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What is Luxury for me and why we as a society should aspire for invisible luxuries?

Yesterday, I listened to one of Naval’s reels (I follow him on everywhere), and in that reel, he talked about how his life got better just by not compromising on the projects (he wants to work on), people (he would like to work with), profession (he desired to). In that 30 seconds reel, he highlights this is a luxury, but it is a luxury because he does not compromise. And that got me thinking about Luxury - what is luxury? Since I have not even searched about this term yet (philosophically or normal definition), there is a general mindset that luxury is directly proportional to cost or unaffordability or it is a representation of status symbols or defines the hierarchy in a society. But I am certain, this luxury association with the cost or status is not even the 5% of the entire meaning. I will come to it, for now - I am capturing my (personal) instant thoughts about luxury.

In the past few months, I have been coming to a new cafe - Imperial Hideout. This is a new place, and these folks have found me at some weird timing like 6:30 PM, 10:30 PM on weekends or weekdays etc. If I threw myself in public, in almost all cases, this means - my productivity in my private space is almost zero or this is not the regular timing of work or I am still motivated to read, write, and work but unable to do that. Frankly, I have experienced some energy in being surrounded by unknown humans.

One of the staff asked me, Sir aap kisi bhi time pe kese aa jate he and do all these? (How come you could come at these different times and read and work?). And this question got me thinking, he is probably right. Because most regular humans are bound by a fixed timing - X hours of work, Y hours of travel, Z hours of life etc. However, I have found myself: working, living, and enjoying all combined hours(X+Y+Z). The best part - no one is forcing me to do this.

I started all these during the IPL because I found myself watching IPLs, and after watching each day, I felt bad - thinking I wasted my 3 hours. And just to eliminate that - I started coming to this cafe after 6:30 PM to read and work, so I could prevent myself from watching IPL. Now for me, this is a Luxury that I can sit in this cafe for very odd (non-working) and very long hours and still convert my time into pure joy and work. I can sit in the middle, on a table, surrounded by many unknown humans - those who have planned in a group to live life, or enjoy or have fun - and among all of them, here I am reading, writing, working, and having pure joy - ignoring everything around me! (lol)

Now for many, this seems odd, but one of the reasons I am always motivated to work and do things that can help me improve as a human is because I have this luxury: to sit in any random place and do the things that give me joy. But this luxury was not easy, and it is a work of more than half a decade: I have read hundreds of books with 5 or 10% understanding, I have watched 100+ movies in English with 5 to 10% understanding, I have tried 10+ different business ideas (and failed in almost all of them), I have tried things with zero skills, I can go on and on and on… And today when I have this luxury - I am probably more motivated to have a lot more similar luxuries or use this luxury at all extremes. Most weekends or non-working hours, I have two options, first: Stay at my flat and waste my time (watch web series, movies, sleep etc.), and Second: throw myself in public and have pure joy and do the activities that I love the most - work, read, and write!

The real question comes out - even though this luxury, from the outside, seems super inexpensive, no one can tangibly measure the value and define its true COST. And hence I would like to call this invisible luxury. I do not doubt - we as a society should aspire for invisible luxuries to make a prosperous society!

Since we have an amazing start of my random thoughts, we must go into detail to have a tangible, easy-to-understand non-tech essay. :)

One of the mistakes we as a society made is to consider instant and visible as the fundamental truth and write and share definitions originating from those instant and visible truths with the rest of the society members. But if we scroll through our recorded history, around 5000 years, it is not the case that civilization has only talked about status-driven luxury. One of the ways I try to understand the fundamental of this world is by reading philosophy. Also, the best part of philosophy is that it doesn’t force you to accept just one plain definition. And hence different philosophers have given the meaning of luxury based on different contexts. Unfortunately, our tendency to only look at instant-visible overpower the rest of the meanings. Let's list all the different meanings

  • One of the meanings of luxury can be seen in the work of philosophers such as Epicurus and Seneca by connecting luxury with a state of tranquillity and happiness. They described luxury as something like this: Luxury is often seen as a way to escape from the everyday world. This meaning has a lot to do with methods to indulge in pleasure and to experience something that is out of the ordinary.

  • The very common meaning of luxury can also be traced from the work of Plato and Aristotle: First, they connected luxury with status and wealth and explained luxuries as a way to demonstrate one’s social position and differentiate oneself from others. This definition of luxury is directly connected with cost and affordability.

  • Karl Marx argued that luxury is a product of class conflict which is quite similar to what Plato and Aristotle said.

  • Max Weber argued that luxury is a sign of rationalization. He argued that as societies become more rational, they also become more materialistic and that luxury becomes more important.

  • Michel Foucault connected luxury with Power, and he argued that luxury is used by the powerful to control the less powerful and to maintain their social position.

