Social Frugality — Promenade 2

Oğuz Albayrak
10 min readFeb 25, 2023

Challenge: Write in the style of The Reveries of a Solitary Walker of Rousseau

The peace of mind that I find while walking and contemplating about life, is a wonderful side effect that could be achieved without much hassle, and many people are not aware of this simple fact. Contemplating while sitting, is for some reason not as so fulfilling as contemplating while having some physical activity that doesn’t involve thinking by itself. When we walk we don’t need to think about our steps, and while thinking we don’t have to use our legs. While walking and thinking in the same time, we have the opportunity of using our body with full capacity by using both our mind and muscles in the same time.

For some reason this full utilization of body brings some clarity to the mind, and opens up whole new possibility of thoughts. While jumping from one idea to another idea, and maybe reviewing some thoughts that we contemplated before, sometimes you get the feeling that a huge chunk of thoughts are established and they are ready to manifest themselves, with the help of a little further push.

This is what I was thinking about, while I was walking today in the streets of Amsterdam and analyzing some beautiful historical buildings. One of them had this writing, “Pecunia olet” (money stinks), which has some connection with the Roman emperor Vespasian, since according to the account of Suetonius he responded to his son Titus saying “Pecunia non olet” (money does not stink) when Titus complained about the urine tax Vespasian introduced. Looks like somebody wanted to turn that sentence around and removed the negation non, creating a pun that sticked to that building long enough to reach to me, first puzzling me because of the missing word then making me laugh.

These historical contexts and puns are quite interesting to trace and understand, as well as the historical buildings themselves. Anything established throughout the history connects us to something we know and we are used to, which gives the feeling of familiarity and security. It is not possible anymore for one living in our time, to feel as much familiarity and security as a Scipio family member, who knows his family was inhabiting top of the same hill for last hundreds of years living in the same villa and doing similar things, but as members of new generations of the humanity, at least we can feel some connection to our surroundings by contemplating the historical connections and knowing how so many memories these buildings have. There is already some familiarity established in between the buildings themselves, and the only thing we have to do is adding ourselves to the chains of familiarity, widening the circle, at least in our mind, or if we are lucky, in the historical context.

The reverse was also applicable when I was passing in front of a beautiful shopping center and a posh large area filled with cafes and restaurants, which was converted from a closed old tobacco factory, in my hometown. When I was young, this closed factory in Samsun was on my road to school, and I still remember the sharp and bad smell rising from inside, even after it stopped operating for years. Every time I passed in front of it I would hold my breath for a while, or breath using my mouth instead of using my nose, as a game I played with myself.

I would never guess that I would feel so lost suddenly when I realize that the smell and the useless ugly building went away for sure. Though when I returned my hometown for a vacation and saw that the whole area changed, even if the change was hugely positive, I felt like my memories ceased to exist. The location was not familiar anymore. The area I knew so well ceased to exist, and all memories I had in that neighbourhood felt like they never happened. A part of my brain was panicking because it lost the hard connection with reality and it could be mistaken by other parts of the brain as being redundant, on the edge of being ejected because the memories attached to the building were now holding merely barely to reality. They were not strongly applicable anymore. It wasn’t possible to go to the same location and see the visual proofs to reestablish weaker memories and repair the stronger ones.

At least that’s what I make of the feelings I sensed about the change. This is how I interpret the feeling. This feeling, as a quale it is not reproducible or portable to another mind as what it exactly is, though still anybody can reflect on their qualia that arose from similar memories, to catch similar senses and have a similar reflections, and have other varieties of the reflection.

Let’s go back to the feeling of familiarity using another memory from the time I bought my classical guitar, and investigate a connection I felt which lead to familiarity way before I had the walk which led me to the building that had pecunia olet written on it.

The father of classical guitar Tarrega played the guitars that were made by the famous luthier that put the last important shape to classical guitars, Torres. After learning some basic pieces with my acoustic guitar I started getting familiar with the history of guitar-like instruments, and I realized that I really want to have some replica of the one of those earliest guitars. It suddenly became an obsession. After spending lots of lazy time on websites of guitar shops and wikipedia pages, I got lucky when I found a nice guitar shop in Amsterdam because they had a few replicas of Torres guitars, and one of them, the Torres 1859 replica sounded so amazing that without hesitation I bought it and brought back to my home with a great enthusiasm and joy.

Things took an interesting turn here. As somebody that grew up in a century that everything is so automated and streamlined, I nearly never felt the feeling of responsibility when I touched some inanimate object. The shoe I bought was replaceable, the shirt I wore was the same with tens of thousands of other shirts from the same series, everything I touched and I could break were just an exact copy of thousands of other things of the same type. They were not unique, thus they were not meaningful. They did not have a story.

