Some 16 years ago, Carol and I began to noodle over two ideas that would totally reshape our lives. At the time they did not appear to be completely radical or outside the norm of what other people were doing. However, in retrospect, perhaps I was mistaken.
In the field of traditional economics there is a convenient little assumption that greatly simplified the development of the elegant mathematical models that have formed the basis of quantitative economic theory for many years. The gist of it is that we humans act in a completely logical and rational manner.
In this model all of the decisions we make throughout our lives are based upon a perfect knowledge of the infinite array of options, outcomes, costs and benefits available to us. With this information we apply a cold mathematical calculus resulting in choices that maximize our own net present value and well being. Over the long term each of us acting in this manner creates an overall optimum result for society.
Free market zealots can now genuflect toward the University of Chicago.
However, as time has passed, some very smart people began to poke at that shiny little analytical construct, birthing an entirely new field of economics. Based in large part on the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, behavioral economics is reshaping our view of ourselves and how we move through our short stay on this little orb we call home. If you have not read “Thinking Fast and Slow” or “The Undoing Project” I would suggest that you head for Amazon immediately and do so.
Kahneman explored and documented the fact that we don’t really act as logical decision making automatons. We are creatures with biases and emotions that crave experiences and relationships that are not in any way, shape or form either completely logical or rational. This now brings me back to the opening paragraph of this little parable starring Carol and yours truly.
Many you know, through prior installments of this blog, that our barging lives began as guests of good friends on their Chalk Penelope’s Ark. We were already a family of sailors but after several years of summer holidays on the canals, the barging seed was planted, germinated and slowly grew into what is our life today .
Around the same time, after many decades of apparent sanity, I once again fell victim to an old condition from my childhood that I thought had long been cured; the need to have a dog.
I had grown up with dogs, both house pets and hunting dogs, but when I went off to university and started my life as an “adult” that need seemed to fade away. It all made perfect sense, freedom, flexibility, no poop to clean up. But, in spite of all of those advantages, soon after our son departed for college the thin facade of logic that had covered my little “problem” cracked and fell away. After a surprisingly short discussion, Carol and I trundled up to Brooksville FL and gathered up a small ball of fur and energy known to many of you as our Nikki.
So, in the cold hard light of day neither of these decisions passes the “rational actor” sniff test. The activity of barging appears to make no sense either economically or emotionally. There are at least a million ways to see Europe that do not involve the logistics and sweat of a floating apartment that takes a bit of work to maintain.
Pet ownership, while not a niche affliction like barging, surely cannot be justified by pencil whipping a set of numbers. But, in spite of this, hundreds of millions of us willingly take on the expense and total responsibility for another creature’s life knowing that we all will have to eventually make, as we recently did, the heartbreaking decision to say goodby to a loving and loyal friend.
How do we reconcile these two desperate ideas? Homo Sapiens as all-knowing, logical, decision-making machines, with that of us as giddy creatures floating together through space and time experiencing the world through the eyes of vagabond travelers with dog in tow. When we figure that out, we will let you know.
The journey continues!
The Briare aquaduct, longest in France