Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Is Growth Evil?
Spiked Online offers an interesting review of Growth Fetish - a book that contends that our fixation with economic growth is making us miserable. We have more, but our lives mean less, etc etc. Its an interesting argument, but I think it's misplaced. Targeting growth as the culprit for unhappiness in modern western life is convenient for the various environmentalists, anti-globos, and neo-Luddites who think that a return to our Noble Savage ways will solve all our problems. Simply cutting back on growth is not going to instantly make us all happy and content. This kind of romantic thinking is entirely misplaced.

The suggestion that modern life is generating greater unhappiness than life during other eras seems to me impossible to discern. Were people happier back in the days of back-breaking subsistence farming before the era of productive machines? Were people happier living in times when polio, smallpox, and other diseases were common scourges? Difficult to say for sure, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to find out (that is if I had in my disposal a time machine to operate). In my opinion growth has eliminated a number of worries that earlier peoples had to contend with. Since we are an imaginative species, forever plagued by the ever present conditions of imperfect information as well as our own mortality, we have simply replaced the concerns of earlier eras with differing ones suitable and appropriate for our modern life. I think a tremendous factor in what drives any sense of unhappiness with our own lives is due to the massive reservoir of information and awareness that we hold regarding the possibilities that are open in life. I think the phrase Ignorance is Bliss is quite appropriate and highlights what I am saying. Any unhappiness that we have is very often a result of our own mental calculations of what we are currently doing and what we could be doing. Indeed, my friend Kreblog recently posted his thoughts regarding some dude who's making a mint after building a better vacuum cleaner. Certainly if we think that some guy has attained the Holy Grail of personal fulfillment and accomplishment simply because he whipped up the better mousetrap, then it doesn't surprise me that our instinct is to think that we ourselves are inadequate. Building a better vacuum? I could do that! Why the hell haven't I done that? Damn, I suck. Heck, who knows though. The guy could have been so singularly obsessed at building the better vacuum that he paid little attention to his wife and she upped and left him. Or maybe his kid was grotesquely mauled during the testing of an intermediate prototype. Perhaps the quest for the vacuum taunted this man in his sleep, conjuring up terrible dreams and producing excruciating ulcers. Who knows, we will never know.

In any case, its our imagination that constantly sizes up our position with others. Are we doing as well as we can? Have we proved ourselves adequately? This trait is quite human. Economic growth did not just magically produce this aspect within us. You see, in an environment of great access to information, our awareness is also expanded. We see so many different ways where people are "making it". We see so many different ways of living life, which means that we question whether or not we ourselves have made the right choices or whether we are making the right choices for the future. Indeed, if there is a prevalence of unhappiness with modern life, its mainly due to the fact that we know of so many cool ways to live life - that knowledge makes us unsure of what we are doing and envious of what we aren't doing. Therefore, if cutting back on growth is the solution to rectifying our happiness deficit, then concurrently we must also eliminate our awareness of the many possibilities that are available in life (meaning that we should begin to employ the memory erasing process pioneered by Lacuna Inc).

Damn, I want to fly, but I don't have access to an airplane. Great, as long as we eliminate the production of the airplane, as well as the knowledge of it, then maybe that will also eliminate that gnawing need that wants to experience flight. Oh wait. Get rid of the birds too. Those damn things make me feel terribly inadequate....

Economic growth increases our information, or abilities, our capabilities, and our awareness. It sprouts new buds and leaves on the ever growing Tree of Knowledge. If what we want is eternal, unfettered, and uninterrupted happiness, it means chopping down the Tree of Knowledge, throwing it in the wood chipper, and then burning the remains to ashes. Is that really a solution at all? Think of how it would suck to be a cancer patient and be told, "Hey bub, give up hope for a cure. We've decided to stop growing, stop progressing." Imagine what life would be like today if such an idea as stopping growth had been undertaken before Jonas Salk's time? Before Guttenberg? Before the Pharaohs? Who knows, though I'm reasonably sure that in that time we'd be pissing and moaning all the same. All because one guy figured out a way to use a piece of vine as a strap that helped him shimmy up the coconut tree to get the coconuts. Damn that bastard. He gets all the girls.


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