Big is bad, but small isn’t necessarily beautiful. It’s just that everywhere I look, I can’t see the end of what I’m seeing. Everything is too big and it should be smaller.
Perhaps the easiest place to make this case is in national electoral politics, which we in Canada recently sleepwalked through (a blessed brevity compared to the two year, three ring circus recently completed in USAmerica). National political elections aren’t a sideshow simply because of the mass media, but because the whole affair is so distressingly beyond the scale of human comprehension. Candidates are trying to represent people who will never have a chance of getting to know their character (or probable lack thereof), integrity, and the impact that their views will have on voters.
An even more obvious example of out-of-human-control-largeness (monstrous might be a suitable adjective) is the economy. That we even call it “The Economy,” is a telltale sign that we’re dealing with something so abstracted from reality that we have no other recourse than to name something that is no-thing with an abstract noun. “The Economy” is so big that even the so-called experts don’t have a damned idea what’s going on, other than a vague notion that it has demands which must be propitiated. A cursory examination of what the economic “experts” had to say before and after the recent financial system meltdown reveals that they’re all just pissing into the wind.
National politics and trans-national economics are merely two of the most obviously too-big things in a world rife with oversized everything. For instance, my city recently closed many community centres in favour of fewer mega-community centres. How exactly the “community” is served by this remains a mystery. Or take the education system, where classrooms and schools enlarge every year. Convergence, mergers and synergy are pursued in acquiescence to that insatiable capitalistic idol called “efficiency.” Efficiency is of course a euphemism for “taking away meaningful work from decent people so as to pad the bottom lines of modern capitalistic oligarchs.” It is difficult to imagine what this capitalist logic might have to do with education as such, since education is—quite literally—priceless.
When things are too big, it’s impossible for an ordinary person to reasonably understand the effects of a vote for a certain person or the lineage of a consumer product. Largeness is therefore the enemy of anyone trying to live a life of virtue, morality and integrity. It is not accidental that the cult of moral relativism has arisen in a time such as this, because it is quite factually impossible in the context of The Big to take morally considered action.
I am fully cognizant of the irony of this anti-Big jeremiad’s dissemination through that torrent of babel known as the World Wide Web. If there is anything that has proven to big for anyone to manage—much to the consternation of the RIAA and Chinese communism—it is this decentralized data deluge called the Internet. I think that the Internet is neither messiah nor anti-Christ, but I also think that we would be fine without it. Its chief benefits appear to be in the decentralization of power and influence away from other traditional Big Powers, but this means that it, too, has the potential to create its own outsized oligarchies. Why else would we need a OLPC? Or a watchdog over Google?
We’ve had more than enough incredulity towards big narratives (and not nearly enough unsexy work with small, local projects), so let us not reside in the abstract. Let us return to the second sentence in this essay: everything is too big and it should be smaller. This is a simple maxim with profound implications, many of which are complex. This is not a project for the timid, but rather for those willing to engage in a life of increased difficulty. To live small is to be vulnerable, weak, and possibly exploited. These are the meek, poor in spirit and persecuted spoken of by Jesus in his oft-ignored beatitudes. But to live small also means severing your reliance on the Big System, something that looks increasingly prudent in economic times such as these.
The problem with talking about big is knowing where to stop, because the topic could stretch on forever. Lest this essay stretch on ad infinitum, I shall simply bring it to a close with a counter-intuitive maxim: think small.
2 thoughts on “Big is Bad”
Nice post, Matt! Or as Steve Martin once said: “I like to get small.”
roger flyer: A compliment and a Steve Martin quote all at once? Too much for me.
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