When Ridiculousness is Ubiquitous

The Loop of Lunacy

The Loop of Lunacy

Imagine that you are floating comfortably above an alien planet observing the really insane species that lives there.

We’ll call these beings Sheeple, because their incredible tendency to follow the herd even if it is running right off a cliff is quite similar to the behavior we see in sheep here on Earth. Almost everything an individual of this species does is heavily influenced by the Sheeple around it. Despite the potential for incredible intelligence, they rarely stop to evaluate why they are doing what they do each day.

As you zoom in on various parts of the planet, you notice fantastic patterns. In one area, the Sheeple wear red costumes and fiercely criticize those who wear blue. But just on the next continent, blue-wearers are in the majority and they are beheading those who dare to wear red. Great books and ornate traditions are built to describe how wearing Red robes is The Way, which are cited authoritatively to discredit those who believe in Blue, and vice versa.

In other areas of the planet, the societies appear more advanced. They have built great cities. The Red/Blue battle is less noticeable in these parts, but it has been replaced by an equally bizarre pattern: a competition over how to decorate their heads, bodies, and habitat. In the great cities, Sheeple work ceaselessly to buy and trade decorative materials, and just as quickly put them to use. They give up sleep, autonomy and time with their loved ones to earn more of these things.

The heads pile taller with decorations. The habitats become so full that they can barely squeeze into them. Every year, the producers of decorations declare all previous iterations to be obsolete and release a new type of decoration. Believe it or not, this triggers an even more intense flurry of working and buying to acquire still more decorations. The most successful Sheeple buy larger dwellings and throw out and replace their decorations at the fastest rate, some even employing a sub-staff of Sheeple to buy, organize and replace decorations without the need for the leader to even see them.

It’s all an amusing day of Science from the comfort of your spaceship until you return to Earth and realize we’re exactly the same. Except multiplied by ten due to our ridiculous invention of consumer borrowing.

Noticing this myself, I’ve been doing some closer bits of scientific observation right here on our own planet.

In one incident, I traveled to a distant suburb with my son to attend a child’s birthday party. The homes in this middle-income area were tightly packed with short driveways, but each place was outfitted with at least two enormous luxury vehicles – often trucks – so big that they had to spill out to consume the entire street. The interior of each house was clad with beige carpets, artificial finishes, and tiny windows placed with complete disregard to the prevailing direction of the Sun.

At the party, every food was an unrecognizable assembly of chemical compounds ripped out of a brightly-colored box, served on styrofoam plates which were promptly discarded into a black plastic bag. Every gift was a plastic and metal recreation of a famous movie character or vehicle, ripped out of another plastic package. There was a television in the kitchen blaring news and advertisements. The unhealthy parents drank beer and ate cake, and sighed about not having enough time or money to spend more time taking care of their home, or their kids, or themselves.

All of this took place in a neighborhood with beautiful walking paths and parks, and a modern utopia of a school just down the road. But every weekday at 2:45 PM, an ominous horror begins. An immense and powerful passenger vehicle will ease down the road and come to a halt at the prime spot of the school’s pickup loop. And the engine will be left running. This leader will soon be followed by another van or truck, and another ten, then another hundred.

Soon there will be a poison-spewing circus of completely batty people sitting there idling in sleek 400-horsepower Mercedes SUVs, or clackety Diesel jacked-up yellow offroad diesel Super Duty trucks, comparatively small-looking Honda and Toyota minivans, new cars, old cars, and anything else they can find that burns gas and wastes money. The lineup grows to fill not just the gigantic asphalt loop provided by the school, but also the driveway leading to it and hundreds of feet of the public road. Everyone talking on their mobile phone. Everyone idling. Killing each other, and each other’s kids. Everyone in debt, and many with a net worth less than zero. Most of them dangerously out of shape and beginning to suffer from health problems due to inactivity.

And every one of them convinced that he or she is going through life in a perfectly reasonable way, trying to get ahead and take good care of their kids, but things are just hard these days unless you’re one of those privileged lucky elite 1% multimillionaires that we read about in the paper while cursing our own fate, the fate of the middle class.

What. The Fuck. Is Going On Here?

Why are we so Ridiculous, without even acknowledging that we are?

Curing the Disease

See, I can pretend to be astounded by what is going on, but it’s a natural consequence of our evolutionary history – the way you and I and all of us are built. We are social beings, which is our greatest strength because it allows us to work together to accomplish bigger things. But it is also one of our greatest weaknesses, because it allows us to adopt stupid and irrational ideas in mass quantities as long as we see the other people around us doing the same thing.

