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EditorialEditorial : The Problem of Plenty

The human mind constantly seeks supports, both internal and external. Internally, the mind generates thoughts for ensuring its existence. Externally, the mind holds on to objects, people, positions, fame, and a general good feeling about life and this universe. If one is unable to achieve something really beneficial for others, one revels in the abysmal levels one drops to, just to prove one’s excellence, albeit in the wicked way. This habit of the mind to hold on to internal and external support leads us to the problem of plenty.

The problem of plenty has two aspects: the internal and the external. Let us first see the external problem. We humans want to acquire things. In the beginning, it is a need, which gradually gets transformed into a desire, a craving for hoarding things. One mobile phone is necessity; more than that is a craving. Again, necessity is not universal. What could be a need for a rich person could be a luxury for a person with average wealth. This shows that surplus increases one’s craving to acquire more and more things. The logic that desire for acquiring things gets subsided if one has many possessions does not seem to work in real life. One who is satisfied with ordinary food does not find any necessity to go for fancy cuisine. Conversely, one who is always eating exotic food is disturbed even if a single dish is repeated in a month.

Ease of access increases one’s dependence on grabbing plenty of everything. One feels handicapped if one has an ordinary car even though having the means to buy a luxury car. But, a person, for whom the possible means of transport ends with a two-wheeler, the ability to buy a car is indeed a luxury.

If plenitude was a necessary condition, none would have subsisted on earth.

The more one feels the need for getting the support of other people, the more one goes on a spree to increase the number of friends. People post fake identities on social networking websites to get in touch with more and more numbers of virtual friends. The seemingly countless choices in buying a product given by the Internet has only led to people going for different models and brands of the same product. Objects of use that were used for decades, till some decades ago, now suddenly become redundant in some months.

We are increasingly losing the ability to be happy with less. ‘Less is more’ is today more a fashion statement than it is closer to reality. The very thought that it is possible to have more, and particularly when one thinks that this is possible with minimum effort, makes it impossible to be happy with less. Life apparently moves in a game of percentages. One acquires roughly at a constant percentage of what one already has. That is why it is possible for everyone to take care of basic food, shelter, and clothing, if a basic level of income is earned. If plenitude was a necessary condition, it would have been impossible for anyone to subsist on earth.

Plenitude does not bring satisfaction, struggle does. Th e most important aspect of the problem of plenty is internal. It is the mind which seeks the support of many. One dreams of possessing before one actually does. One has already bought a car once one has desired it. Th e physical counterpart of physically buying it, the action of buying itself, does not matter as much. In that sense, the problem of plenty is not just a problem of the wealthy. Th e present problem of plenty is not so much a problem of inequitable wealth distribution as much it is a problem of the opening up of possibilities because of human growth, the external advancement. Several decades ago, a rural farmer was content with what one could buy, but today that farmer is discontent with what one cannot buy. Where did the change happen? In the possibility of what could have been bought. A kid would happily go to bed hungry, if it is known that there is nothing to eat at home. But, a kid who has been denied food available at home would curse the perpetrators and would go sleepless. So, the problem of plenty is a problem essentially of the mind.

The problem of plenty is an obstacle to human development. That necessity is the mother of invention is not just an adage. Only when cloistered in a long, dark tunnel, does one seek the opening to light. With plenty of alternatives to choose from, the natural creative spark inherent in everyone loses its edge. Th is is evident from the phenomenon of ‘resource curse’ seen in countries with more than adequate resources and yet having stagnant or even negative growth rates. Even in economics, an abundance of resources is known to reduce the motivation for developing or acquiring further resources. Th e interest rates for deposits with banks are very low in countries with much money in circulation, as the banks cannot lend money as the market does not need more money. Similarly, humans lose the advantage of the ‘giraff e eff ect’. While this term has been ascribed various meanings, the meaning relevant for the present context is the fact that the giraff e got its long neck because of a crisis—the nature of which is debated by scientists; some say it was food, some others say it was breeding. Whatever the actual reason might have been, the giraff e had a constraint with its short neck and thus creatively evolved to a long neck. Without constraints, there is no creativity.

Th e problem of plenty is intricately connected with the quality of simplicity. If one can perceive the possibility of plenty, one cannot be simple. Simplicity is directly aff ected by plenitude. Th oughts are directly proportional to the perception of plenty. Th e more one can envision plenitude, the more one would have thoughts and desires. Th is we can see when many go on a shopping spree without actually buying anything! If a person has no alternatives to think of, that person will have far lesser thoughts and desires.

Th e problem of abundance is also a problem concerning values—personal, social, and cultural. With a plethora of values to choose from, one is driven to terrible confusion, and eventually to an identity crisis. While freedom is imperative for growth, not having any defi nite values or not having fi xed goals in life, can only cause much agony. Let us take the value of truthfulness, for instance. Debating upon whether truthfulness itself is a value has occupied thousands of pages, consumed years of talk, swallowed hours of the visual media, and has resulted in everything being doubted. Here again, the culprit is the problem of plenty. So, we understand that having more does not mean more happiness. Th e ability to be content with less comes from knowing that we do not need to depend on anything external.

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