Jim Hopkins on current issues

Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: When taking the easy way makes life too hard

5 comments

Don't worry. You're not imagining things. That mighty rushing of wind you thought you heard on Monday morning did happen. It was the market heaving a huge sigh of relief as news came through that the drachma wasn't making a comeback any time soon.

The voters of Greece have chosen to stay the course and run their austerity marathon, although even the winners - the Spartan hearty parties - say the bailout deal's too tough. They're hoping the nice European money lenders will soften their terms and conditions a tad. Which, you'd think, is a bit like asking a crocodile to turn vegetarian, but time will tell.

Meanwhile, another matter worth pondering, not least because it relates to our own looming fiscal dilemmas, is whether the Greek election result confirms or contradicts one of the most fundamental, but seldom considered, laws of human behaviour.

You've only got to go to a mall or an airport or anywhere with a staircase and an escalator side by side and you'll see the proof, right in front of you, plain as the schnoz on your face.

For that reason, we'll call this underlying principle The First Law of Escalators, which is that whenever two or more solutions exist, 90 per cent of us will choose the easiest.

It's true. We do. The First Law of Escalators tells you all you need to know about how we operate physically, emotionally and socially.

And it makes sense physically, certainly from an evolutionary point of view. Back in the days when we were looking forward to the Stone Age and we didn't know where our next meal was coming from, taking the easiest option, i.e. conserving energy, made perfect sense.

For an ape on the make, it was a very smart strategy. Run yourself into the ground and your future offspring went down the genetic gurgler with you. Choose to cruise, you hung around long enough to breed. Which our ancestors did. So we're hard-wired to be slobs, and don't let any gym junky tell you otherwise.

It's the same with emotions. We won't admit (even to ourselves) how often we take the escalator but, time and again, we do. We can't resist choosing the easy option - letting ourselves off the hook, blaming other people for the way we feel, slipping into victim mode, telling convenient porkies. And we've all met people who won't risk love because it might hurt more than staying numb. Safer to fake it than take the serotonin staircase.

Which leaves our social choices, and again The First Law of Escalators applies. The "league table for schools" debate is a case in point. Every time someone suggests it, teacher unions head for the cliche cupboard and pull out all the old chestnuts - it won't work, it's not fair, the children will suffer, civilisation will grind to a halt.

It's easier to resist change than accommodate it. It's easier to keep thinking what you've always thought. It's easier to spook parents and try to recruit them as allies than it is to accept that a league table could work and it is fair, for crying out loud, to let consumers compare suppliers of a service - especially when they're paying the $9 billion bill.

Politicians understand The First Law. They know "blood, sweat and tears" isn't a peacetime winner. So they use easy options as bait to get elected - grand plans, promised lands, miracle cures, all the standard hokum. And we're willing co-conspirators, because we know it's bait, yet we swallow it anyway. It's easier to fall for fluff than face the facts.

Until things go pear-shaped - then we all hop on the escalator at indignation city and have a splendidly cathartic time blaming the pollies for the fine mess we've made. Or, worse still, we saddle them with a gormless system like MMP, specifically designed to stop anyone making hard choices.

It's easier to pretend the escalator will go on forever. It won't, of course, as the Greeks have discovered. They know you can't be a lotus eater in a soup kitchen. The big issue for them was who'll provide the soup. And they've decided they're more likely to get some with Europe on the ladle. Better the devil you know than the drachma you don't.

You could say that's The First Law of Escalators at work. Choosing Europe may be lousy, rotten and hard, but it's still easier than the alternative.

But there's a Second Law of Escalators too, which simply says the first law will always apply - until everything turns to custard, then we're stuck with the stairs. Maybe the Greeks are. Maybe they've finally run out of choices. Maybe they've only got bullets to bite.

Easy come, hard go. Them's the rules, folks, The First and Second Law of Escalators. Live by one and, sooner or later, you're stuck with the other. It's true in Greece, it's true in Europe, it's true here too and no amount of bleating will change a thing. The sooner we get that, the braver we'll be.

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 03 Sep 2014 20:59:19 Processing Time: 880ms