September 2023 (8 months ago)

On the Minimum Standard

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4 min read (748 words)
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The Principle

Buy the cheapest thing that is still functional. For example, compare an iPhone vs Android using not marginal differences but 0 to 1 changes. The Apple Watch and Airtags are best in class. You can’t get that functionality elsewhere. So I decided to get the “minimum standard,” an iPhone 12 mini.

Betters and Worse

First there are objective betters and subjective betters. It is objectively better to be in good health, physically fit, have deeper social relations, have a car that doesn’t rattle and is quieter, to have pants that are sturdy and tailored and so on.

It is subjectively better to have X brand, own X piece of art, to wear such and such fashion, and so on. And while there are experts in distinguishing wines, they fall in the subjective because for most, what is the importance of distinguishing Wine A and Wine B? None. I think it’s bullshit, and I think drinking is a waste of health and money. And I’ve done enough alcohol drinking to make that statement seriously.

I’m not sure why rich people are caught up in what seems like mimetic desire for wines and art… I’d rather buy lift trucks, land, and commodities. Maybe that’s an escape valve because if all rich people thought like that, we’d quickly run out of resources? I don’t totally buy the social argument because you could do anything socially.

I try to aim for the minimum acceptable level. In cookware, it would be a Tramontina Stainless Steel Pan ($35) versus a well known expensive European brand such as Fissler or Demeyere, which might be twice as expensive. The significance is the quality of stainless steel and the material. The Tramontina is good quality steel and well-built enough for my purposes that I don’t perceive any problems with it. If you are a chef, you may find the Tramontina unacceptable, but I don’t have the expertise to ‘feel’ that.

On the other hand, Teflon coated pans kill birds. So if a pan was an expensive brand but nonstick, this is objectively worse.

Why do people pick objectively worse things?

Contrast is probably a big reason. They haven’t experienced good things. The second reason is that people know that the stuff they buy sucks, but they’re not sure exactly how to make it better. A third is that they just aren’t perceptive enough or consider material improvement as an important interest.

I started noticing small details in my knife only recently. I felt like it wasn’t sharp enough. I felt like the knife could have grooves on the side to prevent food from sticking to the blade. It takes time to hone this perception and usage, which is why I think buying cheap to more expensive is better because you see the flaws. Starting from buying expensive leads to being fleeced, imo.

Centurylife.org is what I consider the premier authority on cookware, but I feel so few people have even heard of this blog. When you look at the quality of goods at a Walmart, it’s all nonstick and thin crap. One thing I felt in Germany was most people had a higher floor for living. Stuff in the Karstadt mall is great. There’s a lot of unkept crap in the USA and a lot of unnecessary extravagance. Where is egalitarianism and quality?

I find there are a few key differentiators for any item that really matter; everything else is incremental. The hardest part is knowing what they are. Making spec sheets can help.

An Amazon suitcase of injection molded plastic might be enough rather than an aluminum suitcase. There was a period of time where I was debating on what suitcase to get, and it turns out the cheap shitty suitcase works well enough.

Austerity and simplicity are powerful reframers to what is important. It’s important to advance to a point of ‘good enough’ for broadly, generally applicable things in every sector, but beyond that is to be a specialist or simply passionate.

I don’t think ‘good enough’ is a moving bar or hedonistic treadmill. You reach a certain level based on current human knowledge and that’s enough. If you reach the peak of a field, then you innovate by creating what you think is missing.

Conclusively, one should strive for “good enough” excellence in fields they deem important to them and broadly applicable in daily life. They should share information so that others can reach the same level, and so degenerate behaviors decrease over time. Broadly speaking, moral, practical, conceptual, and material cultivation is the basis for human development.