It is hard to become any less ridiculous without realizing this massive, critical flaw in our reasoning that nobody ever talks about. Like the innocent beings on Planet of the Sheeple, we take our cues from our immediate surroundings.

Just look outside your own country or time period to see how big this effect is. In some areas, it is totally normal to require a woman to be covered completely in fabric so that no other male human can lay eyes on her, and some of these women even voluntarily enforce and pass on the tradition. This is happening right now, and these people are just as intelligent as those that surround you. In a nearby country, the women lounging in bikinis on a public beach may be attorneys or chief financial officers on the weekdays. Which tradition is considered ridiculous depends on who you are – in other words, which social surroundings you have absorbed and adopted as your own.

Here in my own country, similar social traditions have traditionally regulated what you can eat or drink, whether you can vote or marry, and whether you should teach science or the local religion in science class. The battle that I am currently fighting is comparatively mild: Is it reasonable to spend 80-120% of your money as soon as you earn it, or to spend a smaller portion while keeping the rest to reinvest in your own future?

In each case, the prevailing opinion seems completely normal, (often labeled as common sense) to the people who enforce it. But in many cases it has only become common because we are easily fooled social beings. To get ahead of the pack, you need to drop this weakness.

The key is to put the ridiculousness into perspective – the perspective of your current income and wealth, of human history, and of science.

Let’s start with a warmup. One of the richest Saudi princes has a 590 foot yacht, and one of the areas inside is reserved for a display area for 3-d models of all of his other jumbo jets and yachts. At least one of the jets has a “throne room” in it. Here in the US, a Texas woman made the news for her 3000-square foot closet. A flying throne room or 3 stories of shoes and handbags: obviously ridiculous, right?

But what about a Dodge Durango, a popular American-made SUV. Ridiculous, or normal? You see them in every suburban driveway, so they must be reasonable. But they are not! The SMALLEST engine you can get in this piece of shit is 3.9 liters, and the largest is 5.9! That is enough engine displacement to easily power ten passenger vehicles, if they were designed by vehicle designers rather than marketing representatives. It has the passenger capacity of a wagon, but the engine (and fuel economy) of a DUMP TRUCK OR A SCHOOL BUS! The performance is blundering, blind spots are enormous, build quality is poor, and yet the sticker price is astronomical. And yet people line up by the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS TO BORROW MONEY TO BUY THESE THINGS AND USE THEM TO DRIVE TO SHOPPING MALLS!!!

my_ridiculous_faucetBut it doesn’t stop there – I’m just revealing my personal bias because my own social surrounding is mostly Mustachians. My own lifestyle is also totally ridiculous.

I’m building the second bathroom in my house right now, which is already ridiculous because we already have one perfectly good one just at the other end of the house. Over 1300 pounds of floor-to-ceiling tiles and concrete, and that’s just the prep work so I can add the brushed steel trim kit to the insane Danze shower valve – a system that cost me over two hundred dollars.

This shower project has taken several weeks, because it is frequently interrupted by time spent with my family, or trips to go out for beer with friends, or host parties here at the house, or the trip to New York City last week. Sometimes I even have to go out and restock the house with internationally sourced bits of fine cheese, meat, vegetables and fruits. I barely have time to type stuff into my choice of high-end computers or make use of the other distractions around here. And this is in a life that is labeled by the newspapers as extreme frugality?

It is ALL ridiculous. Your life and my life, and the lives of all of the normal people around us.

If you’ve ever bought a garment, vehicle or dwelling with “style” as even a remote consideration, or prepared a multi-course meal with “taste” as one of the factors, then congratulations – you live a big, wonderful, ridiculous life. If you have any means of transportation besides walking, congratulations again, because you’ve hit the big time. You have so many options open to you – so much flexibility to change your lifestyle, empower yourself, spend less, earn more, and move to new places as you see fit.

But to claim that freedom, you need to look around you and see that these trapped, tiny Sheeple around you are not normal or sensible. They are obedient followers of the social script, trapped so tightly that they can barely move. And although you’re a social animal too, you can rise up to a far happier lifestyle just by becoming a tiny bit less ridiculous than average.

It is ridiculously easy.


