Why Moderation Is the Genesis of Decadence
Tl;dr: moderation is a concept invented by people that don’t want to feel guilty for breaking up their own rules.
I have never been able to understand the concept of moderation as a kid.
To me, the practice of an activity, or the consumption of a product had whether positive or negative consequences.
The fact that quantity could influence the ultimate effect didn’t seem to make sense. This has naturally opened the door to numerous abuses because I couldn’t understand the concept.
Unfortunately, abuse, in all of its forms, is detrimental, whatever that you are abusing.
Being nice is good, being too nice isn’t. Drinking water is good, drinking too much isn’t.
The concept of abuse opposes moderation, which could be defined as “a bit of everything can’t hurt”…in theory. In practice, moderation is used and abused to justify failures, exceptions to rules and overall laziness in the face of a plan one cannot execute.
Moderation, in its current use, expresses the desire to do the minimum required. However, when one does the minimum, one can’t expect outlandish benefits.
That’s why I have never liked moderation, that I assimilate to decadence in this article.
Is Moderation Detrimental to Success?
I remember reading in 2019 or so about Elon Musk’s 120-hour workweek while at the time, the guy’s fortune was estimated to be about $12 billion.
Why would someone so rich make his life so miserable while he could just retire?
Because it’s not money he was pursuing.
Had it been money, we would have never heard about Elon Musk as he’d have stopped working after cashing in $180 million from selling Paypal.
But Musk, like pretty much all other billionaires, does not pursue money. He’s after a goal, a purpose, a vision, something to achieve.
And they’re ready to do anything to achieve this vision. They are extreme people. And this is why they succeed.
Why Moderation Is Dangerous
Before we dive into why moderation is dangerous, we need to understand that moderation negatively acts on two levels: it provides you with an excuse to do something you shouldn’t, sending you on a path without end, and it provides you with another excuse not to do something you should.
Let’s have a look at the first case.
Doing Something You Shouldn’t
One day, during a family reunion, I got to talk to a cousin I see about once every three years.
She didn’t understand why I wasn’t eating anything and I explained to her that I was following a ketogenic diet (I have since moved to a carnivore diet) which forbade me to eat carbs. Since all the food present on the table was carbs (bread, sauce, rice, pasta, fruits, sodas, alcohol), I wasn’t eating anything.
The dialogue must have sounded like this:
“You’re not even going to eat just one piece of bread?
-No, no carbs is no carbs.
-Ah, you see, I’m all about moderation, I think we should have a bit of everything.
-Moderation is the beginning of decadence.”
I think that last sentence had its effect as she proceeded to answer that being as extreme and rigid as I was wasn’t going to help me to find someone.
She was correct, sure, but that’s another topic.
So why wasn’t I even eating one piece of bread, with moderation?
Because, as I told my cousin, moderation is the beginning of decadence.
You see, I love sugar, and I love chocolate.
When I was a kid, I’d eat an entire package of cent-waffers, delicious Belgian biscuits disgusting for your health.
I’d start by eating just one and end up eating all that my mum had bought for the week.
Similarly, I’d pour so much sugar in my cereal that one day, my sister told me to replace it with Nesquik.
That was genius. I had never thought about it.
A box of Nesquik would maybe take two months to be finished at home.
As I proceeded to use it to replace sugar, it took two weeks.
The reason why I liked chocolate and sugar si much was because it made me feel good. It gave me good feelings and sensations and I didn’t see why I’d stop consuming products that made me feel good.
Isn’t feeling good the ultimate purpose of life? Since the amount of Nesquik was proportional to the good feeling I’d get, one spoon in my cereal quickly became two, which became three, which became four.
Similarly, one bowl of Nesquik-topped cereal became two, which became three, sometimes four.
And this principle of extreme consumption of what made me feel good applied to anything.
Going to sleep at 22h became going to sleep at 23h, then midnight, then 1h, up to 4h.
Waking up at 9h became waking up at 10h, then quickly, 12h.