So there wasn’t much of a feeling of responsibility when I used these objects roughly, because the condition in which they were produced was their last and first state. Their specific production did not involve any additional feelings or thoughts, after the design of their production line. Their loss would be insignificant. From the other hand though, when I touched my new classical guitar I knew that it was done by a luthier and much of work, love and thought was put, lots of tuning was done on each part of the guitar, many hours of listening to the voice and having thoughts of trying different things here and there. There was a deeply different sound coming from the hole of its body, as if you were in a Turkish bath and you were listening to the echoes of speeches of people, comparing to those guitars that were factory made. It was nearly alive and breathing, and telling you its story.

I also knew that there aren’t so many luthiers and every luthier is different from each other, so if the guitar gets broken somehow there is both no replacement for that unique one and also I would be reducing one good work from the capacity of humanity. It wouldn’t be like a factory producing one more unit as a replacement. I wouldn’t be able to say “Well, we are even” because I produced some other resource in my working hours to make the money I paid, in exchange of the resources that were consumed while forcing the guitar to be produced again. No, it wasn’t something like that anymore. We wouldn’t be even with the society. I was back to three hundred years ago, where the metal plate used within the familial house was used for three generations after it was produced by a local artisan.

Though, after trying to find the root of feeling I got — which I explained above — while touching the guitar, I got another revelation in my soul. The social frugality feeling that I had, actually should’ve been felt for most of the things I was using. That’s what was being told by many activists, and by the governments the whole time. As an example that everybody understands thus easy to follow, each plastic that I use unnecessarily, is polluting the environment faster than we could possibly clean. So paying for the plastic, which means I get something in exchange of what I produced something else and was paid, only gives me the right over usage, but it does not justify throwing it away without getting sufficient benefit from its usage, because it creates a much bigger cost, of reversing its effects to the nature. Thus if I am using such a material, it is the best that I need to take enough benefit from it to justify its usage.

This changed the way I treated the objects I owned for a while. Everything was something that was worked on by somebody, even if the process was automated, and the time and effort spent on it meant that the object required some respect.

Here my mind of course starts looking for a golden mean on this subject, but to find the golden mean we will need some other limit to the respect to the object which we justified above, or we could end up with an escalation of respect since we will match no stop, and almost always escalations end up with ridiculous behaviors.

We need to keep in mind that the social frugality involves many games, starting from trying not to block the way while standing on the street, to using plastic bottles sparingly and carefully. If we focus on one side of these games we might end up with sample bias. We have a pool of resources, and the best way to use the pool is trying to be sure that we are not causing it to shrink. That is possible by producing and consuming wisely and finding alternative ways of wiser consuming, and spreading the awareness.

The frugality could also end up with the cynic way of not using anything at all, to divorce ourselves of any necessity which imposes power on us, since if we need any object, we will need to negotiate with life to have them. If the only thing you need is a piece of cloth, you would not need to bow to anybody because there can’t be a scenario where you need to request something from somebody. This is a nice thought, though I think it would end up totally in the opposite direction of the expectation, if everybody started following it. We can not discard the necessity of production and its motives that we are currently hitting with a huge axe, and its beneficial effects on our personal growth which ends up with the rise of individuality.

The problem is, we can’t think of individuality to rise in an environment that nobody uses anything, or everybody is extremely careful about not consuming anything extra and reusing everything to its limits, because that would mean nobody has to grow to their maximum potential because nobody needs to produce more and more, and a possible escalation of power in the society would not be afraid to oppress the individual since preventing the individual from reaching its potential would not cause any setback.

No consumers no production, no production no growth pressure, no growth pressure no individual, no individual so much tyranny. Tyranny is the scary part, for those who felt indifferent I would like to put an emphasis and remind of the horrors of the humanity. Individual has to remain useful to each other to prevent such aberrations of governing.

So motivation of growth has to somehow continue to keep the individual’s strive to reach their maximum, meanwhile the social frugality should also be applicable to a point of balance so that we are not throwing our resources away, and we have a sustainable growth as humanity, which is the best type of growths possible.

Keeping these in mind, the connection to the guitar, or the historical building, or the street, or the coffee that is drank while walking should have a healthy golden mean, that is both helpful to the society and also beneficial by giving some peace of mind to the person because of the feeling of familiarity and interconnectedness, without hurting the productivity which created our minds in the first place, and filled with all these modern concerns of the mind, in summary, the necessity and urge of growth.

Care starts with the sense of connection. We invented the individuality as humanity in recent centuries, but what about the connection? Have we lost it? How long will it take to invent connection and make it theoretically and practically compatible with individuality that we got so used to and we value, so that we can’t do without anymore?

The apartment I live in, my guitar, the buildings I see on the road, Tarrega, Torres, the guitar shop I visited, Vespasian, and the stories I listened from the old guitar shopkeeper gentleman, they are all parts of a story which I am living in, interconnected, along with the reflection I am putting into words right now. I can feel more and more mingled with everything I see and think about.

And yes, with you also, dear reader. Regardless of when and where you are reading, your reading is part of the whole story, the story of humanity. We are all interconnected, and we all care.