Culture · Economics · Existence · Life · Society · Value

“Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing” – Oscar Wilde

The artist Claude Monet, during a certain period of his career, painted nothing but water lilies that he observed in ponds near his summer home in Giverny. Monet painted hundreds, even thousands, of pale purple water lilies. Each one of the water lilies he painted was a little bit different, albeit only in the most minute detail, but different just the same. Each time he attempted to paint the water lily he was seeking its essence. Thus, each one of his depictions of a water lily is imperfect, but unique and invaluable.

In contrast, we have the modern production process – designed to produce consistent, reliable results. So what do we have? – Millions of perfectly identical units produced lightning quick and costing pennies, but all equally lacking in essence and intrinsic value.

According to the great economic guru, Peter Drucker, the miracles of industrialization and capitalism created the possibility of abundance in Western society. What was once the domain of the artisan now could be executed more quickly, efficiently and above all inexpensively, by the semi-skilled worker.  Of course that, which made all this possible, was the operationalization of the production process, down to the minutest detail.

When one is starving, abundance looks very tempting. However, when is enough, enough? At what point does abundance cross over into excess? Without a doubt starvation is a terrible thing, but is dying from gluttony that much better?

Another aspect, much overlooked, is what is sacrificed in the pursuit of this material abundance. Certainly the welfare of the individual producing the goods, the quality of the work environment and the work experience itself, have all been greatly diminished. In fact, the worker has been robbed of any satisfaction or pride that once might have been taken in producing these goods.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin – what is produced: Form without substance! We have more meat, but the meat has no nutrients. We have more news, but the news is almost all editorial comment, with the facts lost in a sea of verbiage. We have access to an inexhaustible bank of information on the Internet, but lack the discernment and wisdom to separate the wheat from the chaff.

If we think of quality of life as having good, nutritious food to eat, a roof over our heads, freedom from tyranny and persecution, good air to breathe, friends we can count on, family who stand by us no matter what, and community where all care for what is shared in common, then in today’s world, even the richest among us in is a pauper!


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