My daughter and I had the talk -- about diminishing returns
Talk to your kids about diminishing returns, before it’s too late.
Happy Insurrection Day!
Today’s main story is generally warm and hopefully proves inspiring, but it does discuss themes of aging and mortality. Just a heads-up in case that’s a difficult subject.
After the main story there’s a short, funny bonus episode of “The talks,” followed by some exciting updates on the collaboration front.
Finally, in case you missed it, this week I launched paid subscription tiers. Check out the stock pitch and — if you’re so inclined — become an investor by clicking this button:
A handful of savvy shareholders have jumped in early, which means the world to me. They’re also getting a much better return from Field Research than from their crypto holdings.
INT. KITCHEN — AFTERNOON
Cluttered, chaotic kitchen in vintage, ground-level condo nestled inside Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Cold rain drizzles from a gray, overcast sky outside.
A father — haggard, harried, early forties — prepares a snack plate with sliced cheddar cheese, wheat crackers, green grapes, and a single Oreo cookie.
While lustily eyeing the spread, his almost seven-year-old daughter — curious, condescending, contemptuous — asks a perplexing, philosophical question.
Dad, why do people die?
Ooh, that’s a tough one.
Well, the simple answer is because our bodies are not meant to last forever. Think of peoples’ bodies as kind of like machines — say cars or computers. Eventually, if you use a machine long enough, the parts wear out and stop working. When that happens to a person’s body, they die.
(Displaying a rare glimpse of empathy)
It is sad when people die, but that’s part of the natural cycle of life. As people grow older and eventually die, they make room for new people to be born. Then those people eventually get old too, and when they die, they make room for the next generation of people to be born. And so on and so on.
Death is a natural, unavoidable part of life. Everybody dies one day — whether they want to or not — and that’s okay. The fact that people do ultimately die, and don’t live forever, is what makes our lives special. Finitude is what gives our lives meaning.
Oh, so you mean if somebody lived forever then their life wouldn’t be special?
For example, if you lived forever, eventually each day would start to become a little bit less special than the last. As time marched on, and the days and weeks and months and years and decades and centuries accumulated, nothing about any day would ever feel special again.
You’d watch Frozen so many times, and eat pizza so many times, and read your favorite books so many times, and fall in love so many times, and watch the sunset so many times, that everything which makes life magical and amazing and breathtaking would become boring and arduous and perfunctory.
(Argumentative, just because)
I’d never get bored of watching Frozen!
(Argumentative, due to misguided principles)
Oh yeah? Remember Toy Story 4? Because during the height of the pandemic you literally watched Toy Story 4 every day during my depression nap with your brother. After a while you got so sick of it you said you never wanted to watch it again.
When’s the last time you asked to watch Toy Story 4?
Okay, fine, whatever. You’re right — yeah, yeah, yeah.
Better get used to it.
Anyway, in economics there’s an important concept called diminishing returns. In practical terms it means each time you do something you enjoy, you enjoy that thing a little bit less than the last time you did it.
Just look at Toy Story 4. You watched that movie so many times it ceased to be interesting or funny or exciting.
Or take that Oreo you just inhaled. You loved it, right? It was amazing. A miracle of food engineering from our friends at Nabisco.
If I gave you another Oreo right now you’d also love that one — but just a little bit less than the first one. Then, you’d love the third a little bit less than the second. The fourth a little bit less than the third — et cetera, et cetera — until eventually the value of the subsequent Oreo, or the marginal Oreo, dropped to zero.
And, if you can believe it, there’d come a point when you’d cease to enjoy Oreos altogether. In fact, you might even begin to despise them.
Which brings us back to mortality and the question of why people die.
From a purely economic standpoint, if you lived forever, every single day would eventually turn into an empty, meaningless slog, and life wouldn’t be special anymore.
Could you imagine that?
No way! That sounds terrible.
Yep. Does that sound like a good idea to you?
En. Oh. No.
What do you think would happen if those people figured out how to live forever?
They wouldn’t like their lives.
They wouldn’t even like chocolate! One day they’d be like: Yeesh, chocolate again?!
I just want to die already!!!
That’s exactly right.
See, you’re already smarter than ninety-five percent of the twats who work in the tech sector.
Diminishing returns. It’s an important concept. Don’t forget it, okay?
And, um, Dad?
Can I have another Oreo?
My daughter and I had the talk -- about moral hazard
EXT. BIKE LANE — AFTERNOON
A fortyish father, bundled up in bountiful fall layers, ferries his six-year-old daughter to the bookstore in their overpriced, overengineered Dutch cargo bike.
Drivers and bikers and pedestrians swarm the streets like whizzing bullets on a battlefield.
While waiting at a busy intersection a fellow biker dangerously and haphazardly sails past the stoplight and into the hectic thoroughfare.
Wow. That was not safe at all. That man made a terrible decision.
Well, at least he was wearing a helmet.
(Excited for a new entry in “The talks”)
That’s true. And that was a good choice. But in economics there’s a concept called moral hazard. Sometimes, when people think they’re protected from harm, they erroneously develop a sense of invincibility, and overcompensate by taking excessive risk.
This is one of the problems with wearing helmets in American football. Because the players think their heads are protected, they often use their helmets — and thus heads — as bludgeoning instruments, which unfortunately causes even more injuries.
This same problem can happen with—
Bike helmets. Because that man was wearing a helmet he was riding really unsafe because he thought he was protected — yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it already, Dad.
(Lamenting his lost entry in “The talks”)
Getcha popcorn ready
Field Research closed 2022 with a bang — Rudolph’s War Journal fills me with joy on demand — and I’m thrilled about what’s on the docket.
First, I’d like to tackle Volume Two of the Flash Fiction Story Bag on Friday, February 3.
Volume One reviews were strong, and I had a blast — and took some big swings — tussling with your brilliant prompts.
Please email your most depraved and ridiculous flash fiction ideas to agowani at gmail dot com. This time I’ll choose three, with priority given to first-time contributors.
Last time we saved American democracy:
Dennard and I are also planning a springtime duet which — as long as I come close to matching his assured brilliance — will deliver the type of scorched-earth satire you know and love.
Check out Extra Evil’s latest assault on the senses to see what I mean (literal trigger warning):
A debauched Elementary School Spelling Bee. I’m very excited about this one.
See you then!
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