We were thirsty.
It was a summer day, an especially hot and humid one, and we were thirteen. It was a summer camp day trip, one of those big ones they hype up all summer that I felt lukewarm about. We were at a theme park- I think Six Flags, but I’m not positive- and, instead of going on rides, I ate overpriced fried food, walked with friends, and meandered in the heat.
It was very hot, and the park was even hotter. Everything was expensive, and bottled water went for…I forget. I really do. But I remember it being an unfair but not unexpected price- probably something like $3.25 a bottle, which, at that age and year, felt insulting and insane. I buckled and bought one, but my friend did not. He sweated. His eyes fluttered. And he fainted from heat stroke in the park.
This happens often enough that this theme park- possibly Six Flags, possibly not, sue this vague recollection motherfuckers- had a weary protocol. They took us- all of us, or maybe we just tagged along- into a cooled tent where they gave us all small dixie cups of cooled lemon-lime Gatorade. I was way more excited about the free Gatorade than worried about my friend. We all were. Gatorade was gold in summer camp, and compared to the insane price of water, this felt a lot easier.
Just have a friend have heat stroke and it’s all the Gatorade you can drink!
My friend could have bought some water. While $3.25 is insanely high for water, it certainly isn’t unaffordable- it’s not an astronomically high price in general- just for water. I would pay $3.25 to not faint and collapse in an amusement park. You would too- think of lazy, late-night Ubers we take to avoid even smaller problems.
But, for water, the price was unfair. And that’s what mattered.
Fairness is something we prize above logic, and it’s one of the many traits that makes us human. Think if you won a million dollars, but found that after taxes, you only got eight-hundred. You should be thrilled; eight hundred dollars for free! But you wouldn’t be. Not really. Because humans aren’t made for cold calculating facts- we care about the story, the emotions, the meaning behind the facts.
It’s one of the many reasons my friend wouldn’t buy a bottle of water. it wasn’t that he didn’t want one, or even desperately need one: it’s because to buy one would be to have given in to a structure he knew to be unfair, something that vague “supply and demand” truths couldn’t change for him the larger, resonating recognition of what fairness meant.
I’m not writing this because he was right or wrong, but because this was interesting. We don’t explore our inner workings enough, and we often allow our assumptions to follow paint by number, economical assumptions. But consider that we’re not logical, and often, we shouldn’t be. We hold by our own personal moral systems, even when they’re frustrating or illogical. We have our quirks and beliefs, biases and morals, and all of these are invisible, flexible, and different from person to person.
Would you pass out before you bought over-priced water? And if so, who wins?