Critical Thinking

So I’ve been thinking lately about Kleenex (excuse me, facial tissue), turtlenecks, shrinking food portions at restaurants as well as grocery stores, and the quality vs. quantity debate. A key component of being a Neo Ren (Neo Renaissance human in the 21st Century) is the Intellectual Cornerstone, which above all, encourages critical thinking. My critical thinking is that I’ve been disturbed by the growing dichotomy between quality of goods, services, lifestyles; and the quantity of said facets.

Have you blown your nose lately on the average tissue? Has the tissue disintegrated before you finished your first blow?

Have you gone to a restaurant and noticed that the 12 oz. steak is now a 6 oz. steak for the same price? The hamburgers are 1/3-pound instead of 1/2-pound? Or the 1/3-pound burgers are now 1/4-pound? Have you noticed that the plates are smaller? Even the pasta portions are only large enough to feed a family of four instead of a family of three.


In the grocery store, have you noticed that the one-pound cereal box has been replaced by the 14-ounce box of cereal? The two-quart carton of ice cream is now 1.5 quarts?

Have you noticed a decline in the quality of clothing you once thought was high-quality combined with good value? For example, Lands’ End used to produce an excellent long-sleeve turtleneck. For the sake of argument, let’s say twenty years ago. The material was substantial, the neck held its shape for years, the color maintained itself. Now, I buy essentially the same turtleneck from them (as far as their marketing catalogs classify it as the same product they’ve manufactured for decades. The neck loses its elasticity after about one year, the color fades, edges fray and wear much faster, and the material is much thinner than it used to be.

I’m not singling out Lands’ End. I’m sure many other companies have done the same thing: reduced the quality of the merchandise to maintain a “low” price point in order to keep market share and sell lots of product. But there’s a limit to how cheaply-made a garment can get before we are wearing disposable paper clothing all the time–something I have no interest in whatsoever because I hate shopping for all things except groceries (which I find, oddly, soothing and fascinating at the same time).

My point is that we, meaning the civilized world, of which the U.S. is the key player, are on a death spiral to the bottom of the quality barrel. Sooner, rather than later, we’ll wake up and discover that every single thing we own or have purchased is a piece of crap! Flimsy clothes, shoddy tools and utensils, appliances that are obsolete before they’re a year old, cars that disintegrate after 100,000 miles, to encourage us to buy another one after only five years. It’s all going down the drain.

Why does this concern me as a Neo Ren? Because we should be promoting, striving, celebrating high quality and excellence, rather than defiling it. Our TV shows get more and more disgusting and appeal more and more to our prurience and morbid curiosity. Ex: “Did you hear what Honey Boo-Boo said last night????”

Excellence and the pursuit of excellence is what has improved the world generation by generation. All the modern luxuries we enjoy now were a product of someone who thought of a better way to do something, a more useful tool, a faster machine, a more efficient process, a better way to farm the land. They didn’t start off saying, “How can I invent something that will reduce the quality of a product or service down to the barest acceptable level of tolerance?”

We shop at Wal-Mart and Target for clothes, not caring that the garments fall apart after one year, because fashion changes so quickly it doesn’t make sense to buy anything that will remain in one piece for more than a year.

We continue to eat copious amounts of fast food, which is more and more designed to addict us, while providing fewer and fewer nutrients and increasing our risks of debilitating diseases like heart attacks and diabetes.

We increase our presence on internet social media, connecting to so many people that even if we spent one minute truly communicating with each and every one of those folks, we wouldn’t have time left for anything else in our day. Everyone is connected, but no one knows what to do with the fact that they are connected. It’s cool to be a twitter follower of Justin Bieber or Barack Obama, but what have they done to get to know you lately? Anything? Ever? Thought so.

As a Neo Ren, these are the things that puzzle me daily. I don’t have answers other than let’s stop focusing on quantity and instead focus on quality. And the most important aspect of quality, quality of life, should be at the top of that list.

Matt Lanier, the Neo Ren main character in my two nascent novels, worries about stuff like this too. He’s a musician, another part of life where the quality of performance more and more takes a back seat to titillation, exhibitionism, visual stimulation instead of aural amazement, I could go on and on. He strives for perfection in a world where perfect is derided as impossible and therefore not worth the effort, quality is pooh-poohed as too expensive or too esoteric, and he’s wondering what will become of his profession, even as he strives to regain his ability to perform music at the highest level.

What do you think? Is there an area of life that you see is improving in quality? What do you see as major drags in the quantity area? How do we reverse the path we’re on?

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