A Reflection on Efficiency

 

I’ve heard it said that “enough is as good as a feast.”

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I understand the sentiment, and I agree with it mostly. But it really isn’t true. Extravagance is something quite different than “enough.” Extravagance is in the nature of God. He has unlimited resources in every way. We, on the other hand, live in a world full of limitations. We have limited time, limited money, limits on every resource. As a result of our limitations, we do the best we can. Our best efforts at squeezing our limited resources can be summed up in a single word: efficiency. If extravagance is in God’s nature, and if wastefulness is in His opponent’s nature, I suppose it could be argued that efficiency is in humans’ nature (when humankind is at its best.)

 

[I suppose it is possible that the reason I’m thinking about these things is that I’m living for a few days with a heightened awareness of many resource limitations. My water is limited to the 16 gallons I brought here with me. My electricity is limited to the capacity of the 12-volt deep-cycle battery on my camper. My food is limited to what I brought with me. My fuel is limited to the propane that is left in my 20-lb tank. When I took a shower yesterday, I was aware that I was drawing on three resources: water, propane to heat the water, and electricity to run the pump. I had to decide whether or not it was worth it.]

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In any event, I’m thinking about the inherent tension between extravagance and efficiency. Sometimes we get the idea that efficiency is the prime virtue. Sometimes we communicate the idea that extravagance is somehow evil. I do not believe extravagance is evil. And yet, even as I write those words, I have trepidation. I’m aware that some who read those words may very well judge me and consider me to be a fool. Again, I believe extravagance is in the nature of God, and I believe that when we see heaven, we will experience God’s extravagance in a way that we cannot yet even imagine.

 

And yet, here we are, on this side of heaven. Efficiency is necessary. But we need to take great caution not to make efficiency the ultimate virtue. If humankind advances to the point where algorithms and “smart” machines rule us, I sincerely hope that the concept of extravagance is a part of the algorithms so that the essential tension between extravagance and efficiency can be maintained.

 

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