A without B

Part of the Domestication series

If you perceive that the purpose of a record is simply to induce an emotional response in a subject, then you remove a large portion of elements from the equation. In this way, either you see purpose as the means to and end, or, purpose includes and is intertwined with a mass of other parts such as the medium in which it is delivered. A book may share the same intended purpose as its movie counterpart, but they remain two very distinct methods and objects.

This is a fundamental concept to understand, as it describes two very distinct ways of behaving that produce equally different consequences. For example, if you think of food as being purely a method to obtain the correct nutrients that are necessary in order to live (not even necessarily healthily), then instead of something like a vegetable lasagne, we get something like Soylent. The end result may be the same, but the route to get there and the implications of such a choice are substantially separated.

I say ‘may’, because I feel that by using an identical label for both results gives the impression of similarity or equality, when my gut feeling suggests that it is more pertinent to highlight the differences between the two. Soylent may result in adequate nutrition and a full stomach, but that is only true if we look at the situation on a rather limited scale. The processes required in order to produce, ship and even prepare both the Soylent and the lasagne are very different again. What’s more, is that analysing the energy consumption for example, in order to get the ‘same’ result from both meals, represents only one of many dimensions along which the two processes could be compared. This brings us to the realisation that it is actually extremely difficult, if not impossible for two things to be the same, and that our use of the words ‘same’ or ‘equal’ do a good job of concealing this reality from us, and that when we talk about ‘sameness’ we are implying many things that both ourselves and the listener may not even be consciously aware of.

The quality of ‘sameness’ is also context-specific, for example The Eiffel tower and the Empire State Building are the same because they are both tall, man-made structures. The Eiffel tower and L’arc de Triomphe are the same because they are both buildings in France. The Eiffel tower and a freshly-baked baguette are the same because they are both composed of atoms. The Eiffel tower and photograph of the Eiffel tower are the same because they share similar visual properties.

So, from the first perspective, we view the purpose of things as a means to an end: food is for nutrition, work is for money, exercise is to stay ‘in shape’, sex is for having orgasms (or children), photography is for producing images, teaching is for imparting information (not for acquiring it), parkour is for getting from A to B, and the purpose of life itself; survival.

Another way of looking at the above is as a reduction to utility (RTU). If we remove the unnecessary work or ‘grinding’ part we achieve the end result in a single, efficient step. Instead of training hard to become stronger, we can take anabolic steroids and cut out much of the grinding. Instead of taking care of and raising our children, we can just pay someone else to do it, or failing that, give them an Ipad.

If we treat things as means to an end, we will miss out many other elements which may all be beneficial, just not for the original reasons we may have had in mind. And by missing these other characteristics, we will reinforce the notion that a simple end goal is not only all that matters, but is all there is.