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Strategic Laziness

Our universe tends towards entropy and chaos.  As complexity of organization increases, resistance rises exponentially, like trying to force two opposing magnets together. (It’s always megafauna, T Rex or Mammoths that go extinct, not E. coli)  Looking at the natural world here on earth it’s quickly clear that every living thing expends as little energy as possible to persist.  Lions with full stomachs sleep most of the time, desert toads hibernate for years in between rains, birds with no predators lose the ability to fly over time. Nothing works harder than it must.  The more complex and energy-intensive the solution, the harder it is to sustain.

Trouble arises, though, when you’re a flightless, fearless dodo perfectly well adapted to your environment and suddenly humans show up. Or likewise, you’re a fit dinosaur species but prove unable to cope with a nuclear winter caused by asteroid impact possibly combining with volcanic eruptions to form a perfect disaster.  Evolution alone can’t plan ahead or anticipate rare catastrophic events.  This is why I think some living things have been pushed towards higher levels of awareness despite its massive costs, so they can be strategically lazy spending as little effort as possible while avoiding the dangers of only responding to constant, familiar stressors.

 The peacock’s tail is one of my favorite examples against the infallibility of nature.  It’s a natural pattern we see often in corporate, governmental, civilizational bloat.  All that sacred competition gets you something that maybe looks pretty but is a worse-than-useless burden sucking huge amounts of energy.  It teaches us that the patterns of civilizations and corporations are every bit as natural as the rippling of sand dunes.  Perhaps the most devastating doctrine of the enlightenment was to hubristically treat man and nature, not only as separate, but as opposites.

When I was about 12 years old, I was responsible for weeding the yard.  Trouble was, there were more seeds constantly blowing in from the desert and most of the lot was dirt and gravel that was perfect for them.  I well knew that even going over the whole yard with a hoe a couple times a week wouldn’t accomplish much.  In a few days, new sprouts were coming up everywhere.  In fact, killing everything just favored the worst sort of thorns that hugged the ground in choking vines, and dropped thousands of their sharp barbs that deflated basketballs and stuck in shoe soles by the dozens.
I noticed at the same time that a lot of the desert plants had pretty flowers, lacked thorns or sticky leaves, and had roots that were easy to pull up if I needed to.  I started what I then called “selective weeding” and let the desert weeds I liked flourish while punishing the thorn vines and the russian thistles that turn into tumbleweeds.
Before long, there was a colorful garden of desert flowers outside my bedroom window alive with the buzzing of bees.  The thorn plants were not even 1/10th of the problem they used to be once they had competition.
Of course my parents eventually asked me why I wasn’t doing my job.  I tried to explain what I was doing, but no one listens to a 7th grade kid trying to avoid work and I was told to take care of it.  So knowing full well what would happen next, I went out and uprooted my experiment.  Soon enough, the thorns were back in force despite our best efforts.
This was a formative experience that influenced my world view ever since.  I learned the futility of sustaining a vacuum against equilibrium.
I later saw the same problems I encountered doing childhood yard chores over and over again in 6000 years of failed human governments.  At some point there’s always well-intentioned policies that try to defy the equilibrium, end up favoring the thorns, and the rest is history.

I came to realize as I grew up in a frantically workaholic American society that nature in fact favors laziness.  An animal at leisure is well-fed and prosperous, a creature that must always work is failing at the game of survival.  It helped explain to me the widespread stress and misery of what should be by all rights a prosperous and happy land.  Constant labor tells us on a gut level that we are always on the brink of starvation, however many mansions and cars we may own.  Some of us become adrendaline junkies while others get ground down into burnouts that just go through the motions.  Whatever someone’s station, there’s just an interminable “job” never a tangible task that has a beginning and an end after which one enjoys the fruits of a job well done.  That I realized is the peculiar insanity of industrial civilization—a trap of Sisyphean futility most are stuck in until they’re dead.
As I approached adulthood I came to understand there was no luxury on earth greater than the power to simply do nothing.

The basic problem of modern civilization is that it favors extravagant solutions arrived at through extreme, specialized competition like the peacock’s tail.
A sense of minimalism, strategic laziness, yields simpler, more resilient, more adaptable solutions.  
Even when gatekeepers force peacock competition with a strategic bottleneck, the payoff for finding a low cost workaround or substitute is very high.

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