One hour on the computer became the entire day on the computer.
And quickly, your life which seemed normal transforms into a constant abuse of dopamine-triggering actions forcing you to consume even more to keep your brain satisfied, sending you into a decadent circle feeding on more decadent dopamine-infused actions.
“How did I get here?”, may have I asked myself on several occasions, realizing my doom.
It had begun…with one simple spoon of Nesquik.
The Evil Behind Moderation
If you think I’m exaggerating, I kid you not. What I have outlined above really happened, and that’s because of moderation.
Moderation is the idea that “a bit of anything does not hurt”.
Great, next time someone tells me this, I’ll ask them if they want to take “just a bit of heroin” with me.
You see, moderation is the mental permission to have a bit of something you shouldn’t have (without even questioning the cause behind this wicked wish).
Not a lot, but a bit.
However, a bit plus a bit plus a bit quickly becomes a lot, probably a lot more than an initial lot would have been.
As such, moderation sets no limit: several bits quickly become a whole lot.
For example, a bit of heroin, a bit of cyanide, or a bit of unprotected sex is likely to render you a drug addict, dead or seropositive.
You think I’m using extreme examples, but I’m not. Most people apply moderation to the effort invested. “Don’t work so hard”; “don’t play so much on the computer”; “don’t eat so much”. The idea is to regulate an activity because doing it too much is “not moderate”.
I don’t see it that way. I don’t look at the amount of investment into actions (eating too much, working too much), but at the purpose of the action itself. There is no such thing as eating too much healthy food. No such thing as playing too much chess. No such thing as working too hard on a passion project.
Each of these actions is initiated to yield a result, which the moderate people don’t understand. Each of these actions seeks consequences. As we are about to see, there the difference between not doing something at all, and doing it in moderation is much bigger than the difference between doing something with moderation and doing it fully.
Let’s take the example of unprotected sex.
Unprotected Sex With Math
For the sake of the example, let’s assume that protected sex protects you 100% of the time and that about 90% of the people you have sex with are infected with something.
Having only protected sex will protect you 100% of the time.
You can have protected sex once, a hundred times, or an infinite number of times.
It doesn’t matter as you will NEVER catch anything.
Protected sex X 10 times = zero disease.
Protected sex X 1000 times = zero disease.
Protected sex X infinity = zero disease.
Why is it equal to zero diseases? Because protected sex is 100% protection, hence a 0% chance of catching a disease.
0% of catching a disease while having sex X 10 times = 0.
0% of catching a disease while having sex X 100 times = 0.
0% of catching a disease while having sex X infinity = 0.
Anything X zero will always be zero.
There is no way around it.
Zero is the strongest, it is stronger than infinity.
Infinity cannot do anything with zero.
No one can do anything with zero.
If there is nothing, there is nothing, no way around it.
However, one day, you go on a date with the hottest person you could ever date and boom, neither of you have condoms.
You decide to go ahead with the sex anyway even though you know your chances are about 9/10 to get infected.
And you get infected.
1 unprotected sex with an infected person X 1 time = 1 disease.
That’s the difference between zero and one. Zero (protected sex) allowed you to have sex an infinite number of times without getting infected, while 1 (unprotected sex) got you infected right away.
As such, the difference between zero and one is enormous.
It is more than infinity.
Zero x infinity = zero.
1 x infinity = infinity.
In fact, 0.1 X infinity = infinity.
0.00000000000000000000000000000…1 X infinity = infinity.
It didn’t matter how “moderate” the unprotected sex was with that person. Once you did it, you got infected.
And that’s the difference between zero (protected sex) and one (unprotected sex).
Zero unprotected sex is allowing you to have sex an unlimited number of times.
However, if you have unprotected sex once with someone infected, you’re done.
This is why moderation is so destructive.
Moderation is the principle telling you you can have unprotected sex “just once”, that the consequences won’t be too big.
It’s not true.
