If someone steals something from you, but you neither notice the theft nor miss the pilfered item in any way, does it matter?
Let’s say I have an apple tree in my yard. I take good care of it; tend to it well with regular water and careful pruning and fertilization. In return for my investment of time and effort, the tree is prolific and my family is blessed with more apples than we alone can enjoy. We make pies, cider, juice, sauce, and eat them with our meals and we thank God every day for that apple tree. We even give away our excess apples to friends, families, and the local food bank we know and trust. By doing this we feel good about ourselves as minor philanthropists and get to see the recipients of our bounty enjoy it as much as we.
Now let’s pretend that every single day, as a certain neighborhood kid makes his walk home from school, he picks an apple as he passes by. Most days he does this because he’s hungry, but some days he simply picks the apple and throws it into the street for a lark (sounds like a certain teenager I used to be). For the sake of this illustration let’s say I have no idea this is happening. As this is a daily activity, the percentage of fruit denied us is not numerically insignificant, yet compared to what we’re not deprived of it is effectively statistically so.
What am I deprived of by not having these apples? I’m hard pressed to quantify that.
Perhaps you’d say I’m deprived full “control” over the harvest. In other words, were I to control the destiny of each apple I could distribute them how I saw fit, and the quantity that my unknown benefactor so rudely chooses to waste could instead be spared and put to a more noble use. I suppose this would be true, and that this lack of “control” over the literal fruits of one’s labor might feel a true deprival to some. Perhaps, if you tend towards a cynic, you might formulate an extension to this and say I’m further deprived the altruistic “glory” and warm feelings I could be receiving were I personally providing those very apples to others.
For as far as I’m concerned, however, the “loss” isn’t hard to swallow at all. In fact, even were a kind neighbor to inform me of the secreted apples and their sometimes sorry fate I’m not sure I’d enact any preventative measures. What am I losing? How does the loss impact me?
Let’s take this one step more and complete the allegory: We’ll now pretend that the homeowners association in my neighborhood has heard about the hunger of our mostly well-behaved fruit-pilfering teenagers and has decreed that residents must leave a percentage of their apples un-harvested to maintain the custom. To say it another way, I am now compelled to give up the fruit which I was already giving up.
Does that knowledge make my “loss” any more real? Any more impactful to me? Maybe it makes it a little harder to swallow, as things deigned to be often are for humankind, but does it fundamentally change my family’s situation?
Disclaimer: Please no questions around how this dynamic may change in thin-harvest years; no thoughts on eventual teenage fruit-dependency; no worry over teenagers becoming fruit-entitled; and no comments about canning the lost fruit for years when we’re too old to tend to the tree.