I am not expensive because I live lavishly. I am expensive because, in social and ecological terms, I cost a lot to produce.
- My education took place at a university, supported by a huge staff of underpaid workers who themselves would never have the chance to study in the classrooms they cleaned.
- My fitness training took place in expensive gyms where only very determined or very wealthy people could afford to train, which were stocked with equipment shipped across the world from China.
- My nutrition, on Paleo, was supported by the deaths of more animals than I care to count (with such a strong reliance on protein) and costly exotic fruits and vegetables (like coconut oil).
- My writing takes place on a MacBook Air, one of the most expensive pen-and-paper substitutes in existence.
From a financial point of view, I don’t spend too much. From a resource perspective, however, I consume a lot. Of all the 7+ billion humans on Earth, I am easily among the costliest for the planet to maintain.
It hasn’t been a wasted investment (I hope). I don’t squander all this on constant partying, craziness, and self-indulgence. I do my best to live up to my potential.
If I’m to be honest however, a big chunk of what makes me a significant, capable human being comes from the fact that my life is composed of concentrated labor, knowledge, and resources from millions of people. The connections may be distant and tenuous, but they are certainly there.
I owe a lot to others for my success, even more so because I was lucky enough to be born in an affluent nation with access to lots of great opportunities. I must acknowledge how much others have given to me, and I’ve been struck with the importance of returning that investment to the world that saw fit, however much by chance, to prop me up.
The Real Cost of Being Healthy
In my quest to be healthy, I spent thousands of dollars on the best trainers, coaches, gyms, and food I could get. Financially, I understand that it’s probably cheaper to spend my money on health rather than on fighting disease when I’m older, but on a global scale, eating all those Paleo-, wild caught, grassfed animals and tropical oils isn’t very sustainable either.
Some examples of expensive, high maintenance, but healthy, behavior
- grassfed beef and butter, wild fish, pastured chickens and eggs, raw milk
- the quantity of meat and protein recommended by Paleo and high-performance athletics nutritionists
- organic, locally grown vegetables
- membership at CrossFit gyms
- personal coaching with gymnastics, olympic lifting, and martial arts teachers
- medical costs of alternative care sports therapists
- minimalist or barefoot shoes (why do we pay $100 to wear not-shoes?)
Many of these things are financially expensive but ecologically cheap. Some of them are expensive in both ways. The point here is more about realizing real costs of things we normally think of as always good.
The First World Arrangement
Americans in general are very costly human beings, and taking into account real measures of value like happiness, well-being, and ecological growth, I doubt any American has been able to create a positive balance of existence. To do that, you would have to positively impact as many lives as your first world lifestyle burdens.
That’s a pretty high calling.
I’m not saying we are all terrible people for simply trying to get by and taking care of our health. I am suggesting that we start to look at the real cost–and the necessity–of some of our living habits. Do we really need that personal trainer? Is the brand new ‘green’ hybrid car really a better option than simply continuing to drive our beat up old Camry? Is the global cost of imported organic coconut oil worth that little nudge in your health or sense of being healthy?
Maybe we can learn to train ourselves, using techniques that don’t require expensive equipment. Maybe we can set up our lives so that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to commute to work, just a bit of lung power and a bicycle. Perhaps supporting our local community and eating butter from cows raised sustainably is an decent substitute for coconut oil.
I don’t have the answers. I’m just asking the questions.
So, what would a positive balance look like?Where’s there’s a bike, and a tough as nails Vietnamese farmer, there’s a way.
Making people happier without creating additional pressures on others is surprisingly difficult. It’s much easier to just transfer wealth from one part of the global society to another. After all, that’s how America became so prosperous in the first place.
But creating value from scratch…now that’s something magical. That is the stuff of heroics.
Another approach would be to push value back towards balance. Grocery stores and restaurants throw out tons of food every day while millions of Americans starve. The food is there, but the economics don’t push it to a fair equilibrium. Doing the work to regain balance is a worthwhile endeavor.
People who have nothing often find ways to create value, instead of co-opting it. Small farmers, agricultural peasants, and vagabonds with no social or financial support create communities, grow their own sustenance, make do with surprisingly little, entertain themselves without media empires, learn to mend their own clothes, make their own furniture, and live off the land. They have small footprints. They live hard lives not because of their poverty, but because our society punishes poverty and creates barriers to education and self-improvement.
Why isn’t education provided free of charge to the world’s poor? Why, in the grand scheme of life, must somebody make a profit in order to be motivated enough to do anything?
Those who have been left behind by development, who live outside the normal bounds of society, have either succumbed to their abject state or become remarkably self-sufficient. We need to take hint from the resourceful poor.
And with all the resources we have–far, far more than we need–we should consider turning some of it towards bettering the lives of others.
For me, personally, I have come to the end of the road in terms of self-glorifying fitness. I spent years training myself to get better, to develop strength and power, and to overcome my weaknesses.
So I could feel good about myself. So I could be proud of my strength and my healthy body. So I could run a marathon or whatever and say I did that.
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of an accomplishment, but what good is it? What value does it create? In a nutshell, why should anyone else care? Did I forget my original reason for getting in good shape: to be of use to others?
Nothing about my excellent health directly benefited other people, but I discovered that what I’d done inspired others. Many wanted to know what I had learned so that they could attain the same benefits. So I decided to make it worth something for others. I took all that I’d invested, and the return on that investment, and instead of just putting it back into my own self-development, I put it into something that others might directly benefit from: a short book.
The closer I get to releasing it, the more I realize how little it really is, but it’s something, and it’s a step.