One more thought I'd like to share on our friend Diogenes and his striking quote about lentils. Once again, here's the quote:

"Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to be subservient to the king."

Candidly, almost nobody is literally subservient to a king today. Very few people live under an absolute monarchy in the modern era. [1]

But then again, metaphorically speaking, many of us are subservient to many "kings." Some examples might be:

Subservience to a desire to impress others
Subservience to envy, or to status competition
Subservience to extrinsic validation
Subservience to social conditioning
Subservience to consumerism, and identity construction via consumerism
Subservience to short-term gratification
Subservience to money, or to a specific quantity of wealth or income
Subservience to a desired standard of living
Subservience to what you believe you "deserve"

What's worse today is how we enable our enslavement to these things while thinking we're not. At least back in, say, 17th Century France or 19th Century Russia (two object examples of absolute monarchy), everybody knew the score. Today, the scoreboard is harder to see. Our own internal rationalization hamster obscures it by doing things like confusing needs with wants, justifying costly purchases, unconsciously competing with others, and so on.

Today we live in an era of willing, self-enabled subservience while we pretend otherwise.

To me, this extends the metaphor of "living on lentils" in powerful ways. Diogenes' expression lets us consider the word "subservience" in the broadest possible sense, and he gives us a chance to ask a much more provocative meta-question: How can I reduce my subservience?

If you can think of creative ways to do things for less money, you won't be as subservient to a specific quantity of income or wealth. [2] You'll save more money too, which will make you all the less subservient to any future financial pressures you might face.

In contrast, if you require things like large, expensive living quarters, late-model luxury cars, and other predictably typical elements of a high-overhead [3] life, you'll be grievously subservient to your income.

If you can teach yourself to worry less about what other people think of you, you'll be infinitely less subservient to things like the need for extrinsic validation, the need for status, and the desire to impress others.

In contrast, if impressing others is important to you … well, I'm sure you can put the next thought together on your own: you'll be subservient to others and what they want. Worse still, you'll be still more subservient to the constant need for more income and wealth to pay for things you think impress others.

One last thought: It bears mentioning that all of these forms of subservience are voluntary. Every single one of them.

What are you subservient to? Would you like to change it? How?

Read Next: Why Can't I Find People Who Share My Values on Anti-Consumerism and Frugality?

[1] For political science geeks only: There are only about six or seven countries worldwide with absolute monarchies, depending on whether you count the Vatican as a monarchy or a theocracy.

[2] Another way to put this is to say you are "fragile" to a decrease in your income or wealth. See Nassim Taleb's fascinating book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.

[3] A great phrase from the late entrepreneur Felix Dennis' striking (and surprisingly insightful) autobiography How to Get Rich is "overhead walks on two legs."

Bonus! [4] "I am your king!"

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SociallyExtinct said...

"The things that you own end up owning you" - from that great anti-consumerist flick, "The Fight Club"

Daniel said...

Yup, that about sums it up.