  • Marsha Thompson March 24, 2015, 12:39 am

    Never underestimate the wonderfulness of having a 2nd bathroom if something happens to the toilet in the 1st bathroom. No matter how much I downsize in the rest of my life I will never, repeat never, live in an abode with only one bathroom. I avoid the word never but in this instance I mean it with all my heart. I also live in a 2 story house so it would be insane to only have one bathroom, so I have 2 1/2. Works for me and the cats :-)

  • Big-D March 24, 2015, 12:29 pm

    I find that we all live in the herd for many reasons. I don’t follow the herd when it comes to design, or anything like that. I find I follow it for functionality. I bought a Pontiac Aztek not because it was pretty, but because of what it could do. I bought my house (which everyone say’s is an eyesore inside because it is so dated) because everything works, and I did not have to repair anything (and the price).

    The one thing that I noticed on your article that got to me, was people doing things, because other people doing things. Why are parents picking up their kids from schools? Do the buses not take them home? Are they too far to walk? This reminds me of the story of those two “free range” children who walked home less than a mile from school. The cops picked them up and CPS was called on the parents because they should not be walking home from school when the school does not provided buses for less than a mile (which is walking distance). When I was 10 I was riding the city bus 15 miles home (I rode with my mother, a teacher to school). This is what I see is the issue.

  • Mt Tahoe March 25, 2015, 2:26 pm

    We have three trucks, one of which is a pickup. The pickup is worth its weight in gold since we can haul all sorts of FREE stuff others discard or think is trash. Our biggest is a huge chevy SUV. We got most of these for under $1000 (ie good deals) and could easily sell them for much more if we needed to.

    I love trucks. what can i say. But we don’t commute with them and it is a hobby.

  • YzTufo March 25, 2015, 9:22 pm

  • Karl March 27, 2015, 4:58 am

    I bought a 6-way power outlet board which has individual switches on each outlet. That way I can easily cut the power to computer equipment, phone chargers etc as needed, while leaving other outlets active while I use them. There’s also ‘smart’ outlet boards which sense the power draw off one outlet, and switch off power to the other outlets when the draw stops. E.g. a computer system, printer and monitor will all stop power when the board senses the computer go to sleep or power off.

    However, in Australia the largest components is ‘admin’ and ‘service’ fees, regardless of you power usage, unless you have a massive solar system generating power on your roof, it’s normal to have expensive bills (around $200-300 a month) even with minimal usage, solar hot water, LED lighting etc. It’s quite a rort actually: http://theundercurrent.com/responses-to-your-power-bill-i-not-real/

  • Gabrielle Bauer April 6, 2015, 10:12 pm

    Great post. I sometimes catch myself having sheeple thoughts, which are generally ridiculous when exposed to the light of day. For instance, my husband and I spend very little money on home decor. As long as our home looks clean and reasonably attractive, we’re good. But sometimes I find myself thinking, “Is there something wrong with me for not wanting to update my sofa, get rid of our ‘dated’ track lights, or redo our kitchen? Shouldn’t I get on this?” Fortunately I generally catch this sheeple mentality before acting on it.

    Thanks for the reminder to distance ourselves from our sheeple thoughts.

  • David April 8, 2015, 9:28 am

    Don’t we se lots of newspaper articles claiming that middle class incomes have declined over the last 30 years? Yet somehow all these same middle class people are choosing to buy truck-like vehicles that cost between 30% and 100% more than the average car. These are not the signs of a people experiencing declining incomes but, rather, the signs of increasing incomes. The reporters are feeding us inaccurate information (perhaps to sell more advertising).

    And almost 60% of people in urban areas now commute to work in a truck-like vehicle. Yet further proof that incomes are increasing, not decreasing, like we are led to believe.

    • Joe Average April 13, 2015, 7:32 am

      Took me a long time to start questioning enough the validity of the information (any information) reported by the media. This is one of those topics that seemed incongruous from what I was seeing around me. Assumed that this was another regional thing – that the parts of the country where the writers lived were still in decline while around here things are okay. Statistically the articles that tell us that incomes are stale might be true but those articles don’t spend much time laying out all the variables considered or ignored. And whatever the reality – yes, people are still spending wildly if they are able.