So, if you ask me: I partially agree with Epicurus and Seneca, and also with Michel Foucault but for me, the meaning of Power is different. In fact, when I wrote about Power a few months back, I requested a new definition of Power for this new world. As I consider Power neutral and only the observers can put a tag of Good or Bad - unlike the conventional direct association of Power with good and bad. And if you apply that to Michel Foucault’s theme of luxury with my definition of Power, you will have a 180-degree conflicting meaning - Luxury is used by the powerful to improve the lives and livelihood of the less powerful to reduce inequality and create an inclusive society. hell yes, see I connect everything with good… (lol)

Hold on, I am not writing this essay to explain 2000+ years old meanings of luxury, I only take reference and aspire to write a new definition. And in this essay, we will try doing that - a new meaning of luxury that can make our society more inclusive.

Once we have written everyone's perspectives (we should always aspire to include everyone's perspectives), let's try creating a framework that could contain everyone's perspectives and give us a new definition. The best way could be to create a 2X2 Matrix plotting Visible, Invisible on X-axis and Luxury, Modesty on Y-axis.

I have created a 2X2 Matrix that you can see in the above image, however, we will only focus on the 1 and 4 because this essay is about luxury.

So, the world defines luxury with quadrant-1 (Visible, Luxury): A status-driven luxury such as Material Possessions and Experiences. This type of luxury is mostly aligned with the work of Plato and Aristotle. Luxury from quadrant-1 is mostly defined based on cost and affordability such as House, Car, Watch, travel medium, food, jewellery etc. Since luxury from the quadrant-1 is visible and hence it propagates super fast and sparks millions of neurons in the human mind and generates so many complex emotions - greed, status, desire, envy etc. And since this is visible, humans gain status by promoting it. The problem with such luxuries is that they mostly made humans irrational. We see such examples every day in our societies. This type of luxury creates a rat race in societies because it is also a tangible luxury, the cost of a Ferrari or Rolex no? And the higher the value - affordable for less number of humans - gives a higher value of luxury.

Let’s talk about my favourite type of luxury, quadrant-4 (Invisible, Luxury): Whether we connect this type of luxury with Epicurus and Seneca’s state of Happiness or Michel Foucault’s Power, in any case, we can’t measure an invisible luxury. I started this essay with my story of coming to this cafe at odd hours to work, read, and write - can you measure the value? But for me, that is a luxury, and on any given day, I will do anything to have that. However, as this is an invisible luxury, and we can’t put a tangible value to it - not even one 1% of humans who had/have seen me sitting here would aspire/desire to have it because in our society - we have never been taught the meaning of invisible-luxury, no??

Let’s take another example: Last month, Paras Chopra, shared his timetable on Twitter and specified that this is a luxury. And unfortunately, he received so much hate in all different meanings and forms including someone crediting his today’s luxury to a gift of VC’s money. The fact is even though Paras’s timetable is a luxury, it is invisible because can anyone measure the value of that luxury, probably not. But if you go and ask him - does he has this luxury in his early days of entrepreneurship? His company Wingify is a decade old that serve global customers. Now for the fact, I know - he must have probably the worse timeline for the initial few years. Think for a while, an Indian company serving global B2B customers. This means his today’s luxury - in this case, his timetable - is the outcome of years of hard work but a miracle for the rest of the observers.

And hence most of the invisible luxuries are the outcome of years of hard work but a miracle for the rest of the observers.

The same is true for Mr Nandan’s vision of an inclusive society, Nithin’s work at Rainmatter, Nikhil’s Podcast, Kunal’s angel investment and the rest of the humans whose luxury is from quadrant-4 (some of them also have luxuries from quadrant-1). All of these folks had uncountable options to use their time and resources - but all of them are using their invisible luxury to make our society a little better. But all of these are invisible luxuries and hence have no tangible value, and hence not many humans aspire to have this type of luxury.

I also have luxuries: I understand a few things about 90% of India's population, fundamentals of societal progress, economic prosperity, problem-solving, the impact of technology, the ability to read and write with 200% concentration in a crowded place, the ability to be happy, and ability to be unaffected. For me: a believe that I can make Healthcare affordable for the bottom 90% of Indians (1.2 billion), and to do that I can learn whatever the necessary skills are invisible-luxury as well. And with all these luxuries, I have two options:

  1. Have a comfortable life by working somewhere by earning a good salary. And chase visible luxuries.

  2. Go to all extent, allocate every single atom (let’s say strings) of my body, have a difficult life, and make healthcare affordable for 1.2 billion Bhartiya.

And at this stage of my life option “2” is a default option especially in the case, when I have all these invisible luxuries. And every single day, I aspire to have more of such invisible luxuries.

In our society, most members aspire to have visible luxuries because it reflects a position in the societal hierarchy.

I think members of our society should aspire to have invisible luxuries to have the luxury of living in an inclusive society...


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