by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

The inevitable New Year’s focus upon abstinence, withdrawal and reduction takes us down some bewildering and usually fruitless paths. The anticipated metamorphosis from dissolution to restraint is about as likely as it is for the work-alcoholic to transition into retirement without noticeable challenges. What is required to effect any change is far more than mere spiritual inclination or determination. The role of the sentimental and irrational motivations is highly doubtful. We’re dealing with the visceral not the cerebral; that is, the gut not the mind. In the long run, instinct consistently trumps intellect. Oddly in spite of this dichotomy it is science in the end which liberates us from the chains of our natural preferences. Nature, as intuitive as we like to characterize it to be, is nonetheless hardened by repeated habit. Decomposing the habit cannot however be founded merely upon well-meaning aspirations; rather we need a mechanism to sustain us in our endeavours. An unfeeling mechanical device – like the harness upon horse flesh – has the advantage of surmounting the whimsical effects of sensible influences, things like the weather, our mood, our conscience, our temperament and our appetites. In short, science can defeat our desires.

By definition, science is analytical, based upon logical reasoning. Science is a systematically organized body of knowledge. It is a discipline which embodies both empirical knowledge and theory. What could be more opportune when it comes to reigning in the wild horses which are our cravings!

The theory is this: cut everything in half. The logic is instantly self-evident.

To digress for a moment, I was recently amused to learn that consumption as we know it today was not always the rule of thumb. Consumption is largely a product of post-World War II. Prior to that era subsistence – not abundance – was the name of the game. Previously it was considered sufficient to "make a decent living" and to "provide for one’s family". I think you’ll agree that perhaps until very recently – since the economic downturn has spoiled our greed, "getting by" was hardly the object. Instead the lives of the baby-boomers were stamped by excess, large homes, large cars, expensive holidays, fancy dining, expensive jewellery and clothing and so on. But the extravagance was of course not limited merely to the material objects; it also affected our health and mental state.

Obesity is now a common ailment in North America. The collateral damage of over-indulgence in booze and food is overwhelming and undeniable. For those of us who persist in maintaining some false sense of entitlement to lubricate the wheels of undisciplined existence, we do so at our peril. Time will take its toll as it always does, and likely sooner than later, and the outcome is guaranteed not to be pretty especially if we succumb to the perpetuating drugs now available to prolong life meaninglessly.

Having half as much is not only a prescription to relieve both our economic and medical/mental conditions, it also addresses in purely abstract terms the unquestionable decline of need as we grow older. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that we are still eighteen years of age. Things change, and it is far better to grow old gracefully than imagine we remain who we once were.

In practical terms we must acknowledge that economy is the new reality on just about every subject of consideration. Cars are getting smaller; monster homes are no longer socially acceptable; binge drinking is wasteful; conspicuous consumption of clothing and accessories merely yolks us into perpetually revolving credit payments. Freedom Fifty-five and the thirty- year amortization no longer go hand-in-hand; the disconnect is now obvious. We simply can no longer have more for less. We need to remind ourselves that it is now commonplace to accept that Her Majesty wants 50% of whatever we make, a fact which greatly erodes our starting point. The ballooning salaries over the past thirty years do nothing to improve our lives in view of such spirited theft by the government. We have to condition ourselves to have less with less.

As dispiriting as this may sound, it is a double-edged sword. For example if we consume less (one egg instead of two; a small pizza instead of a medium; a $30,000 car instead of a $60,000 luxury vehicle; an off-season holiday instead of prime time; an older computing device instead of the latest "generation"), we will reduce both our waistline and our debt. It is mathematical that eating less will produce less weight. Consider too how much harder you must work to pay off the expensive car (even at so-called competitive rates of 2.9% per annum) when the payments are $1,075.46 per month instead of $537.73 per month.

It is also useful to remind yourself that over-eating like over-spending is more often than not an ephemeral pleasure. Like it or not we are condemned to a world of decline and decay. Having eaten too much food will only hasten the degeneration of our moving parts; buying a new toy is destined to reawaken our recollection of impending failure and tarnish. I recall the wise words of advice from a former friend of mine who is sadly no longer whinnying among us that the first thing you do with a new car is beat it with a baseball bat and drive it through a barbed wire fence – get it over with! If we pretend to have any intellect whatever, it behooves us to stabilize our lives by understanding these important principles.

Remember too that cutting things in half doesn’t involve deprivation, just limitation. You can still have everything you’ve always had and you may surprisingly discover that the satisfaction of less weight and lower debt nicely balances the extra Nanaimo bar and the prolonged debt payment. Give yourself a break – have half as much!

The further intoxicating feature of this model is that it, unlike the alterative, will never condemn you to subsequent moments of regret. As much as you like mashed potatoes, cutting back on the first course doesn’t commit you to eternal privation; similarly choosing a reasonable vehicle is not unsustained impoverishment. There is always time to return to the trough! However what is more likely is that you’ll discover it is one thing to go up to the trough; it is quite another to get into it!