If you don’t bite into moderation and remain strict, you will do zero time the things you’re not supposed to do and will have zero problems.
However, if you do once what you are not supposed to do, it is opening the door to many more times.
If you did it once, you can do it just one more time.
And then one time more.
There is not much difference.
It’s “just a bit”. And this usually leads to catastrophe.
Moderation and Addiction
Let’s be clear, moderation is the root principle behind addictions.
Addiction is the consumption of a product you cannot stop consuming even if you are consciously aware you should stop.
The addictive products trigger dopamine in your brain which makes you feel good and no one has any reason to stop feeling good.
One cigarette leads to a second one.
One porn pic leads to a video.
One line with friends leads to three lines in the bathroom of the club.
Before you realize it, you abuse the product, the sensation, and spin into a decadent void swallowing you faster and faster.
That one time became…too many times.
The only way you can avoid the trap is by being disciplined enough not to give in to the consumption of something you shouldn’t consume.
Hence, by consuming it zero time.
Now that we have established that moderation is to decadence what the old woman is to White Snow’s doom, we can have a look at how moderation prevents you to do what you should.
How Moderation Prevents You to Do What You Should
Did you hear about Lindsey Vonn? She is one of the greatest ski racers of all time.
When she was a kid, she sucked at skiing, but that’s what she wanted to do, so she practiced, and practiced and practiced.
She was always the first and last one on the slope and so she became quite good, quite quickly.
When her dad saw her determination and skill, he moved the whole family into a tiny condo located in a town with one of the best ski coaches so Lindsey could have a shot at a professional career.
She went on to win 82 victories in her career which spanned over 20 years.
During these years, she got married, stopped talking to her dad, then got divorced, talked to her dad again, broke multiple bones while keeping on winning trophies.
She may have been rich, hot, and famous, but her life was not an easy one.
The next example is Avicii, who requires no introduction.
Avicii started making music at a young age. His friends explained that as they were looking for melodies together, midnight would come fast and they were tired and wanted to go home.
Avicii, on the other hand, insisted to finish the song right away, that same night and would go to sleep much later.
He went on to become one of the greatest DJs of all time, popularizing EDM and “making it cool”.
There are thousands of other examples like these, from Edison and his light bulb to James Dyson and his bag-free vacuum-cleaner.
People that never stopped, never gave up, people that worked until they got what they wanted.
People like Elon Musk.
People that succeed.
Had They Followed Moderation, Had They Been “Moderate”, Do You Think They Would Have Made It?
Had Musk said “ok, this the third and last shot we have at launching this rocket, but you know, let’s be moderate, let’s not work too much and go home early today so we can enjoy the evening”, do you think Space X would have succeeded?
Had Avicii told his friends “yeah, let’s go to sleep, working too much is not good, we’ll finish the song tomorrow”, do you think “Levels” would have been so good?
Had Lindsey Vonn said as a kid “I’m tired, I want to hang out with my friends, I’ll practice tomorrow”, do you think she would have been the world’s best ski racer for 20 years?
These people were extreme in the sense that they weren’t moderate, they had a purpose, a vision, and weren’t moderate in their approach to realizing it.
They went all the way in. They didn’t stop, no matter what.
No need to explain how moderation would have killed all of these people’s momentum.
Their success came from the fact that precisely, they kept their momentum going and stopped at nothing.
It wasn’t about slowing down or doing less.
It was about speeding up and doing more.
The Bottom Line
History teaches us that success is about investing (a) time and efforts (b) into the right things. Moderation prevents you from doing.
It (1) unhinges your investments into positive long-term capabilities by breaking your momentum and (2) allows low or high consumption of products with long-term negative consequences.
As such, moderation ultimately leads to decadence by making you believe that in the realm of bad decision-making, the difference between zero and one is equal to one while it is, in fact, equal to more than infinity; and condemns you to a life of repeated failure due to lack of sufficient work.
So next time someone is telling you to be moderate, simply answer them that moderation is the genesis of decadence.
Then get back to work.