Going into 2019, I’m contemplating a change of perspective. Throughout my life, I have tended to take a “close enough for rock and roll” attitude towards a lot of stuff because life is too short to spend it sweating the small stuff. For example, I don’t bother getting down on my hands and knees to clean the dust out from under the fridge when an ordinary sweep for the floor is 90% as good. If somebody serves me a cold meal at a restaurant, I eat it instead of sending it back because I don’t want to spend another twenty minutes waiting for a dinner that will only bring me marginally increased satisfaction. Lately, I’ve been thinking I should raise my standards to better myself, but is it better to tolerate small imperfections or strive for excellence at all times?
— Henry P., Kensington
I struggle to announce a first principle here, because the answer surely differs by degree between, say, your thoracic surgeon (who ought always to exercise the utmost care); your barber (who might be forgiven the occasional lapse in concentration); and your gardener (who can daydream all he wants so long as the price doesn’t go up and the work doesn’t suffer in the end).
Imperfection has become something of a commodity in the modern world. Industrial society continues to advance in sophistication by leaps and bounds with every passing year, so slickness and uniformity have become the norm. Variations in quality and appearance have been engineered out of everything from fruit to iPhones, and one could spend every day of one’s life insulated from any unexpected surprise or unwelcome variation.
For many people, that familiarity and predictability has become a treasured source of daily comfort. Our dear friends in Corporate America know this, which is why every Starbucks allegedly utilizes an expensive—and fantastically wasteful—water filtration system to guarantee uniformity. It remains an open question whether these firms are (a) capitalizing on a pre-existing demand for uniformity and non-variation; or (b) creating a culture of Droog-ish conformity by removing variation from the market in a long-term war of attrition against competition.
Whatever the answer, familiarity breeds contempt in a hipster minority, hence the push towards “small-batch this,” “handmade that,” and “craft everything.” Imperfections define hipster commodities. Look at beers. Few hipsters will admit it, and I’m risking the Jon Snow treatment from my fellow hipsters for saying as much, but most craft beers exhibit serious manufacturing flaws (oxidation, TCA, etc.) that would never pass QC at an industrial brewery. Whatever there is to say about Coors Light, and there’s a lot of bad stuff I could say about Coors Light, every Silver Bullet is perfect. Sure, one can credibly argue the underlying product is terrible as a matter of taste; but the product never exhibits any flaws that cause it to deviate from its intended form. Yet, flaws and imperfections reflect the stumblings of human intervention, whereas perfection stands in for the soulless efficiency of the machine; and we cling to the former with good reason.
I don’t know if this solves all your problems, because I don’t intend to advocate, say, doing the bare minimum, but when you’re faced with imperfections, as, yourself if they’re the kinds of things that couldn’t be avoided. If they are, maybe they’re worth suffering for the collateral benefit of keeping in touch with your humanity.