Doing What We’ve Always Done

These past few weeks I’ve been shoveling money into my third-hand, 2007 Prius to replace the hybrid battery and the ABS system—both of which have recently stopped working—and to replace the catalytic converter after it was carved out by thieves.

I like my little car: bringing renewed life to old things is satisfying to me, but it’s also been a reliable (and fuel-efficient) companion as I’ve driven it around North America these past few years.

This hasn’t been a pleasant round of investments, though, in part because it’s felt like maintenance rather than an upgrade; a feeling I’ve had about other, bigger-picture things lately, as well.

We’re at a stage, civilizationally, where we generally know what we need to do, but a lot of the big, systemic moves required to get us to that next stage haven’t been completed (or in some cases even started) yet.

Which means that just to be able to keep doing what we’ve always done—just to remain at our status quo—we’re being forced to rethink, reinvest, recalibrate, and make uncomfortable decisions that don’t seem to move the needle at all.

While these are often necessary expenditures, they don’t feel good in the same way an investment in something that represents a clear improvement over the existing baseline would feel.

For me, that means throwing money I would prefer to spend on other things at an older hybrid vehicle I’d like to keep running until electric vehicle infrastructure is built-out enough that I can justify investing in one of those (a purchase that will likely feel a lot more viscerally satisfying).

For society, that means investing torrents of time, energy, and resources in deteriorating infrastructure, flimsy systems, and outdated organizational methodologies—all of which need to be bolstered, buttressed, and in some cases reworked or rebuilt just to provide a sufficiently stable foundation for all the things we need to build atop them in the coming years (the shiny, new, whiz-bang stuff we’ll eventually get to enjoy).

It does not feel good to spend a bunch of money and other resources just to maintain the baseline.

But not all necessary and prudent investments are satisfying, and sometimes productive, forward movement will feel like holding still; at least for a while.

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