In the previous chapter (Chapter 2: Abundance by subtraction), we leveraged the power of “less” to demystify the myth of “more” – our assumption that quantitative excessiveness makes us happy. We now turn to “big,” the excessiveness in size. Why do we appreciate large size, and want to make things as big as we can?
Fundamentally, it is because nature is overwhelmingly big compared to our small body size and physical fragility. Ever since our existence, we have been fighting to overcome the threats posed by nature, which are massive in size, intensity and complexity.
In a sense, our history has been about our disparate efforts to invent a variety of devices – bigger the better – in order to defy our helplessness toward natural threats and increase the odds of survival. In the pre-historic era during which there was almost no technology, the devices couldn’t be physically large. People leveraged intangible devices such as enigmatic rituals or myths to understand and somehow calm overwhelming nature, which was way beyond their control.
As the time went on, people started inventing increasingly sophisticated devices both physically and conceptually. The architecture became higher and larger, and our systems such as agriculture and transportation became increasingly sophisticated.
Left: Giza Pyramids by V Manninen via CC BY 2.0
Right: Agricultural system in ancient Egypt
As increased food production allowed humans to devote increasing amount of resources for intellectual endeavors, our society kept growing – physically larger, and systemically more robust. It enabled reliable shields against external threats and delivered much-needed safety, security and stability. Today we no longer have to feel the threats on a daily basis thanks to wide variety of large facilities, infrastructure, systems or capacity that protect and empower us. Storms or heat are blocked, darkness is conquered, food supply is stabilized, diseases are contained and the social order is maintained. This is the power of big-ness. We have many reason to love big-ness.
Except for one “small” detail: our body.
However hard we may try to envelope ourselves with large things, our body is small and fragile. And it is not going change anytime soon. As the things that surround us grew larger, disconnect or gap between our size and the surroundings kept growing. Large urban areas became “concrete jungle” despite planners’ intention. The vehicles we drive can easily became a weapon that could crush our body. A Wal-Mart can be a ridiculously large place if you are looking for a product you don’t know where it belongs. Large, complex political and economic system run by elites are no longer accessible by ordinary people or laypersons.
From that perspective, big is alienating, oppressing, disorienting and disengaging. There is nothing much we can do than to succumb and give up when we face huge, hard, heavy, fast and strong objects or systems. We feel helpless.
That’s when we feel the need need to re-discover the power and effectiveness of smallness.