Late summer, most years, a great apple tree comes into fruit near our house in Leeds. It’s a great, sprawling dirty old tree crouched next to a yorkstone wall on a dilapidated patch of scrubland behind the ASDA. And it bears the sort of fruits you might catch cancer from eating.
Perhaps the locals know that, or more likely they don’t know apples come from a tree, which is why I can have virtually all the fruits to myself. So each year, I’ll trundle over to that sickly-looking tree with a rhino tub in hand, and shake down as many of the red-green mottled spheres as is possible to carry – then promise to make cider from them. In reality, the apples sit about for a couple of weeks in my dank cellar. Some rot away, most go into a fizzy mash that steadily sours over the next 12 months before acquainting itself with the sewers of West Yorkshire.
Last year, whilst liberating said apples, I noticed a curious, disturbing behaviour. I’d resolve to take just one modest tub of apples – just enough to carry home, then leave the rest. But as soon as it approached full, I craved ‘just a few more’ – especially the juicier-looking ones higher up. Yet once acquired, I reached further still, ever higher and deeper into the tree – beyond what was safe, endangering myself for the sake of just one more apple.
This was instinct. I could see what was happening but couldn’t stop myself
After a nasty scratch I paused ferreting for fallen apples I’d nudged form the higher boughs, to question my logic. Isn’t it better to gather a few more apples now than have none later? They’re here so I may as well take them while I can. Who knows whether this sickly looking apple tree will be here tomorrow? These discarded mattresses I’m stood on won’t burn themselves.
I’d arrived at the root of short-termism. Our ancient drive to surpass plenty in the face of an uncertain future – a future without enough apples. Apples I didn’t really need in the first place anyway.
Those of us lucky enough to know such a thing, simply haven’t adapted to this age of plenty. Our urges are born of necessity and pessimism, selfishness even. It’s not that you can never have enough, it’s that ‘enough’ is as uncertain as the future itself. Better to be sure now, when you know what’s what.
Now, replace apples for money in this story, typically earned by way of an employer. Or shiny gadgets, purposefully designed to rot like apples in a basement.
Now you know what we’re up against.
The Human Freelancer is my tiny, tottering, private protest against such primal urges that got us in the mess we find ourselves in – in the amidst of an ever spinning, excrement-filled global crap vortex.
Resist. Question. Reflect. Progress.
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