A Brief Note on Scarcity

I listened to this podcast yesterday about scarcity. It actually tricked me a bit with the title because it was something like, "your brain when you're hungry", which alluded to a jovial podcast maybe centering around the idea of being hangry. Which I am a lot. In fact, I was in the throes of hanger -- with my pants feeling as if they were wrapped around my legs weird and my headphones making my ear sweat an uncomfortable amount -- as I hit the play button. The podcast was, in fact, more along the lines of the behavior of people in periods of poverty, loneliness, or hunger and what sort of decisions they make.

The vocabulary they used to group these situations was to call them moments of scarcity. In moments of scarcity, we are driven to focus on the thing that is scarce, and this alters the way we would usually handle dealing with needing this thing. What is stranger is that scarcity causes people to create short-term strategies that are effective, but usually massively hurt their long term objectives. The podcast focused on a woman who lost her job under an unlucky set of circumstances and slowly fell into poverty.

The one point that really struck me (and was highlighted additionally in stories about starvation, eating disorders, loneliness, and people’s sensation of time) was how this woman began to move towards poverty and then sort of looked up and realized, "Shit. I'm totally broke." There's that piece of dialogue from Hemmingway that popped into my head when hearing this:

How did you go bankrupt?
Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly

Scarcity causes a certain tunnel vision. It pulls us into a mode of thinking that, by the time we see it, we're struggling with (physical or existential) survival. It's weird, and maybe pointless, but when an idea like Scarcity floats its way across my brain, I start to frame my entire world in relationship to that singular idea; like creating a new big bang of meaning. I feel like a lot of life is just doing this over and over: picking a new starting structure and then building the whole world out of it. At the end I always end up with the same world, it just can start to mean different things because of what I constructed it out of. 

A blanket covering a dinosaur probably looks a lot like a blanket covering a bunch of discarded appliances. But they both are very different. You know? It’s like Hamilton and Newton looking at motion or Schrödinger and Feynman talking about the basis of reality. Between each pair of scientists, a lumpy blanket is understood, but it is created from things that aren’t remotely connected.

Anyways. As I swung around thinking about all in my life as reactions to scarcity — relationships and their faults, career paths chosen, personal faults carved deeper through repetition — the one piece of my life that really stuck out as being framed by scarcity is the way I deal with my depression. 

I’ve had a few bad bouts of depression in my life. At it’s worse it’s the sensation of having my will to make choices taken away and I’m left like a shell with no means from creating a structure within. Time is infinitely expanding in all directions with my sense of movement being completely stripped from me. And I think a lot of the ways I end up tackling depression can be to focus on this exact moment in time and its relationship to this feeling. This hollowness. But fixating on its immediacy and looking for remedies — exercise, eating well, SSRIs (which I was once on and have very mixed feelings about. It seems like club kids doing Ketamine are having outcomes similar to taking SSRIs) — are short term strategies. They are solutions created by scarcity; where I become singular in my approach to all things in my life as all actions and events are no longer just actions and events, but actions and events that happen while I’m depressed.

This is my brain on scarcity.

And so I’ve been thinking a lot what it looks like to think of depression as something that is everywhere all the time, instead of a culdesac I end up in when I get lost in the shittiest suburb. It’s the outcome of many things that pick away at my interior. And to live in its presence effectively I think is a question about the way I orient myself to the larger structures that are part of my environment and life. And this has been a really illuminating way to look at depression. Not to ask, “Why am I like this?”, but more to ask, “How have I come to get here?” 

Depression is a little like a really crappy super power. It is the ability to reorient myself in my environment where the lens that I create on my experience only sees an internal space that will never find a place in the world around it. It’s like holding a flashlight and pointing it out to a set of mirrors I have laid around the room, to find the light bounce around and punch me right in the eye. I can keep blinding myself, or I can go around and adjust some mirrors.

How hokey do reflections on these sort of things sound? Pretty hokey.

Oh look, it’s sunny outside.