Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How Did Jack Become Such a Greedy, Dull Boy?

Two or three generations have grown up in an atmosphere of cultural delusion, constructed to keep President Reagan's ideal economy afloat. This “greed is good” delusion has created an atmosphere that has nurtured rampant materialism and the belief that never ending financial gain is the source of all happiness.

However, over time, this type of atmosphere becomes toxic. Throughout most of our evolutionary history, human beings have had very little experience with abundance. Our physiology and brain functioning are wired for scarcity. Prolonged times of excessive opulence only lulls us into an obtuse complacency. Keeping this in mind, it starts to make a little more sense as to how "Jack" became such a dull boy.

Sure, now, that the economic meltdown has exposed the limits of this delusion, the vastness of stupidity and greed that has engulfed so many people (stupid person #1 right here) becomes glaringly visible. But since our economy is built on our never ending desire for more stuff, changing what has been drilled into us for 30-years may not be all that easy. Can we - government, businesses, and consumers - reorient ourselves and reconceptualize the way we measure "goods" and "services", especially since we're emerging from a Rumpelstiltskin like stupor.

Although this individually and celebrity driven culture has all but crushed the values by which we take care of each other, Dacher Keltner, author of Born to be Good: Signs of a Meaningful Life believes all is not lost. He argues that human beings have survived as a species, not solely because of "survival of the fittest", but because we have managed to control the aspect of ourselves that is naturally greedy, and destructive in order to connect so that we can instead, protect and help each other survive.

In addition, a recent study suggests that giving is better than receiving, providing further evidence that altruistic actions may improve health and longevity. After three decades of excessive desire for more than one needs or deserves, this study may prove useful in convincing people to give up their materialistic obsession and devotion to pleasing themselves, without any regard for anything else.

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." -- Edward Abbey.

3 comments:

Kevin,  19:36  

By definition, economics is "the science of choice under scarcity". If scarcity transforms to abundance, our economic system must impose an artificial scarcity to make the system function. In other words, corruption is inevitable. Our economic system, the way it is now, cannot function without corruption.

Garrett 20:15  

Kevin, Not always true. It's a matter of balance. Just because something is abundant doesn't mean it should be free. Check out The Tragedy of the Commons at link.

Garrett 20:18  

"In every industrial revolution, some key factor of production is drastically reduced in cost. Relative to the previous cost to achieve that function, the new factor is virtually free. Physical force in the industrial revolution became virtually free compared to its expense when it derived from animal muscle power and human muscle power. Suddenly you could do things you could not afford to do before. You could make a factory work 24 hours a day churning out products in a way that was just incomprehensible before the industrial era. It really did mean that physical force became virtually free in a sense. The whole economy had to reorganize itself to exploit this physical force. You had to "waste" the power of the steam engine and its derivatives in order to prevail, whether in war or in peace."

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