  • Aja McClanahan April 26, 2015, 9:41 pm

    We are considered extreme b/c we live in a paid for house in the hood of Chicago. I preferred that to a mortgage where I would suffocate under the pressure of a dumb bill eating all my precious dollar bill workers. I have friends and family who think we must do this b.c we are poor. Ha Ha Ha! We just spent 6 weeks in Cali, just because and will probably do 2-3 months in the Caribbean in 2016. We are on track to retire a few yrs shy of birthday 40. I’m semi-retired as I only run a business to keep from being bored. Having no debt and racking up savings is fun, but I guess makes people pity us “poor folk” Oh well…

  • fennesz July 30, 2015, 11:41 am

    Bragging time:

    I’ve read all the blog posts now, and I have to say that while I did learn a few things, I have to conclude that we may actually be even more badass than Mr. Money Moustache. No car, we get most of our furniture for free (Dumpsterdiving fucking rocks and is super easy, when you live in a rich country), our food budget is extremely low for our country’s standards, and even vacations are cheap as hell when you do it with the budget in mind.

    We live in a two room apartment in Denmark where it’s possible to ride your bike basically everywhere, and we do. The only thing we want do better, is a lower electricity bill. It’s currently half of your regular family in my country (2600 kWh per year), but I know for a fact we could do better. Other than that, Mr. Money Moustache is nowhere near our level! We live on 160000 DKK, which is around 23k USD. We save 30% of our income.

    We are rich as hell. We eat meat every day. We don’t lack for clothes, and paying our rent is not a problem. The posts about hedonistic adaption are spot on. People think we’re poor sons of bitches, but think about this: I can walk up to not only one, but TWO taps in our apartment, turn a nozzle, and have clean drinkable water coming out! I can get heat by the twist of a wrist, and I have a fridge that will keep my food for days. I don’t ever have to worry about my health, because the state takes care of it. If I feel lazy as fuck, I can click a BUTTON on my computer, and have food BROUGHT to my house.

    People need to appreciate what they have, and how easy it is to get the essentials in all western countries. Being grateful is not just a social courtesy. It’s the cornerstone of mental health!

  • Sean January 12, 2016, 1:44 pm

    I heard something once that sort of pertains to this topic, not certain if its fictional or not but it is interesting.
    Scientist put 5 monkeys in a cage with a ladder in the middle. On top of the ladder they hung a banana. when one monkey would start to climb the ladder the scientist would spray all of the monkeys with a hose. This went on for a little while until the monkeys quit trying to climb the ladder in fear of being sprayed with the hose. Soon one monkey was taken out of the cage and a new monkey replaced him. That monkey immediately tried to climb the ladder to get the banana but all the other monkeys beat him and would not allow him to climb. Soon another “new” monkey was replaced with another old monkey. the same thing happened, all the monkeys would not allow him to climb the ladder knowing that if he did they would be sprayed with the hose. One by one all the original monkeys were replaced with new monkeys. The strange thing was that every new monkey would try to climb up the ladder for the banana but would be thwarted by the other 4. But over time none of the monkeys were ever sprayed with the hose, they had all been replaced. None of these monkeys really know why they were not allowed to climb the ladder.

  • Wandering Whitehursts November 23, 2017, 7:34 pm

    Funny, I have that same truck shown in the article photo. Guess it’s not something to brag about, though. We do use it to pull our house, however. So at least the 7.3 liter engine and 14 quarts of oil are put to use. And a couple weeks ago we “balanced it out” with a Fusion Hybrid that seems to easily be surpassing 40mpg. Sure beats 14!

  • BC Kowalski August 29, 2018, 8:42 am

    I love this post, although use the word “sheeple” always reminds me of some self-righteous know-it-all college student.

    I have the same frustrations when I see enormous SUVs carrying one small human. (And work hard to restrain the eye rolls when people have a baby and suddenly decide they need an aircraft carrier.) But I mostly live by the mantra that you can’t control the actions of others, only your own.

    However, the ones that truly bug me are my friends who ask my advice and then promptly ignore it. I have friends in a lot of debt, and they see my situation and know I earn less than them, yet am in a far better financial position. I’ve even sat down with some of them, gone over their budget/spending, and offered suggestions. They either offer poor excuses or they agree but then don’t do anything I’ve suggested. Which is also fine — they’re free to live as they choose. But what frustrates me is that they still complain to me about money. This is the part I have trouble dealing with: as far as I’m concerned, if you’re unwilling to heed any of my advice, or seek out other advice and implement it, I have little patience for complaints. It has occurred to me that some people are just better geared toward complaining than taking any action to address the issue. It makes me not want to invest my time in such a thing in the first place.

    How do you handle this, MMM? I know many people have expressed how the blog has helped them; it’s kind of self-selecting in that way that a percentage of people who read the site will implement at least some of the ideas. But in real life, this must happen often I would imagine? Do you refrain from advice, or give them something small to test them, or just give them the spiel and hope for the best?


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