In the last few weeks, the state of Oregon gave its citizens an important right: The right to pump their own gas. It’s pretty funny on a number of levels: Funny because that’s a basic right that should have never been taken away in the first place, funny because now many residents in Oregon are awkwardly struggling to figure out how to do a basic adult task for the first time. Some are even angry that they have to!
But before we laugh too much, we should consider the well-made point of the economics blogger Alex Tabarrok: We are all Oregonians in one form or another. Depending on where you live, you’re not not allowed to give a manicure without a license, or cut hair or buy contact lenses without a prescription. There’s many completely safe professions and rights that we’ve given up behind protective special interest legislation. We’d look ridiculous if they suddenly went away too.
The real point that Alex is making, however, is not a political one. It’s a Stoic one. It calls to mind a line from Epictetus. Epictetus said that we should respond to criticism with gratitude: If only they knew what other stuff I was guilty of. The same should be done when we feel a sense of superiority: If only they looked at my own silly habits.
Don’t waste time lying to yourself that you’re better than other people. Don’t pat yourself on the back for not having faults. Because it isn’t true! When other people’s bad decisions or weak logic comes into sharp relief, don’t laugh. Use it as an opportunity—an opportunity to review your own.
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