Convenience: “(T)he state of being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty; a thing that contributes to an easy and effortless way of life.” A concept or phenomenon of deep consequence.
As I read the thoughtful concerns of my fellow humans, concerns about the world situation, political and economic events impacting the people around me and the arguments for what we need to do to make the world and its immediate contacts with individual lives deliver a “better product,” I am amazed and cruelly amused (only in the way an old human can be amused) that there is so little interest in the substrate upon which these events and processes are played out.
There is a biological principle of great importance: “The easiest way is the best way.” The thoughtful will immediately recognize that two important ideas are left undefined in this formulation (and this is ultimately of considerable importance), but the essential concept comes through loud and clear.1 If given the choice to ride or walk humans typically pick riding. If given the choice of having ample high quality food delivered or going into the jungle and hunting a widely distributed meal, orangutans hang out at the feeding station. Almost all living things function on a simple imperative: get as many calories as possible with as little effort as possible. There are of course rules; there are always rules!
One of the rules is that calories are the natural stand-in for a nutritionally complete diet. In the native world of evolved relationships it is virtually impossible to consume adequate calories without also consuming abundant vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. This fact is the reason that vitamins and essential amino acids are “required” in the first place – because they were ubiquitous in the native diet and did not ever have to be made by the organism’s physiology.2 Not only do organisms adapt to use what they need from the environment, the physiology adapts to what is coming into the organism from the environment. This is a vital principle and an important basis of my argument.
Living things evolve to maximize convenience. We don’t normally see it this way since, by our standards, living in the “wild” is a very inconvenient – all hunting and gathering the little bits of food, water and material that just make life possible at all. Convenience is, of course, a human concept – evolutionary physiology is simply measuring efficiency against possibility – but it is useful to frame the ideas this way. Convenience is a narrow idea that we easily understand as short-term ease; and that is exactly the issue.
To make sense of these distinctions it necessary to present a theoretical construct of my invention: that the world can be seen as three systems of order based on the designs of information collection, storage and implementation. These are the Physical System of Order (foundational fundamental order), Living System of Order (DNA/protein information nexus) and the Consciousness System of Order (Complex informational nexus based on the various adapting forms of Story). The manifestation of a system of order is in the probabilities that it generates. A star has a high probability in the Physical Order, but a bacterium has a positive, but vanishingly small, probability. A mouse has a high probability in the Living Order, but a car has a vanishingly small probability. A spear or a rocket ship have high probabilities in the Consciousness order; we are so new at this system of order that its limits aren’t clear.
What makes this construction important is that statements about one system of order may or may not have the same meaning or value in another, e.g., convenience in the Living Order is not at all the same as convenience in the Consciousness Order (and has no meaning at all in the Physical Order). For example, an orangutan is adapted to a widely dispersed food supply; its whole physiology, structure, social order, and, dare I say it, its happiness. Only the CSO or traumatic accident can deliver convenience in the form of a concentrated food supply as an immediate (and non-evolutionary) change and then make it disappear just as quickly. What is convenient in the LSO is rates of change to which the organism can respond both genetically and behaviorally – this evolves the greatest degree of “ease.” Convenience in the CSO is often measured in a single instance without regard to longer term efficiencies. In the orangutan example, the animals act as though evolutionary process were still functioning, but they have been brought into the design order of the CSO for a time when co-existing with humans. All this can do is disrupt the LSO design order.
In the simplest terms, the meaning that I take from this thinking is that we have acted on ourselves consistently over many thousands of years replacing Living Order convenience with Consciousness Order convenience driven by the principle of “the easiest way.” This is a clash of primary systems of order and not just a mess that humans are making.
Our answer for orangutans, when we understood that we were making a dependent class of great apes unsuited to live the life to which they were evolved was to, as reasonably as possible, “inconvenience” them back into the jungle to the natural life of native foods and evolved habits.3
The tyranny of convenience in our lives is the orang problem multiplied a billion times. There is almost no one left to teach us who we are. There is almost no convenience that we have not so thoroughly incorporate into our daily lives that doing without is incomprehensible – and for which we will rationalize the greatest suffering by other humans and other species in the history of life on the earth.
This is the context within which Gaza is occurring, and Iraq, and the squabbles in Ukraine, and China’s ascendance and the incarceration of Leonard Peltier, and a million other major and minor consequences of Consciousness Order manifesting without the forming basis of the Living Order.
Today we can eat 10 thousand calories a day and not get sufficient vitamins; we can travel hundreds of miles and get a mere moment of exercise; we can tell ourselves (or be told) any lie and have no living or physical reality challenge it. Our pursuit of biological convenience spread into the use of the Consciousness Order’s powers to seek and create capacities of ease and effortlessness that deny us our basic humanity, even hiding from us any options for their rediscovery.
At least for now it may be time to reject convenience with as much thoughtlessness as we have accepted it in the past until some can find a reasonable balance and be available to help others as they recognize the hopelessness of an effortless life. The changes that we desire for the world can only begin with what we are willing to do in our own lives.
- I first heard this formulation from the lips of an old (to me at the time) black man who had decided I was to be his student in the planting of orange trees when I was working as a farmhand in central Florida in the central last century. We walked all morning stooped to the ground where, inconveniently, the little trees were to reside. After lunch we repeated the morning with the exception that the sun seemed to grow in power every few minutes until the mind, oppressed by the heat, lost clarity beyond the task immediately before it – and then sometimes even the task began to fade into a hot yellow haze. The old man would in the afternoon begin a sing-song as he moved down the long rows: “Da easiest way, da bess way. Da easiest way, da bess way.” He explained that the ‘best way’ was premised on the little trees growing successfully; as many as possible. His meaning was that every movement was to count, that the most trees were to be planted successfully with the least effort. [↩]
- Humans have all the precursor chemicals to make the simple organic molecule, vitamin C, but we don’t have one of the four enzymes that are required. The primate/hominid diet (and that of a few other animals) had abundant ascorbic acid so that metabolic pathway was lost. The typical simian diet has more than 10 times the MDR for ‘C’ and so a monkey can starve to death and never get too little ascorbic acid. Plants have metabolic pathways to make every vitamin, amino acid, fat, complex carbohydrate, nucleic acid and other complex organic molecules, all from simple sugar that they make from “air,” water and sunlight. [↩]
- This sort of situation as led and allowed the highly over convenienced elites to argue that the most challenged poor should not be shown any mercy. Its most true meaning is, however, that anyone who would sit on a fortune of food and not use it to reduce suffering is a criminal. It was in the human habit to distribute largesse among the group. It was the human habit to compensate the environment for its services. This is what has been lost. [↩]