Humanly Created Scarcity

Scarcity is often believed to be part of the natural order, but is it? It is true that material goods in the world are finite and in times of famine they are more finite than usual. But let us revisit the story in Human See, Human Want. In a house filled with balloons, all of the children suddenly started fighting over one balloon when one child made claim to it and that balloon alone. Suddenly, where there was abundance, there was scarcity. It is as if a magician had waved a magic wand to make all the other balloons in the house disappear. The image of a magician is not so far-fetched. Mimetic desire, the tendency to copy the desires of other people is an enchantment as Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream demonstrates. The four besotted and confused young people were enchanted before Puck engaged in his pranks. When two or more people fight over one lover, then lovers suddenly disappear.

This is to say: rivalrous mimetic desire creates scarcity where there was abundance and increases scarcity in times of famine. Our desires are not linked directly to objects of need and intrinsic desire, but are linked to our rivals. It seems so natural to want to keep up the same standard of living as our peers or, better yet, surpass them. When rivalry rules the day, there will always be victims.

Now that the political campaigns are over, at least for a few days, maybe we can see how the rivalry involved creates scarcity that other people cannot afford. The amount of money donated to the political campaigns was massive. As soon as one side got more money it was imperative for supporters of the other side to give at least as much money. All so that more ads tearing down the opponents could pollute the air waves. Just think of all the infrastructure and educational aid and health care could have been bought for all that money! Not to mention having money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. It’s interesting that health care has come to be seen as a rare commodity to fight over.

The alternative to mimetic rivalry can be stated quite simply: Pay more attention to what you really need and care for and wish for other people to have what they need and really care for. Why is this so hard? As the example of the children and the balloons shows us, mimetic rivalry seems to be natural. The creation of world narrated in Genesis Chapter One says otherwise. What is natural is God’s abundance and care for all creation. Why is it so hard for all of us to desire that?

1 thought on “Humanly Created Scarcity

  1. Great points. I’ve been planning a post related to music along similar lines. The mimetic process is also what leads to blocks in interpreting and composing music. James Jordan’s excellent book, The Musician’s Soul describes this beautifully.

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