Derek: Ah, yes (eating the half-popped kernels at the bottom of our popcorn machine)! These have such a great marginal utility.
Me: (blank stare)
Derek: Oh, you don’t know what marginal utility is? It’s the best concept in economics. I love it. Seriously, it’s so cool! It’s basically all I remember from that class.
Me: (still blank stare) I want to believe that’s true, but the most I know about economy right now is that mine is not so hot.
Derek: (laughter) Well, okay. Utility is, like, the satisfaction someone has after consuming a certain amount of something. Usually, the more you consume, the more satisfaction you have. Marginal utility is… the satisfaction you get with each extra amount of consumption. Like, these kernels. The marginal utility is super high when I eat the first few – super beneficial and satisfying to me. Eventually, the marginal utility will go down because it’s no longer satsifying. (holding up a kernel)
Me: Uh-huh. Sounds interesting. I’ll probably write a blog about it.
I sent Derek a text that night because I forgot the word, but now that I have it, I’m intrigued on several levels. It’s strange to me that economy has something to say about measuring satisfaction and that measuring satisfaction has something to say about economy AND that there are technical terms to describe the relationship.
As I read Nancy Pearcey‘s book, “Saving Leonardo,” I’m on the hunt for ways we’ve separated things (through dualism) in our lives that were meant to be seen as a whole. Take life, for example.
Recently, an article came out from several medical ethicists who proposed that a newborn baby was really no different than a fetus – “morally irrelevant” and only a “potential person.” The article has since been taken down from the internet, but this is not the first brush modern culture has had with the “personhood debate.” In Pearcey’s book, she references Miranda Sawyer, an English journalist who identified as a pro-choice feminist… until she became pregnant and was faced with a dilemma. What would she call the thing growing inside her? She came to the conclusion that, “In the end, I have to agree that life begins at conception, but perhaps the fact of life isn’t what is important. It’s whether that life has grown enough to start becoming a person.” That is how she reconciled the two truths competing for her worldview – she didn’t. She was content to settle for piecemeal what was meant to be whole.
“Ever since antiquity, of course, most cultures have assumed that a human being comprises both physical and spiritual elements – body and soul. What is novel in our day is that these two elements have been split apart and redefined in terms that are outright contradictory. As we will see, the human body is regarded as nothing but a complex mechanism, in accord with a modernist conception of science (the fact realm). By contrast, the human person is defined in terms of ungrounded choice and autonomy, in accord with a postmodernist conception of the self (the value realm). These two concepts interact in a deadly dualism to shape contemporary debates over abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, and the other life issues.” (Saving Leonardo p. 49)
Life was never meant to be divided into science and values; fact and fantasy; real truth and livable truth, but that’s what we’ve allowed our culture to do. Somewhere along the lines, I’ve let journalists and science books and professors of the “facts” create another stage on which to shine. See, this whole time we’ve been thinking that science is trying to steal the spotlight and what’s really happened is that secularism is basking in an entirely different, man-made stage with a different story.
The problem is this: there is only one story. There is only one reason why the first popcorn kernels mean a great marginal utility for Derek and it isn’t economics. Economics might explain some true trends, but that doesn’t give economics the power to write a new story. There is truth in science and there is truth in politics and there is truth in the worn pages of my C.S. Lewis library, but no truth contradicts itself because it is one story.
Let LOVE fly like cRaZy
“We are to magnify Christ, not like a microscope magnifies things but like a telescope magnifies things. Microscopes make small things look big; but telescopes make seemingly small things look like they really are: Huge!” ~John Piper