Opportunity cost

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In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.
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Opportunity cost
/ˌɒpəˈtjuːnɪti kɒst/ (n.)

The potential advantages of taking this path that one forgoes by taking that one.

The principle underlying the proposition that one can’t have one’s cake, and eat it.

The JC is fomenting a theory that somewhere along our faltering path to eudaemonia, the idea of the “opportunity cost” has been lost to modern discourse. The notion that you can be this or that, or neither, but not all of them at the same time — taking any of these options and enjoying its fruits means forgoing the alternatives, and their fruits, is one that appears not to have occurred to those under the age of thirty.

Analysts at the Vampire Squid

You want to learn how to jam your stent into anything that smells of money on a nine to five?[1]

Come now, Children of the Night. Would you read Faust, if you thought the good doctor got to keep his soul? Das ist nicht der Deal.

The enlightenment cancelling the enlightenment

Kicking away the ladder is one thing: proposing to erase all records of one’s ascension up it, quite another.[2]

The enlightenment has been a serial victim of erasure. The reductionist certainty that “all explanatory arrows point downward” — that there is a single unifying principle that governs the physical operation of the universe at all points, for all times; that all scientific disciplines are consistent and reduce, ultimately, to physics, is inferred, entirely without evidence — how could there be any? — and is transparently an inheritance from Judeo-Christian orthodoxy.

You can’t have the certainty and orderliness of a prime mover from whom all things derive and get to do what the hell you want, and get to tell everyone else what the hell to think.

Likewise, the liberal pluralistic disposition — also a function of the enlightenment (though, curiously, incommensurate with the reductionism it accompanied) — a product of the towering intellects like Hume, Adam Smith, John Stewart Mill, Jeremy Bentham and Charles Darwin — were necessary conditions for growth of continental philosophy, post modernism and the critical theories who would now write this stale colonial tradition from history. Look, knock yourself out: kick away the ladder, by all means — but be prepared for a cold night on Death Bivouac if the weather closes in — but don’t pretend that wasn’t how you got there.

See also


  1. Group of junior bankers at Goldman Sachs claim “inhumane” work conditions: The Guardian, 18 March 2021.
  2. Hinterstoisser and Kurz, doomed climbers of the Eiger, might caution against kicking the ladder away, too. If things get sticky ahead, you might need it to get down.