What I like are parties where you get to talk to a lot of interesting people, make connections, make new friends, catch up with old friends, and so on. This kind of party turns out to be actually really rare, which surprises me. Either my idea of a good party is radically off from everybody else’s, or what I think of as a good party is difficult to achieve. I’m going to go for the second thing since the first would just imply that I’m weird or iconoclastic, which may be true but not the point of this blog…
Ultimately I think good parties require forethought, mostly about who you invite. It’s a bit like planning a meeting. I used to think that you could plan a meeting just by grabbing everyone who has an interest in Topic X and making them talk about it, which is really not at all the case. Parties are the same, which unfortunately means sometimes you have to leave people out to make them good. And suddenly politics has come into the mix, and the risk of offending people, and so on. Maybe this is why people don’t throw more parties…
Ultimately though it is worth the effort. I’m sad we haven’t done more since we moved to Boston, since I think our apartment would make really a pretty good party locale. Maybe we’ll plan something for Memorial Day.
Walking by Boston South Station (main train and bus station in Boston) this afternoon a scammer, one of many in the area, approached us, saying “Can you please help me? I’m from New Jersey.”
We waved him off, and a minute later Kim turned to me and said “Can you believe that guy? I’m from New Jersey, and I’m not being helped…”